An Translated Excerpt from Rania Mamoun’s PEN-support-winning ‘Thirteen Months of Sunrise’

This year, Elisabeth Jaquette became only the third Arabic-English translator in the PEN/Heim’s fourteen-year history to win a grant. She won it to translate a short-story collection by Sudanese author Rania Mamoun, Thirteen Months of Sunrise, which is still available to publishers:

The judges wrote in the PEN/Heim citation: “These stories — possibly the first collection by a Sudanese woman to be fully translated into English — offer an emotionally intimate look at urban life and alienation, while demonstrating an impressive range of literary styles, from realist to reality-bending.”

In them, “A young beggar girl hallucinates a kinship with the dogs that nurse her back to health. A Sudanese woman forges a surprising friendship with an Ethiopian man. A writer struggles to balance her craft and a new relationship, and converses between herself and her muse, or perhaps simply with herself. A woman ruminates over lost love as she returns to Khartoum and braces herself for the difficulties of life in Sudan’s capital.”

According to Jaquette, the stories are reminiscent “of Andrés Neuman’s The Things We Don’t Do…alternating between social realism, a film script, narrated list, memoir, and more.”

This excerpt appears as part of Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth).

An excerpt from the collection, trans. Jaquette:

The dogs told me about themselves: about their pacts with cats, excavations in piles of garbage, and even what they knew about humans. I don’t know what language they spoke. Maybe they talked to me or maybe I imagined it; it’s hard for me to say now. I was on the brink of passing out and at the time I couldn’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy. But I had a good time with them. They were kind, and treated me like one of them.

I’d never paid much attention to dogs before. I hadn’t feared or loved them, or ever really thought of them, except for when I saw one. That night, I learned to tell the difference between the males and females. I learned about their habits, ways of life, relationships with people, characteristics, and qualities they have that people lack. They were generous with me, entertained me, sang and danced for me, and did everything they could to keep me alive.

I was at the edge of consciousness or death, when from far away a line of dogs appeared, led by our neighbor’s dog, who had something in his mouth. I thought I was starting to hallucinate, and was seeing things that weren’t there. When they got closer I saw that each one was carrying something in its mouth. Our neighbor’s dog looked me in the eyes as he tossed me a piece of meat. I didn’t know what garbage pile it had come from, or what house he’d stolen it from. In that moment, was I even thinking?

Then another dog tossed me a piece of bread, half-moldy, and another a piece of raw meat, and another a chicken leg, and another, and another, things I couldn’t make out. I couldn’t tell the things they tossed me apart, but I quickly grabbed it and devoured it all voraciously, ignoring the sound of sand grating between my teeth and the smell of mold and bacteria in what I was eating. I could’ve eaten a cat, or a mouse, or a lizard, I might’ve swallowed a bone, but did it matter?


Work by Mamoun can also be found in Comma Press’s Book of Khartoum and Banthology, as well as in Banipal 55.