Friday Finds: 20 Great Translators Under 40

This week, The Culture Trip published their list of “twenty great translators under 40“:

k_largeThe 20-strong list features one Arabophone translator — Kareem James Abu-Zeid, whose translation of Rabee Jaber’s Confessions is on the 2017 PEN America shortlist for translated fiction — and two other translators who work with North African authors: Emma Ramadan (Ahmed Bouanani, Fouad Laroui) and André Naffis-Sahely (Alessandro Spina, Abdellatif Laâbi).

Each translator’s honors and recent translations are listed. Each has a somewhat unflattering pencil sketch, and each is interviewed.

From the interview with Kareem James Abu-Zeid:

I’m working on two projects right now, and actually just sent samples out to publishers this past week for both of them. One is a New and Selected Poems book by the the Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish, a poet whose work I really love. His first book in English, Nothing More to Lose, has done quite well, so I’m excited to be working on a second book by him. He is at the forefront of a younger generation of Palestinian writers, and his work is redefining the contours of “resistance literature” in bold and unexpected ways.

The other project I’m currently translating is called “the Mu’allaqat,” and I’ve tentatively titled the English The Hanging Poems: The Ten Classic Works of Pre-Islamic Poetry. This is the most famous collection of pre-Islamic (6th- and early 7th-century) Arabic poetry, poems that were supposedly hung from the sacred black stone of the Kaaba in Mecca due to their fame, and they detail the often harsh and relentless desert life in what is now called the Arabian Peninsula.

From André Naffis-Sahely:

I am working on a graphic novel entitled Une éternité à Tanger (An Eternity in Tangiers), which was jointly produced by the Ivorian author Titi Faustin and Cameroonian illustrator Nyoum Ngangué. An Eternity in Tangiers tells the story of a teenager named Gawa on his journey to emigrate from his hometown, the fictional African capital of Gnasville, to Tangiers, a waypoint on his journey to Europe, where he hopes to escape the economic, political, and social suffering that plagues his home country.


I have nursed a life-long passion for the work of the Saudi novelist Abd al-Rahman Munif (1933–2004), whose Cities of Salt quintet of novels charts how the life of a village was turned on its head by the discovery of oil in the 1920s, and the revolutionary changes that ensued in the Gulf as a result of that discovery. While Cities of Salt was ably translated by Peter Theroux, it would be wonderful to see someone take up the task of translating Munif’s trilogy of historical novels Ard as-sawad/The Dark Land, which revolves around the life of the last Mamluk ruler of Iraq, Dawud Pasha. Munif’s work is banned in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where he nevertheless remains very popular.

From the interview with Emma Ramadan:

In Morocco, poetry written in Darija (the Moroccan dialect of Arabic) has become increasingly popular in the last two decades. Darija is a spoken language, and literature is typically written in Modern Standard Arabic or French. For those unable to read either of those languages, this poetry, called zajal, makes literature accessible.


I’m usually very adamant about maintaining rhyme scheme across languages—if an author chose to write rhyming poetry, I think it’s extremely important to honor that, keeping the same rhythm and spirit in English. However, I hit a wall translating a handful of the poems in Ahmed Bouanani’s poetry book The Shutters. Some of the poems had an ABAB rhyme scheme that certainly played into the experience of reading them, but they were about extremely personal memories, shattered childhoods, violent acts. Despite the constraint of a rhyme scheme, every word felt so purposeful and powerful, and I felt it was more important to sacrifice the rhyme than to sacrifice the specific word choices he made.

Read all of it at The Culture Trip.