#TranslateThis: ‘Camelia’s Ghosts’ and ‘And the Family Devoured Its Men’

For our final #TranslateThis of Women in Translation Month, we recommend two titles: Camelia’s Ghostsa 2019 novel by Egyptian writer Nora Nagy, and And the Family Devoured Its Men, a 2020 novel by Syrian novelist Dima Wannous:

A Millennial Egyptian Story about Relationships, Abuse, and Dreams

Camelia’s Ghosts

Nora Nagy

Dar al-Shorouk


180 pages

No one believes Camelia, who saw her aunt (of the same name) disappear into a mirror when she was 12 years old. Her aunt Camelia disappeared after cutting off her long braid of grey hair with a pair of scissor‬s. The family fails to find Aunt Camelia. But later, young Camelia — who is obsessed by this disappearance — finds her aunt’s journal and discovers the secret behind her aunt’s mysterious disappearance. This journal becomes both a revelation and a guide, helping her understand herself, her aunt’s love story, and her aunt’s relationship with her brother — Camelia’s father.

This popular, compelling novel — Nora Nagy’s fourth — shows Camelia’s struggles from different vantages. In this psychologically astute, page-turning novel, the reader must root for Camelia. But they also can’t help but understand the other characters, too.

Nagy’s first novel, Bana, appeared in 2014. Her sophomore novel The Wall came out in 2016, and The Pasha’s Girls, released in 2017, was shortlisted for the 2018 Sawiris Prize.

From Chapter 7:

Translated by Omar Ibrahim

Camelia was locked in her room.

She had missed her secondary school exams, and she didn’t really care. She’d lost interest in everything and could do nothing except lie down, look at the dark ceiling, and ponder.

Her head was empty. . . She couldn’t even think.

She’d sworn to her parents that she was innocent, that nothing bad had happened. She’d only wanted to have a walk after school. Her feet had taken her away before she’d realized where she was going. She was walking out in the searing sun, and she’d fallen ill, lost consciousness. Then she’d woken up in a faraway hospital on the outskirts of the city, where passersby had taken her. There, in the hospital, she spent the night in the emergency room, because her thoughts had fluttered away and she could remember nothing, not until the physicians allowed her to leave.

Her father never believed her, but he pretended to believe. He didn’t even ask her about where she’d been, or the name of the hospital. He tried to convince himself that this was the truth, and that his daughter hadn’t tried to escape, like his sister. He gave himself the chance to let it pass, especially when that spark of confrontation in his daughter’s eyes had faded away.

She’d stayed in bed all day. All she did was eat her meals, go to the bathroom. Besides that, she remained alone in her room.

He felt that she’d became a pale ghost. And even he couldn’t bear his cruelty.


A Powerful Look at What It Means to Lose Your Home

And the Family Devoured Its Men

Dima Wannous

Dar al-Adab


183 pages

A follow-up to Wannous’s award-winning and haunting The Frightened Ones, which is set between Damascus and Beirut, And the Family Devoured Its Men is another powerful look at loss. This time, the story unfolds in vivid flashes through the memories that haunt a mother and her daughter who left Damascus for London.

From the Raya Agency:

From this noisy and chatty family of exceptional women, only the narrator and her mother now remain, raking over the embers of all that was lost over whisky in that cold and temporary London apartment.  Scattered by the Syrian civil war, an entire family, and a whole way of life, decimated.  As if, after swallowing its men for generations, the family started going after the women next.

And the family devoured its men is a powerful book about loss, its different meanings, dimensions and implications. In her typical concise and luminous language, Dima Wannous paints extremely vivid portraits, and one can only but feel awe for these women, and bewilderment at the turns life can take. This is a family portrait of great tenderness and pain.  A precise and glittering look at what it means to lose, once you lose home.

The site also has a translation sample by Elisabeth Jaquette, who translated Wannous’s moving The Frightened Ones. The excerpt opens:

Nana Helena also grew up with only a first name. We don’t exactly know her surname. My mother’s gaze wanders towards me, drifting aimlessly. I look away from her eyes and instead at the camera, in a useless attempt to draw her gaze towards it. ‘Ghouzi… maybe her surname was Ghouzi…’ my mother says evenly, with a shade of doubt. I envy her in that moment. Even without knowing her mother’s surname, she’d had two loving parents and a milk-scented childhood! Like her sister Marianne, my mother grew up unburdened by fatal affiliations, nicknames, and identities. Nana had been in her twenties, maybe. Certainty has no place in this story. Every detail happened, maybe; nothing happened for certain. But it did happen, even if just maybe. I don’t know how to explain it.

Keep reading at the Raya Agency website.

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