Banipal Translation Prize Announces 2021’s 5-book Shortlist

November 23, 2021 — This morning, organizers of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation announced this year’s shortlist.

Three translators have made the shortlist of the Banipal Translation Prize for the first time in 2021: Sarah Enany (for her translation of Rasha Adly’s The Girl with the Braided Hair), Sawad Hussain (for her translation of Shahla Ujayli’s A Bed for the King’s Daughter), and Elisabeth Jaquette (for her translation of Dima Wannous’s The Frightened Ones).

They are joined, on the prize’s five-book shortlist, by acclaimed translators Marilyn Booth and Jonathan Wright. Booth, who is shortlisted this year for her translation of Hoda Barakat’s The Night Mail, which became Voices of the Lost in translation, was a runner-up for the prize in 2007, with a translation of Hamdi Abu Golayyel’s Thieves in Retirement, and she was also shortlisted in 2019 for her Booker International-winning translation of Jokha al-Harthi’s Celestial Bodies. Wright — in addition to co-winning the prize in 2013, being commended in 2015, and winning it in 2016 — has been shortlisted each of the last three years.

This £3000-pound-prize’s 2021 shortlist was chosen from a list of sixteen eligible works. Notably, no poetry or nonfiction was chosen for this year’s shortlist.

By way of explanation, in the prepared statement, the chair of judges Roger Allen quoted Lionel Trilling, who posited that the novel is “the literary form which most directly reveals to us the complexity, the difficulty, and the interest of life in society.” However, certainly Haytham al-Wardany’s Book of Sleep, in Robin Moger’s beautiful translation, and Ra’ad Abdulqadir’s Except for This Unseen Thread, in Mona Kareem’s luminous translation, also reveal life’s complexities and difficulties in unexpected ways. Both were on the list of eligible titles.

Allen, a prolific scholar and translator, is himself a previous winner of the prize. On this year’s judging committee, he was joined by publisher Rosemarie Hudson, Professor Ronak Hosni, and philanthropist Caroline McCormick.

In a prepared statement, they commented on each of the novels.

Of Booth’s translation of Hoda Barakat’s Voices of the Lost, they said, “The narrative manages to convey an uncanny atmosphere of placelessness, uncertainty, and lack of identity, all of which emerge from the very spontaneity of the one-sided conversation, including implied questioning from the person purportedly listening.”

Of Enany’s translation of Rasha Adly’s historical novel The Girl with the Braided Hair, judges noted that “Sarah Enany’s subtle and beautifully crafted translation is a wonderful vehicle through which to introduce readers to such a significant addition to the tradition of the Egyptian and Arabic novel.”

About Hussain’s translation of Ujayli’s short stories in A Bed for the King’s Daughter, they wrote, “With little or no connection to either time or space, the stories in this collection, skilfully translated by Sawad Hussain into an English prose that is well suited to the generic purpose of the original text,” adding that this translation “will leave the reader impressed with the experimental spirit that the author has brought to this project.”

Of Jaquette’s translation of Dima Wannous’s The Frightened Ones, they write: “The fluid style of the original is well captured in Elisabeth Jaquette’s excellent English version.”

And of Jonathan Wright’s translation of Hassan Blasim’s experimental God 99: “Jonathan Wright’s translation succeeds admirably in conveying into a readable English form the often confrontational complexities of the original text (published in Italy as a further reflection of exile).”

The shortlisted works (in alphabetical order of translator) are:

Voices of the Lost by Hoda Barakat (Lebanon)
translated by Marilyn Booth
Publisher: Oneworld

The Girl with Braided Hair by Rasha Adly (Egypt)
translated by Sarah Enany
Publisher: Hoopoe Fiction

A Bed for the King’s Daughter by Shahla Ujayli (Syria)
translated by Sawad Hussain
Publisher: Center for Middle Eastern Studies/University of Texas Press

The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous (Syria)
translated by Elisabeth Jaquette
Publisher: Harvill Secker

God99 by Hassan Blasim
translated by Jonathan Wright
Publisher: Comma Press

The 2021 Winner will be announced by the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature on January 12 2022. The Award Ceremony, which includes all the translation prizes, and is hosted on Zoom by the Society of Authors, will take place on February 10, 2022, with a Banipal celebration being held, also online, the following week in partnership with Arts Canteen.

Read excerpts of all the shortlisted translations:

Excerpt: Voices of the Lost at LitHub.

Excerpt: The Girl with the Braided Hair at the Hoopoe Fiction website.

“Dead Man’s Hand” from A Bed for the King’s Daughter at ArabLit.

Excerpt: The Frightened Ones at the Penguin Random House website.

Excerpts from God 99 at LitHub and at The Markaz Review.