Continuing our series of Arabic Literature, World Readers — which kicked off with a discussion between ArabLit and Richard Jacquemond about French readerships — Gonzalo Fernández Parrilla answers some questions about Arabic literature and Spanish readers:
ArabLit: Can you tell me about the Turner Kitab series? Will it focus entirely on titles that have either won or been shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF)? What sort of Spanish-language audience will it reach? How does this change the landscape of Arabic literature in Spanish?
Gonzalo Fernández Parrilla: The launch of the new Turner Kitab series is tied to the IPAF since we’ll start with the winners and those shortlisted of the prize. Recently published are Los drusos del Belgrado by Rabee Jaber and El oasis by Bahaa Taher. Soon to appear is Azazel by Youssef Ziedan, and the next titles being translated are The Arch and the Butterfly by Mohammed Achaari and Ave Maria by Sinan Antoon. Like the IPAF, this series aspire to reach beyond the specialized reader who is interested in Middle Eastern issues and reach the readers just interested in good fiction. Turner Kitab means a step forward. It’s Arabic literature still in the frame of a series devoted to Arabic literature, but by excellent publishers with no relation to the Arab world.
AL: Spanish is a language that is read and written in many different countries and regions. How is Arabic literature received differentially in Spain vs. in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Peru?
Many Latin Americans of Arab descent are in a process of claiming and recognizing their roots and this is undoubtedly related to the current, heightened interest in Arab authors in Latin America.
GFP: Distribution in Latin America is a new horizon for the translations of Arabic literature. It seems that there is now more interest than before at the other side of the ocean. Many Latin Americans of Arab descent are in a process of claiming and recognizing their roots and this is undoubtedly related to the current, heightened interest in Arab authors in Latin America.
AL: You mention that during certin periods, “confrontation with Islam” was the dominant prism through which translation was reflected. Is this still part of the contemporary prism, particularly after September 2011?
GFP: In Spain, relations with Islam and Arabs is — for obvious reasons — a long and complicated story, but also a fascinating and rich one. This is always there and remember we had our own “September 11” on 11 March 2004. For certain right-wing sectors, it might be true that this idea of confrontation persists. But for translators, readers of literature… I do not think so, even the opposite.
AL: What have the landmarks been in interest in Arabic literature among Spanish readers? Richard Jacquemond pointed, for the French, to the Camp David treaty. You note Mahfouz’s Nobel as a turning-point, both “quantitatively” and “qualitatively”. Have there been others? What about Darwish? Also, in English, 9/11 has marked a major surge in both interest and hardening of views. Apparently this is also true of the Spanish?
GFP: I think the so called “Palestinian cause” had a deep and positive impact, in Spain, on the development of studies about the contemporary Arab world. But it also contributed to the creation of a powerful link between literature and politics that has, I think, negatively affected the distribution and reception of modern Arabic literature. On the other hand, the Spanish translation by Luz Gómez of Darwish’s In the Presence of Absence won the 2012 national prize for best translation of the year. It is a poetic translation of a poet — not a political translation — but at the same time, from the poetic translation are derived many political and far-reaching consequences. For me, the most relevant thing is that Darwish shares a publishing house with the great world poets and not only with political titles.
AL: What have been the best sellers among Arabic books in Spanish, outside of Khalil Gibran, The Yacoubian Building, and Girls of Riyadh? Any others in a second tier?
It is difficult to know, but I’m sure For Bread Alone by the Moroccan writer Mohamed Choukri, in a 1982 translation by the Moroccan Hispanicist Abdellah Djbilou, has enjoyed widespread distribution and popularity.
GFP: It is difficult to know, but I’m sure For Bread Alone by the Moroccan writer Mohamed Choukri, in a 1982 translation by the Moroccan Hispanicist Abdellah Djbilou, has enjoyed widespread distribution and popularity. This is due in part to the prologue by Spanish writer Juan Goytisolo, someone who has done a lot for the translation of modern Arabic literature into Spanish.
AL: Which particular geographic pathways are particularly little-worn? For instance, Richard Jacquemond felt that Syrian writers were less-translated into French because the nation was seen as “hostile” territory. As you note, Spain has had a close relationship with Morocco — has this meant more translations of Moroccan writers (who write in Arabic?) Outside of For Bread Alone?
GFP: In Spain the main focus was on Egypt, although in the last two decades Morocco emerged, for obvious and inevitable reasons, as a focus for research, mainly political and historical, but involving also many translations of Moroccan authors, some of them only available in Spanish. There are even research teams devoted entirely to Moroccan cultural production, such as this one in Granada: http://www.literaturamarroqui.edu.es/
AL: What about important authors like Ahmad Yamani and Muhsin al-Ramli who live in Spain? Are they better-known among Spanish readers?
GFP: Sadly I think they are not yet very well known, but this might change soon, especially for those writing in Spanish or Catalan.
AL: Do you see any shifts in how Arabic books are being translated? A lessening use of arabismos or translation-jargon? An attempt to make Arabic novels more accessible?
GFP: Things and manners have changed a lot in the last two decades. As happened with Darwish, this is also true for fiction authors. This is also the spirit of project of Turner Kitab, translations that are directed at literary readers of good fiction in Spain and Latin America, not only the specialized readers who are interested in the Arab world.
AL: Why do Arab authors who write in European languages have easier access to Spanish translation and Spanish markets?
For an Spanish editor, it is much easier to engage in a project involving the translation of an “Arab” author writing in French, a language that they might know…
GFP: For an Spanish editor, it is much easier to engage in a project involving the translation of an “Arab” author writing in French, a language that they might know, rather than translating an author writing in Arabic, unless they have read existing translations into other European languages.
AL: Are there particularities that you see in the Arabic-Spanish relationship that distinguishes it from other European languages? Does the historical relationship between Arabic and Spanish (al-Andalus) come into play here?
To al-Andalus and Palestine I will add Morocco as an inevitable marker. For historical and geographical reasons, the ties between Spain and Morocco are a very special one, and I think it is not easy to find a similar relationship between a European and an Arab country.
Coming up next, ISA:
Arabic Literature, Malayalam Readers