2 Arabic Novels Make Diverse PEN Translation Prize Longlist for 2017

Two brilliant Lebanese novels — in translations that do the hard work of recrafting the voice(s) of the originals — yesterday made the 2017 PEN Translation longlist:

2They are Rabee Jaber’s Confessions, in Kareem James Abu-Zeid’s tightly crafted translation, where one phrasing flows effortlessly into the next, and the next; and Hilal Chouman’s genre-blurring Limbo Beirut, in a translation by Anna Ziajka Stanton that re-makes the shifting linguistic landscapes of each of the book’s five different sections.

It’s good to finally see Confessions acknowledged after having written earlier this year: “If the world doesn’t tilt completely off its axis, this is a major lit-prize contender for 2016.”

Limbo Beirut, which also earned a “don’t-miss” announcement, was described by its translator as demanding that the reader ″balance in the uneasy space between being a voyeur and a participant, gratifying our desire to get inside the head of that stranger we meet on the street…but on the other hand surprising us with the fact that you can never just be a witness, that you′re always going to somehow become involved in the other′s life, whether you mean to or not.″

Limbo, which also features illustrations by talented emerging artists — themselves a further translation of the text — could also be bought solely for the drawings.

Indeed, there were a number of stunning translations from the Arabic this year that could’ve made this list, including Samuel Wilder’s of Ghassan Zaqtan’s Describing the Past, Humphrey Davies’ of al-Shirbini’s Brains Confounded, and Elisabeth Jaquette’s of Basma Abdel Aziz’s The Queue. Certainly, not all publishers submit for awards, for reasons outlined in “The hidden costs that threaten Australian literary awards,” and discussed on M.A. Orthofer’s Literary Saloon.

On the PEN poetry longlist, also announced yesterday, a collection of work by Moroccan writer Abdellatif Laâbi also made that ten-book list. It was In Praise of Defeat: Poems by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith — one of two fresh collections of Laâbi’s work out this year.

At Two Lines, you can hear Nicholson-Smith talk about Laâbi’s poetry. And, on The Bomb, read two poems from Laâbi’s ouevre that Nicholson-Smith has translated.

Finalists for the two awards will be announced on January 18, 2017, with the winner announced on February 22, 2017 and honored at the 2017 PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony the following month. Each winner receives $3000.

The complete longlist for fiction:

Confessions by Rabee Jaber
New Directions
translated from the Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid

The Fox Was Ever the Hunter by Herta Muller
Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Company
translated from the German by Philip Boehm

Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjón
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb

Between Life and Death by Yoram Kaniuk
Restless Books
translated from the Hebrew by Barbara Harshav

One Hundred and Twenty-One Days by Michèle Audin
Deep Vellum Publishing
translated from the French by Christiana Hills

Angel of Oblivion by Maja Haderlap
Archipelago Books
translated from the German by Tess Lewis

Justine by Iben Mondrup
Open Letter Books
translated from the Danish by Kerri A. Pierce

The Explosion Chronicles by Yan Lianke
Grove Press
translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas

The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Hogarth/Crown Publishing
translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith

Limbo Beirut by Hilal Chouman
University of Texas Press
translated from the Arabic by Anna Ziajka Stanton

The complete longlist for poetry:

Pearl: A New Verse Translation by The Pearl Poet
Liveright/W. W. Norton &Company
translated from the Middle English by Simon Armitage

Abyss by Ya Hsien
Zephyr Press
translated from the Chinese by John Balcom

Voronezh Notebooks by Osip Mandelstam
New York Review of Books
translated from the Russian by Andrew Davis

Building the Barricade by Anna Swir
Tavern Books
translated from the Polish by Piotr Florczyk

Algaravias by Waly Salomao
Ugly Duckling Presse
translated from the Portuguese by Maryam Monalisa Gharavi

Preludes and Fugues by Emmanuel Moses
Oberlin College Press
translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker

Tales of Ise
Penguin Classics
translated from the Japanese by Peter MacMillan

In Praise of Defeat: Poems by Abdellatif Laâbi
Archipelago Books
translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith

Absolute Solitude: Selected Poems by Dulce Maria Loynaz
Archipelago Books
translated from the Spanish by James O’Connor

Twenty Girls to Envy Me: Selected Poems from Orit Gidali
University of Texas Press
translated from the Hebrew by Marcela Sulak