2022 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation
February 9 @ 6:00 pm
The 2022 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation is to be shared between two winners:
The late HUMPHREY DAVIES for his translation of The Men Who Swallowed the Sun by Hamdi Abu Golayyel, published by Hoopoe Fiction.
Hamdi Abu Golayyel’s The Men Who Swallowed the Sun is a harsh, gritty tale of migration in pursuit of a better life, switching between registers of Arabic through the intimate and irreverent voice of its narrator, as we move from Egypt’s Western Desert to Sabha in the South of Libya, across the Mediterranean to Italy. The novel has overtones of the Arabic oral epic and of the picaresque, through which it traces marginal, forgotten, and uncomfortable histories with sly wit. The richness of the language stretches from the nuances of dialect, proverbs, and colloquialisms, to clever wordplay within Modern Standard Arabic. Humphrey Davies handles this richness with aplomb, conveying the narrator’s chattiness and scattered thoughts, alongside moments of fraught action, and shifts to historical and personal memories.
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.
ROBIN MOGER for his translation of Slipping by Mohamed Kheir, published by Two Lines Press.
In Slipping, a journalist, Seif, is taken on a surreal, disturbing, yet incandescent tour of Egypt to witness events and sights magical and impossible. In the wake of the Arab Spring, the journey shifts from exterior to interior, exploring Seif’s past; his relationships, disappointments, and traumas. The result is a ghostly tour, shifting between life and death, and reality and imagination. Kheir’s first novel to be translated into English, Slipping provides a stunning introduction for Anglophone readers to this poet, short story writer, and novelist.
Robin Moger’s translation captures the sense of movement and electric aliveness of the original. 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.
ABOUT THE PRIZE
The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation is an annual award of £3,000, made to the translator(s) of a published translation in English of a full-length imaginative and creative Arabic work of literary merit published after, or during, the year 1967 and first published in English translation in the year prior to the award. The prize aims to raise the profile of contemporary Arabic literature as well as honouring the important role of individual translators in bringing the work of established and emerging Arab writers to the attention of the wider world.
It was the first prize in the world for published Arabic literary translation into English and was established by Banipal, the magazine of modern Arab literature in English translation, and the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature. The inaugural prize was awarded on 9 October 2006 and won by Humphrey Davies, whose death from cancer on 12 November 2021 is deeply mourned.
The prize is administered by the Society of Authors in the United Kingdom, alongside the other UK prizes for literary translation, from languages that include Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Spanish and Swedish. The prizes are awarded annually at a ceremony hosted by the Society of Authors.