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Monday, October 13, 2008

Saif-Ghobash Banipal Prize in full

Susannah Tarbush, who blogs as the tanjara, has posted her Saudi Gazette article on the Saif Ghobash-Banipal prize, with full details of the judges' citations for Fady Joudah's winning translation of Mahmoud Darwish's The Butterfly's Burden, his reading of "Not as a Foreign Tourist Does", and of the runner-up and highly-commended titles:

Ghassan Nasr was the runner-up with his translation of the late Palestinian writer Jabra Ibrahim Jabra’s last novel The Journals of Sarab Affan (Syracuse University Press). In the judges’ view: “As is to be expected with the writings of this poet-novelist, the Arabic text is couched in language of exquisite beauty, and Ghassan Nasr succeeds admirably in transferring the nuances of the original to an English version that is a pleasure to read.”

Nancy Roberts’ translation of Egyptian novelist Salwa Bakr’s The Man from Bashmour (American University in Cairo Press) was highly commended. The jury was “deeply impressed by Bakr’s courageous novelistic exploration of Egypt’s complex relationship with its Christian (Coptic) community during the 9th century AD.” The text uses complex levels of discourse, “and the translation project has therefore been a significant challenge, one that has been met with great success by the translator.”

Describing Joudah's translation of Darwish, judge Roger Allen set a high bar for translators of poetry:

The English versions of the poems “replicate, deliberately so, the structures of the original poems that parallel them on the opposite page, and yet they can be read in their English forms as wonderful transfers of the images and music of the Arabic poems. It goes without saying that this is a major achievement.”

Elizabeth Bachner writes of the desire to engage in the "acrobatic" art of translation - as a writer and reader - when discussing Anne Carson's Grief Lessons, a translation of four Euripides plays. Her powerful description of the translation - kind of a whirlwind met on a knife-edge - applies to Joudah's meeting with Darwish as well.

If translation in any form is a beautiful, treacherous and radical art -- a bit like alchemy, or shape-shifting, or dancing, or dying, or writing poems -- then translating the classics is more beautiful, and more treacherous, and more radical. It’s a kind of epistemological time travel. You have to convey, wholly and purely, the writer’s way of expressing and understanding the world. You are thrust into a vortex of inexact equations and surreal paradoxes. In transforming someone’s words, you risk destroying them, turning them into a pile of babble or ashes or dust. I say this as someone who writes in only one language -- in the translation world, I am a limbless girl watching the ballet. It makes me weep. I can feel how to pirouette with my phantom limbs.

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