2016 Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation to Jonathan Wright for ‘The Bamboo Stalk’

For a second time, translator Jonathan Wright has won the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, this time for his translation of Saud Alsanousi’s The Bamboo Stalk (Saq al-Bamboo):

bambooAccording to a news release, posted yesterday, the prize’s four judges were unanimous in their decision to select Alsanousi’s novel, which follows a half-Filipino half-Kuwaiti as he discovers the injustices in both his countries and tries to find a place for himself in the world.

There were nineteen books competing for this year’s Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize, and Wright translated two of them: Alsansoussi’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF)-winning novel The Bamboo Stalk and Ibrahim Eissa’s IPAF-shortlisted The Televangelist. 

The release praised Wright’s “‘page-turner’ translation” as having “universal appeal,” although questioned one of the editorial decisions in the English edition:

The judges questioned the omission, in the English publication, of the Arabic edition’s ‘second title page’ – which had added an additional structural twist to the original work – but this was not felt to detract from the quality of the translation itself. Jonathan Wright’s seamless English rendering does full justice to the original, exhibiting a sureness of touch that fully captures the spirit of the Arabic version.

Alsanousi gave a nod to other editorial decisions in his comments on the win:

Credit must go to the translator, Jonathan Wright, who not only translated the novel but also played a role in editing it, based on what he thought would be appropriate for the Western reader. Jonathan Wright has been a gain for me and for the novel.

Most other years, the prize has named a runner-up or commended translator. Indeed, last year Jonathan Wright was the commended translator for his work on Amjad Nasser’s Land of No Rain. Wright was also previously co-winner of the prize, in 2013, along with William Hutchins.

But this year, judges decided against any ties, commendations, or runners-up:

The judges discussed at length a number of other entries – including some by younger translators – with a view to naming a runner-up, but after extensive discussion decided not to do so on this occasion. The translators had tackled challenging works with equally impressive results, but none came close to matching the broad appeal that the judges discerned in The Bamboo Stalk, and in these circumstances it was felt inappropriate to single out any particular work to be named as runner-up.

It’s worth noting that Kareem James Abu-Zeid’s translation of Rabee Jaber’s Confessions, also in contention for the prize, is on the PEN Translation Longlist for 2017. The other title translated from the Arabic on the PEN longlist is Anna Ziajka Stanton’s translation of Hilal Chouman’s Limbo Beirut, which was  not eligible for this year’s prize and will likely be entered for next year.

The award will be presented on Feb. 22 at the British Library, alongside other translation awards for works translated from the French, German, Spanish, and Italian. The following day, Feb. 23, there will be an event to celebrate the 2016, with details to be confirmed.

Read the release online.