Joint Winners for This Year’s Banipal Translation Prize: Humphrey Davies and Robin Moger

JANUARY 12, 2023 — Judges today announced joint winners of the 2022 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation: the late Humphrey Davies, for his translation of Hamdi Abu Golayyel’s The Men Who Swallowed the Sun and Robin Moger, for his translation of Mohamed Kheir’s Slipping.

In their statement, the judges wrote that a “joint award seemed the best way to honour two extremely strong novels which each distinguished themselves in different ways: Slipping for its elegance and flow, and The Men Who Swallowed the Sun for the impressive skill and creativity involved in tackling such a dense and complex text written in non-standard Arabic.”

Just three novels were on the 2022 shortlist: Slipping, The Men Who Swallowed the Sun, and Yassin Adnan’s Hot Maroc, translated by Alexander Elinson. This year’s judges were Charis Olszok (chair), Susheila Nasta, Katharine Halls and Becki Maddock. The three-book shortlist was chosen from among 17 submissions to the 2022 prize.

Of Humphrey Davies’ translation of the wonderful, rollicking The Men Who Swallowed the Sun, judges wrote, “It is a magnificent achievement to have brought this novel to English with such flair. The cultural specificities and idiosyncrasies of the original are conveyed, while the translation remains a gripping and vivid read thanks to Davies’s profound knowledge of Arabic, and creative talent in finding solutions to the most demanding challenges.” While of Slipping, they wrote: “Each image of this enigmatic, vivid, and captivating novel shimmers in English as it does in Arabic, through Moger’s rendering of Kheir’s economic and poetic brilliance. The clamour of the city resounds alongside the surreal quiet, as the novel slips between genres and voices, between absurdity, dystopia, and the sublime. Moger captures this slippage, alongside the melancholy of the original, and the moments of sharp, sweet humour.”

This year’s prize announcement also has a wonderful tribute from Humphrey Davies’ brother, Hugh Davies:

“I was thrilled to receive the news that my beloved younger brother, Humphrey, is the joint winner of the 2022 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation. As a non-Arabist I had not fully appreciated, till organising Humphrey’s memorials in London and Cairo in March last year, how distinguished a scholar he was in the field. From a standing start in 1965 with a scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge to read English (a subject he quickly abandoned as ‘sterile’) he went on to achieve a first in Arabic studies in 1968. This was swiftly followed by a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. Thenceforward, the Arabic language and its literature became his passion. But only in the last twenty-five years was he able to devote himself to translation which was prolific and ranged from classical texts and on down the centuries to contemporary novels. The family and I are delighted that he has, again, been recognised for his translation work by the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize.”

This is not the first year that the annual award of £3,000 has been split by two translators: in 2013, it went jointly to William Hutchins and Jonathan Wright.

It is also not the first win either for Davies or for Robin Moger. Humphrey Davies won the inaugural prize in 2006 for his translation of Elias Khoury’s Gate of the Sun, in 2010 for his translation of Khoury’s Yalo, while Moger won previously in 2017, with his translation of Yasser Abdel Hafez’s The Book of Safety.

The Translation Prizes Award Ceremony, hosted by the Society of Authors, is set to take place on February 8, 2023 at the British Library in London,

You can listen to an episode of BULAQ about both these books: Stealing, Drug-dealing, and the Epic of Egyptian Migration.

Also read:

Author Mohamed Kheir on Surreal Coincidences and the Mysteries of Translation

An Excerpt from Hamdi Abu Golayyel’s ‘Men Who Swallowed the Sun’