How Do We Repeat the Hassan Blasim Success Story?

It’s May already, so the Literature Without Frontiers (LAF) report on literature translation (1990-2010), authored in part by Alice Guthrie, should be available any minute now.

As we wait, I’ll borrow from another section on how Anglo publishers can find previously untranslated Arabic-language authors. The report notes that “publishers are often forced to commission sample translations, a process which is…fraught with difficulty.”
Clearly, the report says, these samples should be done by an experienced translator who has a broad understanding of the sampled author’s work and its context. This would be a translator who’s able to choose a good bit to do it justice.

This is not an easy task. And, not surprisingly:

…several of the writers and translators interviewed for this study have expressed concern that this job is in fact often done on a minimal budget, under great pressure of time, and not by the translator best equipped for the job.

So, the report concludes: “This aspect of the process of translation is ripe for development…”

It goes on to give an example of how the process can work, as when Hassan Blasim was suggested to Comma Press by their Lebanese literary adviser (how many major publishers have a Lebanese literary adviser? well, they should). The press went on to publish Blasim’s wonderful Madman of Freedom Square, trans. Jonathan Wright, in 2009. Blasim’s short-story collection was longlisted for the 2010 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, very strongly reviewed in The Guardian, and Comma Press is coming out with another Blasim book (isa) in 2012.

Good for Blasim. Good for Comma Press. Good for readers. Good for Lebanese literary advisers.

So: How do we connect more Blasims with more Comma Presses, which both enriches English-language literature and supports young Arabic-language writers? Really, we could and should put together a brochure, much like this one, to promote young Arabic-language writers.

Come on now. The spring is upon us.


  1. love the new look of the blog

    1. Do you? Thanks! Mixed reviews.

  2. Maybe if more publisher took chances ,we ‘d get more some publishers very conservative it tastes and unwilling to try new voices in translation ,such shame beirut 39 showed the vivid range of arabic writing ,all the best stu

Comments are closed.