Luke Leafgren Wins 2018 Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation

Organizers announced today that they had awarded the 2018 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation to Luke Leafgren for “a seamless rendering of an outstanding work of fiction”:

The prize went to Leafgren for his translation of Muhsin al-Ramli’s The President’s Gardensfor which he wins £3,000. The other three shortlisted translators were: Khaled Mattawa (for translating Adonis’s Concerto al-Quds), Jonathan Wright (for translating Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad), Ben Koerber (for his translation of Ahmed Naji’s Using Life).

The prize will be presented February 13 at a ceremony organized by the Society of Authors. The SOA will also be presenting awards for translations from French, Italian German and Spanish, as well as the Translators’ Association First Translation Prize.

In a somewhat odd turn of phrase, the judges’ report on the winning book called the translation “imperceptible,” although it went on to say the English “mirrors the writer’s many changes of register.” The judges report also said: “The author is fortunate to have found a translator totally in sympathy with his writing. Faced with many difficult choices, Leafgren has produced a work both faithful to the Arabic and a work of art in English.”

On the MacLehose Press website, Leafgren wrote about how he came to translate al-Ramli’s novel:

Muhsin Al-Ramli was the first author I ever translated. While writing my dissertation and needing a creative outlet, I approached one of my Arabic teachers during the final years of graduate school to ask about how to get a start in literary translation. My teacher told me about a friend of his who was looking for a translator for his second novel. That friend was Muhsin, who passed through my teacher’s hometown of Irbid, Jordan, on his way from Iraq to Spain in the early ’90s. I read the novel – Dates on My Fingers – and as I was reading the Arabic text, I could hear in my head the voice of the narrator telling his story in English. I found myself relating to the narrator’s attempt to make sense of his place in the world, and the English translation came through almost as quickly as I read.”

The follow-up to al-Ramli’s The President’s Gardens — Daughter of the Tigris is forthcoming this November from Quercus, also in Leafgren’s translation.