Mbarek Sryfi a Translation-prize Finalist for Kilito’s ‘Arabs and the Art of Storytelling’

Yesterday, the French-American Foundation and Florence Gould Foundation announced the finalists for the 28th Annual Translation Prize of “best translations in fiction and nonfiction from French to English”:

arabs-art-storytellingOn the five-strong list of nonfiction titles — last, but only because it’s sorted alphabetically, by translator’s surname — is Mbarek Sryfi for his translation of Arabs and the Art of Storytelling: A Strange Familiarity by Abdelfattah Kilito. The jacket lists Eric Sellin as a co-translator.

Arabs and the Art of Storytelling is a joy to read, and Syrfi — or Sryfi and Sellin — match Kilito’s touch on the page, simultaenously light-hearted and scholarly, erudite and fun. According to the award-granters:

In Arabs and the Art of Storytelling, the eminent Moroccan literary historian and critic Kilito revisits and reassesses, in a modern critical light, many traditional narratives of the Arab world. He brings to such celebrated texts as A Thousand and One Nights, Kalila and Dimna, and Kitab al-Bukhala’ refreshing and iconoclastic insight, giving new life to classic stories that are often treated as fossilized and untouchable cultural treasures.

For Arab scholars and readers, poetry has for centuries taken precedence, overshadowing narrative as a significant literary genre. Here, Kilito demonstrates the key role narrative has played in the development of Arab belles lettres and moral philosophy. His urbane style has earned him a devoted following among specialists and general readers alike, making this translation an invaluable contribution to an English-speaking audience.

The other nonfiction finalists are David Ball, for his translation of Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944 by Jean Guéhenno; Deke Dusinberre, for his translation of The Man Who Thought He Was Napoleon by Laure Murat; John Lambert, for his translation of Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère; and Lorna Scott, for her translation of Teresa, My Love by Julia Kristeva.

The winners in both fiction and non-fiction will be awarded a $10,000 prize, to be given at a June 9 ceremony at the Century Association in New York.

Also, for Kilito fans:

On April 30, Kilito will kick off a series of seminars titled ‘Orienting Fiction’ at All Souls College, University of Oxford. More about that here.


A review of Je parle toutes les langues, mais en arabe, by Marina Warner, on the LRB

A review of The Clash of Images, trans. Robyn Creswell, on Bookslut

A conversation between Creswell and Kilito, on Aesop