No Arabic-language books made the 15-title longlist for the American Literary Translators Association’s 2014 National Translation Award (NTA). The sole Arab title was Habib Tengour’s Crossings, beautifully translated from the French by poet Marilyn Hacker:
This is the NTA’s sixteenth year, and it boasts of being the only US award for translated literary works that “includes a rigorous examination of the source text and its relation to the finished English work.”
To be eligible, the title must have been published in 2013, and the translator must be a US citizen or permanent resident. This leaves out the Best Translated Book Award-shortlisted Leg Over Leg (2013), trans. Humphrey Davies, which would otherwise have surely made the list.
This year’s finalist judges are, according to organizers, “Barbara Epler (Publisher, New Directions), Elaine Katzenberger (Publisher, City Lights) and Jessica Cohen (renowned translator from the Hebrew).” The winning translation will be announced at the ALTA conference mid-November; it will earn its translator $5,000.
As I have written previously, Crossings is in “a flawlessly tuned translation by Hacker [.]” I was particularly taken with the last poem:
“This Particular Tartar,” the last of the collection’s five poems, is a wild amalgam: poem, story, satire, fantasy, quasi-sociological, quasi-reportorial, quasi-historical document. The “Tartar” evokes rich imagery in Arab oral and written histories: The Tartars were the horde of “barbarians,” led by Hulagu Khan, who laid siege to thirteenth-century Baghdad. The “Tartars” are portrayed in numerous Arabic stories and poems, including Jurji Zaydan’s popular The Caliph’s Heirs.
And from the poem:
This particular Tartar is waiting beside a side-road. He’s been squatting and moping there for a while. He would rather wait there than beside the highway with cars rushing by at full speed. They splatter you with mud without a thought. There are even drivers — the bastards — who turn around to laugh in your face.
Hopefully, Crossings will have better luck than the Tartar, and will make the five-title shortlist set to be announced in October. Meanwhile, ALTA promises to highlight each book on the longlist with features written by translators, reviewers,
and editors at literarytranslators.wordpress.com/2014-nta-award.
The other 14 titles:
Can be found here. A Treatise on Shelling Beans is, for instance, gorgeous.
An earlier version of the second long poem in the collection, here “Crossing,” on WWB, trans. Hacker.