By ArabLit staff
A decade ago, very few Arabic works in translation had been turned into audiobooks. Although the BBC often produced readings of individual short stories — as well as a full-cast dramatized reading of The Cairo Trilogy, starring Omar Sharif — the cost of producing a whole audiobook meant that few translated works, or at least few from Arabic, made the leap from the page to a recorded book.
However, with the wide popularity of audiobooks, more and more books and stories translated from the Arabic to English have been making their way into audio format over the past decade. Although a welcome development, it nevertheless comes with new blindspots. For one, the audiobooks we could find online are almost all of books published in the last decade, the vast majority within the last five years. One exception was Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy (originally published in 1956 and translated in 1990), although in its single-narrator audiobook version, only the first book in the trilogy has been produced. And thus far there are no audiobook versions of Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North, for instance, Radwa Ashour’s Granada trilogy, or Mohamed Choukri’s For Bread Alone.
A second, glaring issue is that of mispronunciations: Even the most skilled narrator can mar the experience of an audiobook if the names of characters, places, foods, or other items receive an off-key pronunciation. With translated literature, narrators should ideally be comfortable in both the language in which the book was written and the one in which they’re reading it; if there are multiple source languages, then the narrator should receive direction on those that are unfamiliar. And certainly, any recording should be checked by fluent speakers.
Yet, despite some stumbles, audiobooks can open books up to more readers and different reading experiences. Do let us know about any we’ve missed in the comments.
Celestial Bodies, by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth, read by Laurence Bouvard
Bitter Orange Tree, by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth, read by Raghad Chaar
The Mariner, by Taleb Alrefai, translated by Russell Harris, read by Raad Rawi
Mama Hissa’s Mice, by Saud Alsanousi, translated by Sawad Hussain, read by Fajer Al-Kaisi
The Bamboo Stalk, by Saud Alsanousi, translated by Jonathan Wright, read by Ben Elliot
The Book of Collateral Damage, by Sinan Antoon, translated by Jonathan Wright, read by Fajer Al-Kaisi
The Corpse Washer, by Sinan Antoon, translated by the author, read by Fajer Al-Kaisi
The Baghdad Eucharist, by Sinan Antoon, translated by maia tabet, read by Youssif Kamal
The Baghdad Clock, by Shahd Al Rawi, translated by Luke Leafgren, read by Christine Tawfik
Shatila Stories, translated by Nashwa Gowanlock, read by Lara Darwazah
Beirut, Beirut, by Sonallah Ibrahim, translated by Chip Rossetti, read by Fajer Al-Kaisi
Black Foam, by Haji Jaber, translated by Sawad Hussain & M Lynx Qualey, read by Youssif Kamal
No Knives in the Kitchens of the This City, by Khaled Khalifa, translated by Leri Price, read by Stephen Lee
Death is Hard Work, by Khaled Khalifa, translated by Leri Price, read by Neil Shah
Palace Walk, by Naguib Mahfouz, translated by William M. Hutchins and Olive E. Kenny, read by Neil Shah
Iraq + 100: The First Anthology of Science Fiction to Have Emerged from Iraq, edited by Hassan Blasim, read by Peter Ganim
I’m in Seattle, Where Are You?, by Mortada Gzar, translated by William Hutchins, read by Haaz Sleiman
War and Me, by Faleeha Hassan, translated by William Hutchins, read by Christine Tawfik
Wild Poppies, by Haya Saleh, translated by M Lynx Qualey, read by Amin El Gamal