Elliott Colla’s Translation of ‘The Lady from Tel Aviv’ Wins PEN Support

English PEN Writers in Translation announced yesterday that four books had garnered supporting awards for the first half of 2012.

They are:

Ryszard Kapuścinśki: The Biography, by Artur Domosławski, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.

The World Record, various poets and translators.

The Last of the Vostyaks, by Diego Marani, translated from the Italian by Judith Landry.

And (dramatic pause) The Lady from Tel Aviv, by Rabai al-Madhoun, translated from the Arabic by Elliott Colla.

The acclaimed The Lady from Tel Aviv by Palestinian author Rabai al-Madhoun was on the International Prize for Arabic Fiction shortlist in 2010. The excerpt that Colla translated for the prize announcement begins:

The question surprises me. From the moment I sat down in my seat until the moment she asks the question, it bothers me. From scenes of war, the question pulls me right up to the edge an answer. At first I am nervous, too unsettled to choose an answer. I might have said, for instance, that I was Greek or Cypriot or Lebanese or anything. I might have picked any other nationality – anything but Palestinian – in my fear that someone might overhear us and shout out to all the other passengers: “Palestinian! This man’s a Palestinian!” It’s possible. What if one of them got up and made the announcement? “Ladies and gentlemen: there’s a Palestinian on board this airplane!”

The novel, according to PEN, will be published by Telegram Books in 2012. PEN summarizes the novel’s action and aspirations as:

In the economy class of a plane bound for Tel Aviv, the lives of two passengers intersect: Waleed Dahman, a Palestinian novelist returning to Gaza for the first time in thirty-eight years; and Dana Ahova, a famous Israeli actress seeking the comforts of home after the disappearance of her boyfriend. Desperate for consolation, Dana confides in Waleed. Soon, forgotten fears resurface – Dana’s paranoid fear for her own life and Waleed’s suspicions about Mossad. As the night sky hurtles past, the course of both their lives begins to change, and so too does the novel that Waleed is working on. By the time Waleed arrives in Gaza, he seems no more real – and no less imaginary – than his fictional character. The Lady from Tel Aviv is one of the great achievements of modern Arabic literature. At times a literary thriller, an exploration about lost family history and a meditation on the nature of fiction itself, it is, above all, a reflection on Palestinian identity and exile.

Mabrouk, ya Ustaz Elliott.


Al Sharq Al Awsat (English)

GoodReads (Arabic), reviewed bilingually by our friend Nile Daughter.

Finding Al-Madhoun

Twitter: @rmadhoun

Website: www.almadhoun-novel.com