Many things have improved in the realm of publishing Arabic literature in German translation. For instance, Stephan Trudewind says, “Arabic literature has become much more accepted and respected.“ However, a lot still needs to change if readers want to find more Arabic literature in German translation:
By Leonie Rau
Stephan Trudewind is a publisher and has led independent German publishing house Edition Orient since 1998. He studied Political Science and Islamic Studies and currently lives in Egypt.
Edition Orient, established in 1980 by Egyptian translator Nagi Naguib, focusses on Arabic children’s literature and publishes mostly bilingual editions in German and Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish. They were awarded a German Publisher’s Prize in 2021.
How many Arabic books in German translation do you publish per year, on average?
Stephan Trudewind: Edition Orient used to publish three to four books of Arabic literature a year. For various reasons, I have transitioned from this to specializing in Arabic children’s literature. However, the situation is difficult in this area, too, and now I only publish a book from the Arab world every few years.
Have your sales changed in the last years?
ST: Our sales haven’t changed significantly; at most, external factors like the COVID pandemic have caused a certain drop in sales.
How do you decide which titles to publish?
ST: I have to rely on recommendations since I cannot read Arabic books in the original. This is easier with children’s books, because I can assess the pictures. As the texts are very short, it is also easier and fairly cheap to obtain a quick first translation.
Do you have a set of regular translators?
ST: Not necessarily. There are of course translators with whom I work more frequently, but nothing fixed.
What does a typical publishing process look like at your press, from discovering a text to its publication?
ST: With children’s books, I research new releases by Arabic presses. If the illustrations don’t fit, I reject the title, but if they do fit, I contact the publisher to ask for the Arabic text or an English translation. If the story is compelling, we initiate contractual negotiations.
With novels, short stories or poems, it is more difficult. I am totally dependent on recommendations. Contact with the writer Abdelaziz Baraka Sakin was established through the translator Günther Orth, for example.
How do you see the current German-speaking market for translated literature?
ST: I can’t say much on the overall situation. Generally, writers living abroad have more difficulty to establish themselves in the German-speaking market because they can’t do as much for their books in terms of marketing; they can’t do readings or events.
What kinds of texts, what topics, what countries of origin are en vogue or in demand? Do you see any kind of development in the recent years?
ST: Arabic literature has become much more accepted and respected, generally speaking. German publishers don’t have fundamental reservations against picking up Arabic authors any more, not like it was in the early 80s. The developments of the last few years are interesting: Many talented people have come to Germany from Syria. We will surely see much more literature by Arabs living in Germany in the future.
What problems does the German market for translated literature face, in your view?
ST: I still see many problems for Arabic literature in Germany. On the whole, Arabic literature is of no great consequence for average German readers. It mainly appeals to readers who already have an interest in the Arab world, not to readers who are interested in literature in general.
Too much mediocre writing is being produced in the Arab world, for various reasons: No editing process in Arab publishing houses, a dysfunctional book market, and autocratic regimes hindering education and cultural developments.
This is also true for children’s books. I’ve been living in Egypt for five years – right at the source, so to speak – but during this time, I haven’t found a single picture book for children that would be worth publishing in a bilingual edition or in translation in Germany. The problem here lies more with the texts than the illustrations: Either they are too moralizing and lack humor, suspense, and highlights, or they are not suitable for kids.
What would you as a publisher like to see happening on the market in future?
ST: I would wish for a restructuring of the translation grants system, a move away from supporting translations and more towards translation samples to help interested publishers make decisions. Also a move towards support for projects, not just translations, so children’s books and other genres become eligible for support, too. Books from the Arab world that only contain small amounts of text need to be eligible for support as well.
Which Arabic book in German translation would you recommend to everyone?
ST: There is one book I want to recommend that really impressed me, even if it wasn’t translated from the Arabic, but from the English: Snooker in Kairo by the Egyptian writer Waguih Ghali (published by C.H. Beck).
A translation from the Arabic I’d like to recommend is Der Messias von Darfur (Masih Darfur) by Abdelaziz Baraka Sakin, forthcoming in autumn 2021 with Edition Orient, translated by Günther Orth.
Leonie Rau is a Master’s student in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Tübingen, Germany, and hopes to pursue a PhD after her graduation. She is an aspiring literary translator with a particular interest in Maghrebi literature. She also writes and edits for ArabLit and ArabLit Quarterly and can be found on Twitter @Leonie_Rau_.
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