Lebanese Author Emily Nasrallah Set to Receive Goethe Medal Monday

The 2017 Goethe Medals will be presented on Monday, August 28 by Goethe-Institut President Klaus-Dieter Lehmenn. Among the three new laureates is Lebanese author Emily Nasrallah, best-known for her novel Birds of September, first published in 1962:

The motto of the 2017 Goethe Medals, which go to individuals who take a “courageous stance on subjects tabooed in their societies,” is “Language is the Key.”

Born in 1931, Emily Nasrallah grew up in Al Kfeir, a village in southern Lebanon, before moving to Beirut to study and work as a journalist and teacher. Her debut novel, Birds of September, came out in 1962 and has been translated into German as Septembervogel by Veronika Theis.

That book one several prizes, including the “Poet Said Akl” and “Friends of the Book,” and was listed by the Arab Writers Union as one of the best 105 books of the twentieth century.

Nasrallah’s other widely known work is Yawmiyyat Hirr (1997), a book for children that was translated into English as What Happened to Zeeko (2001), as well as into Thai, Dutch, and German. It describes everyday life during Civil War-era Beirut from the perspective of a tomcat.

From a German review of Yawmiyyat Hirr cited by the prize:

“Although the war is the ‘most child-hostile reality’ imaginable, there are ways to give even children an understanding of it. Emily Nasrallah has found a good solution that makes political violence comprehensible. In her novel What Happened to Zeeko, she describes a civil war from the perspective of a cat who understands the language of his human ‘family,’ but observes their fear from a certain distance.”

Nasrallah also had another novel, Al Iklaa Aks Az Zaman, translated by Issa Boullata and published as Flight Against Time (1998) by the University of Texas Press.

There is much more about Nasrallah’s work and life on her website, www.emilynasrallah.com.

The other 2017 awardees are Indian publisher Urvashi Butalia and Russian human-rights activist Irina Shcherbakova.

From the Goethe-Institut: