The American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) has announced this year’s National Translation Award (NTA). This year, it’s gone to William Hutchins’ translation of Ibrahim al-Koni’s New Waw:
According to a prepared statement, NTA judges Jason Grunebaum, Anne Magnan-Park, and Pamela Carmell said:
William M. Hutchins’ translation of New Waw: Saharan Oasis masterfully channels the poetic rhythms of Ibrahim al-Koni’s tale of a group of Tuareg, struggling with their evolution from a nomadic tribe to a settled community and the tensions that inevitably arise. Legends, fables, prophecies and tribal laws, expressed in lyrical, metaphorical language, give a glimpse into the group’s traditions and the Tuareg mythical paradise oasis, Waw.
Ibrahim al-Koni has certainly seen a surge in interest in English, particularly since he made the Man Booker International finalist’s list this year. Al-Koni’s The Scarecrow, also trans. Hutchins, came out this year, as did Myth and Landscape.
Hutchins has previous won the Banipal translation prize for his work on Wajdi al-Ahdal’s A Land Without Jasmine.
According to a review by Rachel Daum in ArabLit:
Hutchins does a brilliant job of casting images into English: the descriptions of the desert are quite simply astonishing. There are times where there are sudden descents into crude English — for example, the words “crony,” “old codger,” and “old coot” occur suddenly and, in the context of the formalized English, rather jarringly.
However, the flitting between tonality and timbre creates an effect like the rippling of the mirage in a desert. The language, as the desert in the novel, and the birds and people, shift swiftly and elegantly between sand, air, water, and dirt. The language, like the mirage, leads a willing reader to the Waw, the oasis — but the reader must do the walking. Al-Koni has a rare gift of leading the reader without giving the whole thing to her, if you will — the reader must find it for herself.
There is a cash prize of $5,000 that comes with the award.
More Ibrahim al-Koni
Watch an interview:
“The Teacher,” trans. Elliott Colla
“Tongue,” trans. Elliott Colla
From The Puppet, trans. William Hutchins
From Gold Dust, trans. Elliott Colla
From The Scarecrow, trans. William Hutchins
On translating Ibrahim al-Koni:
“Al-Koni’s Homes,” by Elliott Colla