Translate This! Sawsan Jamil Hassan’s ‘Nabbashun’

As Women in Translation Month (#WiTMonth) rolls in to an end — and we prepare to resume our regularly scheduled overrepresentation of men’s works — a suggestion to translate from acclaimed Sudanese novelist Amir Tag Elsir and Tunisian author Inas Abbasi, Nabbashun:

Sawsan Jamil Hassan is a Syrian doctor who was born in Lattakia and has published three novels, of which Nabbashun (Dar al Adab, 2012) is her most recent. The novel takes place among the nabasheen, or trash-pickers, and it was one of Dar al-Adab’s nominations for the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

Inas Abassi said of the book:

I was surprised by this novel, particularly as this is the first time I’d read a work by the Syrian novelist Sawsan Jamil Hassan. Hassan, who already published two novels, proves in al-Nabbashun her talent with a solid text, using a strong and simple language at the same time. She also chooses to feature a subject that I believe that Arab writers haven’t taken on for years. The world of “nabashin” — or trash picker. Al nabash is a profession passed from fathers to sons, and in this novel the father forces his child to quit school and learn this work.

It is not only the world of the marginalized people living in the dark background of the city, but is intertwined with the lives of their animals. There is, for instance, the tale of the donkey who is the companion of Joumaa, the main character.

And while the novel focuses on marginalized people, it also draws the rest of society. The novelist also shows women as exploited in society. Most women in this novel either fall ill and disappear mysteriously (Dalal) or are deprived of love in an unequal marriage (Sabourat). Interestingly, in this novel, animals are more fortunate than humans. The donkey Abu Tafesh and the mule Barhoum succeed in changing their destinies when they escape from humans to live freely without human control.

A must read novel! It is not surprising that Al Nabbashun is one of nominations by Dar Al Adab for the 2014 Arabic Booker prize.

And Amir Tag Elsir wrote:

This novel is excellent, and its technique is close to magic, digging into the lives of the marginalized in Syria, into the lives of trash collectors, how they spend their days between hard work and hopes of finding within the trash some sort of treasure — and the collapse of these hopes. The novel is also filled with traditions and rituals, including visits to shrines, and the position of women within society. It’s a novel that focuses on ugliness, but with images of grace.

More on Goodreads.