By Olivia Snaije
Readers of Arabic and French will be pleased to know that French publisher Actes Sud’s Arabic literature imprint, Sindbad — which is now in its 50th year — is set to launch a bilingual collection for children. The collection, targeted at children five and up, will launch in September 2022.
Sindbad Jeunesse will be overseen by the imprint’s inimitable editor, Farouk Mardam-Bey, who has been at the press’s helm since 1995. Arabic to French translator, author, and publisher Mathilde Chèvre will provide editorial consultancy. Chèvre founded Marseille-based Le Port a Jauni, which has been publishing bilingual Arabic-French books for children since 2015, often collaborating with beloved Egyptian author-illustrator Walid Taher.
Bilingual imprints such as these make sense, given that the second most spoken language in France is Arabic, with, according to the site Ethnologue, an estimated three to four million speakers living in the country.
At first, Sindbad Jeunesse won’t be commissioning books, but will buy titles for translation. Walid Taher’s book Al Noqta Al Sawda (The Black Dot), originally published by Dar El Shorouk and winner of the 2010 Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature, will be one of the first books to launch in September. The book, also titled La tache noire, was translated into French by Sarah Rolfo. It tells the story of children playing freely until a black spot appears, reducing where they can play to a smaller and smaller territory. Marwan decides to look for a solution. In the press’s catalogue, it lists the book’s themes as oppression, dictatorship, solidarity, and resistance.
Books will also be selected from French. The prize-winning Louis Ier Roi des Moutons (Louis the 1st, King of the Sheep) written and illustrated by Paris-based Olivier Tallec and originally published by Actes Sud, will be translated into Arabic by Farouk Mardam-Bey. Like Taher’s book, it also tackles the theme of dictatorship, with a rollicking sense of humor as Louis, a sheep, finds a crown, places it on his head, and becomes intoxicated by a feeling of power — to the general indifference of his subjects. Themes listed for the book include philosophy and power.
La Ruse du chacal (The Jackal’s Ruse) by the Lebanese author and theatre director Najla Jraissati Khoury, translated into French by Georgia Makhlouf, is for slightly older children; eight and above. La ruse du chacal was published by Dar al-Adab in 2014 under the name Abou Ali al-Wawi in a two-part volume called Hkâyât wa hikâyat. In it, a famished jackal called Abou Ali convinces a hen, a rooster, and a partridge that he has become a vegetarian: deceptive appearances, gullibility, and courage are the themes listed here. Jraissati Khoury’s book of Lebanese folktales, also translated by Makhlouf, was published by Sindbad in 2019.
Also in the 8+ category, Algerian-born Hubert Ben Kemoun’s Les Monstres de là-bas (The Monsters from Over There), originally published by Editions Thierry Magnier, which is part-owned by Actes Sud, is translated into Arabic by Lina Ayoubi. It tells the story of Nelson, who is excited about taking a boat to visit his foreign pen pal, Fubalys. Once abroad, he is disconcerted to find that unlike his three belly buttons in the shape of a triangle, she has only two, and while he has four fingers on each hand, she has twelve. The book’s themes, according to the publisher, are friendship, difference, and tolerance.
“By showing these two languages written side by side, this literary project raises a symbolic issue,” Sindbad Jeunesse said in a prepared statement. “We bring together the cultures they express, linked by history, and by the Mediterranean. Bilingualism is seen here as a bridge . . . Sindbad Jeunesse circumvents the subject of identity to draw on a contemporary creative process to explore weaving together cultures.”
Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris.