August is Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth). A look at literature in translation shows that women’s books represent only around 30% of titles published in translation in English. Efforts to shift the balance of work in translation — and attention to the the work in translation — have resulted in the lithub lists of women’s works to translate as well as the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, which recently announced its debut complete list of nominees:
Although there has been more attention to women’s work in translation in the last three years, since the launch of #WITMonth, of the seventeen books entered for the Banipal Prize for Arabic Literature in Translation, just five were by women.
In 2017, there have been only a handful of books by Arab women in translation. But there should be an uptick — including several titles by Iman Mersal; Dima Wannous’ The Frightened, trans. Lissie Jaquette (Harvill Secker, 2019); Raja Alem’s Sarab, trans. Leri Price — forthcoming in the next two years.
As we look to titles by Arab women writers, it’s also important to consider the context, as Rafia Zakaria does in the recent, “When Arab women are translated into English, their context is cut away.”
Eight to look for soon:
France, Story of a Childhood, by Zahia Rahmani, trans. Laura Vergnaud (Yale University Press: 2016)
This is the only 2016 release on the list. As it was translated from French, it hasn’t previously been reviewed on ArabLit. But it caught our attention when it was recently longlisted for the 2017 National Translation Award.
According to the publisher:
This moving tale of imprisonment and escape, persecution and loss, is narrated by the daughter of an alleged Harki, an Algerian soldier who fought for the French during the Algerian War for Independence. It was the fate of such men to be twice exiled, first in their homeland after the war, and later in France, where fleeing Harki families sought refuge but instead faced contempt, discrimination, and exclusion. Zahia Rahmani blends reality and imagination in her writing, offering a fictionalized version of her own family’s struggle. Lara Vergnaud’s beautiful translation from the French perfectly captures the voices and emotions of Rahmani’s childhood in a foreign land.
You can read more at PEN from Vergnaud about translating Rahmani.
Hend and the Soldiers, by Badriah Albeshr, trans. Sanna Dhahir (University of Texas Press: May 2017)
This novel by high-profile author and journalist Badriah Albeshr explores women’s lives in the Saudi’s repressive kingdom.
Albeshr was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2014 for her interesting, multilayered Love Stories on al-Asha Street. But as Al Monitor notes, it was her first novel, Hend and the Soldiers, that “provoked some indignant reactions in her native Saudi Arabia. While approved for sale, the book, which chronicles Saudi Arabian women’s day-to-day fight to earn more personal freedoms, was accused of deviating from the tenets of Islam, among other things.”
You can read an interview with translator Sanna Dhahir about the book, in which she says, “Albeshr’s work is groundbreaking in that it candidly expresses women’s need to have higher ceilings of freedom at home, at work, and in love; and it denounces religious extremism and the practices of the Saudi religious police.”
In addition to being an award-winning novelist, Albeshr is also an op-ed columnist. You can read several of her op-eds online.
Cigarette Number Seven by Donia Kamal, translated by Nariman Youssef (Hoopoe Fiction: December 2017)
From the publisher:
As a child, Nadia was left her with her grandparents in Egypt, while her mother sought work in the Gulf. Decades later, she looks back on her fragmented childhood from an uncertain present: it is 2011 and the streets have erupted in an unexpected revolution. Her activist father, the sole anchor in her life, encourages her to be a part of the protests and so Nadia joins the sit-in at Tahrir Square.
Donia Kamal’s succinct, candid prose draw us into Nadia’s world: from the private to the public; from the men she has loved and lost, to her participation in the momentous events of the Egyptian revolution. Stunning in its simplicity, Cigarette Number Seven is a deeply intimate novel about family and relationships in turbulent times.
You can also read Sherine Mazloum on Cigarette Number Seven and other women’s revolutionary novels in “To write/revolt: Egyptian women novelists writing the revolution.” And you can follow Kamal on Twitter.
The Stillborn: Notebooks of a Woman from the Student-Movement Generation in Egypt, by Arwa Salih, trans. Samah Selim (Seagull Books: December 2017)
The activist, theorist, and student-movement icon Arwa Saleh killed herself in 1997, the same year her Stillborn appeared. The ripples of Saleh’s echo in the writing community — she was also married to poet Mohab Nasr — continue to be felt.
Translator Samah Selim has taken on the job of bringing the text into English for Seagull Books. In a recent talk, Selim said, “The book is only 80 pages long. It is a relentless, sometimes wistful, sometimes bitter, often raging but always incisive critique…from what one could call a proto-feminist perspective.”
Hassan Khan writes more about Saleh and her “absolutely necessary” book in Bidoun.
The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq, by Dunya Mikhail, trans. Max Weiss and Dunya Mikhail (New Directions: March 2018)
From the publisher:
Since 2014, Daesh (ISIS) has been brutalizing the Yazidi people of northern Iraq: sowing destruction, killing those who won’t convert to Islam, and enslaving young girls and women.
The Beekeeper, by the acclaimed poet and journalist Dunya Mikhail, tells the harrowing stories of several women who managed to escape the clutches of Daesh. Mikhail extensively interviews these women—who’ve lost their families and loved ones, who’ve been repeatedly sold, raped, psychologically tortured, and forced to manufacture chemical weapons—and as their tales unfold, an unlikely hero emerges: a beekeeper, who uses his knowledge of the local terrain, along with a wide network of transporters, helpers, and former cigarette smugglers, to bring these women, one by one, through the war-torn landscapes of Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, back into safety.
In the face of inhuman suffering, this powerful work of nonfiction offers a counterpoint to Daesh’s genocidal extremism: hope, as ordinary people risk their lives to save those of others.
You can find out more about this work, and Mikhail, at the New Directions website.
The Apartment in Bab El Louk, by Donia Maher, Ganzeer &Ahmed Nady, trans. Elisabeth Jaquette (Darf Publishers: April 2018)
I have called the Arabic of this graphic novel a “fabulous noir poem,” and cannot but trust Jaquette to bring it into beautiful English. Winner of the Kahil Award for Best Graphic Novel, “even though,” Ganzeer writes, “it isn’t exactly a graphic novel.” One of the pioneers in graphic-novel hybridism in Arabic literature.
Maher, the author, received a production award from al-Mawred al-Thaqafy (Culture Resource) for The Apartment in Bab el-Louk.
You can read an excerpt at Words Without Borders.
The Baghdad Clock, by Shahad al Rawi, trans. Luke Leafgren (One World: September 2018)
At this year’s “Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” event in Dubai, where Shahad al Rawi now lives, the Iraqi novelist read from her popular 2006 novel. From the publisher’s description of this bestselling novel:
The novel is narrated by a young Iraqi girl and her best friend Nadia, who find themselves in an air-raid shelter in war-torn Baghdad during the first Gulf War. Populated by a host of colourful characters, we share the two girls’ dreams, music, school life and first loves as they grow up in a city torn apart by civil war. And as bombs fall, the international sanctions bite and friends begin to flee the country, the city services collapse while abandoned dogs roam the streets and fortune-tellers thrive amidst the fear and uncertainty.
Forthcoming from One World.
The Sea Cloak, by Nayrouz Qarmout, trans. Perween Richards (Comma Press: 2018)
The Sea Cloak is a debut collection by a young Palestinian author who’s both a journalist and women’s rights campaigner. The stories in her forthcoming collection draw from her experiences growing up in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, as well as her current life in Gaza.
According to publisher Comma Press, “stitched together they create a patchwork of different perspectives into what it means to be a woman in Palestine today. Whether following the daily struggles of orphaned children fighting to survive in the rubble of recent bombardments, or mapping the complex, cultural tensions between different generations of refugees in wider Gazan society, these stories offer rare insights into one of the most talked about, but least understood cities in the Middle East.”
You can see the title story, trans. Charis Bredon, read by actor Grazyna Monvid on YouTube.
If you’re wondering why this list — and this month — exists, do read Elisabeth Jaquette’s “And the Prize for Women in Arabic Translation Goes To…No One?”
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