In/for Translation: 7 Graphic Novels by Arab Women

Few graphic novels by Arab women have been translated to English, in part because of the expense involved in translating and re-producing a full-color graphic novel:

But here are seven works by women that have been translated, would be fun in translation, and/or will soon be available in English translation.

TO TRANSLATE: Lena Merhej’s Jam and Yoghurt.

Lena Merhej’s Murabba wa laban, as Laban et confiture was reportedly the first full-length graphic novel to be translated from Arabic (by Simona Gabrieli) and published in the French by a French publishing house. The biographical graphic novel tells the story of Merhej’s mother and how she “became Lebanese.” It’s also been translated to Spanish.

Samandal published an early excerpt, which you can read online.

BEING-TRANSLATED: Deena Mohamed’s Shubeik Lubeik.

In Deena Mohamed’s graphic-novel debut, she depicts a comic-magical-realist contemporary Cairo, where wish-energy is bottled and sold, and where working-class Egyptians’ inability to move out from beneath repressive autocracy and sharp class hierarchies comes into sharp (and often funny) relief. The working class, after all, can only afford the cheapest of wishes, which are unstable and backfire to humorous effect. This book — the first in a trilogy — focuses on the wishes of Aziza and Abdo, although with much going on all around them. This political comedy won the Grand Prize for Best Graphic Novel at the 2017 CairoComix fest, and is now available for sale (in Arabic) from the US-based Maamoul Press. Mohamed is at work on her own English translation. Run don’t walk.

TO TRANSLATE: Lamia Ziadé’s O Nuit O Mes Yeux.

This gorgeous graphic novel, by the tremendously gifted Ziadé (also the author of the Lebanese Civil War memoir Bye Bye Babylontr. Olivia Snaije), was featured in Bulaq Episode 18. Ô Nuit Ô Mes Yeux is a stylish, charming illustrated text about the larger-than-life lives of Arab musicians. An excerpt titled “Fairouz in my Grandfather’s Shop,” translated into English by Edward Gauvin, appears in the July 2018 Words Without Borders.

A must-have for fans of stories, art, history, and Arab music.

IN TRANSLATION: Donia Maher’s Apartment at Bab al-Louk, ill. Ganzeer and Ahmed Nady, tr. Elisabeth Jaquette.

A book I have described as a “fabulous noir poem,” it was first published in Arabic by Dar Merit in 2014, and then received the Kahil Award 2015 for the Graphic Novel Prize. There are some of the same themes as in Mohamed’s Shubeik Lubeik, but here the government speech isn’t funny, but is instead oppressive, grim, and dirty — a dirt that won’t come off, no matter how you scrub.

Innovatively constructed and collaboratively produced, the English translation by Jaquette is also a pleasure to read.

TO TRANSLATE: Rawand Issa’s Not from Mars

This intense, poetic, and personal graphic novel from Lebanese artist Rawand Issa explores life, love, and what it means to be a woman. Although this is not in translation, if you buy the edition from Maamoul press, it comes with an “English translation sheet.”

Maamoul also has a bilingual edition of Issa’s The Insubordinate in a “do-si-do fold.”

TO TRANSLATE: Soumeya Ouarezki and Mahmoud Benamar’s Fatma N’parapli 

The opening of a book series written in Algerian Arabic, which centers on two mysterious women who live in an old house covered with umbrellas and become object of fear and fascination.The first is an old woman who can predict the future and prescribe remedies, while the second is smartly dressed, collects umbrellas, speaks French, and lives selling vegetables in the neighborhood, evading the boundaries set up around her.

Translated to French by Lotfi Nia.

TO CONTRIBUTE & ANTICIPATE: Jewelry Box

Because of the political climate in Egypt, the Egyptian women’s graphic-novel collective Jewelry Box (الشكمجية) ceased publishing their magazine.

But now the Beirut-based Knowledge Workshop has partnered with Jewelry Box creators to put together a new issue, which promises to explore love from a feminist perspective. They are looking for contributions in Arabic — classic or colloquial — no later than August 15.

We look forward to seeing the next issue.

Also read: Teaching with Arabic Literature in Translation: Comics and Comix

The “In/for Translation” series will run every Tuesday in August for Women in Translation Month (#WiTMonth). Next Tuesday, August 20, will be a look at Arab women writing prison. On the final Tuesday, August 27, we’ll recommend Arab women’s memoirs.

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