‘Syria Speaks’ Wins PEN Promotes Award, Grant for Boualem Sansal’s ‘Harraga’

Yesterday, English PEN announced their latest set of translation awards, which features — as the news release note — works from over 27 languages, “27 languages from Arabic to Zapotec”:

tumblr_inline_mt29lwKGmX1qz4rgpTwenty-two titles have received awards (“cornucopia of titles,” according to the release). One of the six winners of a PEN Promotes award is translated from the Arabic: Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline, eds. Malu Halasa, Zaher Omareen and Nawara Mahfoud, trans. Ghias Aljundi, Anne-Marie MacManus, and Alice Guthrie. The book is set to be published by Saqi Books next year, and according to an interview in The Adonis Diaries, contributors include “Khaled Khalifa, Samer Yazbek, Yassin El Haj Saleh, Hassan Abbas, Yara Badr, Rasha Omran, and Ali Safar and artists Ali Ferzat, Masasit Mati, Alshaab Alsori Aref Tarekh, Youseff Abdelki, Khalil Younes, and Sulafa Hijazi, among many others.”

Co-editor Malu Halasa also told the Adonis Diaries that:

Syria Speaks came out of the exhibitions of Syrian uprising art that the three of us did in 2012-13 in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and London. The book, which will be published next year, is supported by the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, in Amsterdam.

According to Halasa, the cover design, by James Nunn, uses an image from a political poster by the anonymous Syrian artists collective Alshaab Alsori Aref Tarekh.

Also on Syria: The Writer and the Rebellion, a profile of Khaled Khalifa on Guernica. 

Of the 16 titles that won 2013 PEN Translates grants, there are none from the Arabic. All — save one title from the Turkish — are translated from European languages. However, Bloomsbury and translator Frank Wynne did win a grant to translate Algerian author Boualem Sansal’s Harraga (2005). According to ΚΕΜΜΙΣ:

The novel Harraga is inspired by the migration of individuals, as well as entire communities, from one country to another, one continent to another. Furthermore, an episode representative of the diegesis focalizes, as we shall soon see, on the treacherous migration route taken by so many Africans to reach Europe via Algeria and Morocco. Their existential condition is one of exile – that casts all the disinherited into a new time and space, one beyond fixed origins and individual past, but is instead a space and time that is pure potential, where we witness a perpetuation of the provisional. In this novel Boualem Sansal chooses to tell a story that is “authentic from start to finish, everything true – characters, names, dates, places” (7) through the relationship of two women, Lamia and Chérifa, two generations that cross paths “in the tumult of passing days”. The novelist decided to situate his protagonists in Lamia’s home within walls steeped in history. She is a character endowed with a past that bears the marks, both happy and bitter, of her country’s history. Harraga is a novel conceived in four seasons. Thus it is divided into four chapters – each one is preceded by a poem and ends with an epilogue. Under the sign of “harragas”, these “trailblazers” prefer the insecurity of escape and exile to suffering in their homeland “from where we depart more often than we arrive” (109). This book is written in a soberly elegant language that speaks poignantly of a population suffering from profound discontentment, drifting from a world borne along by violent extremes.