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The Atlas is proud to be partnering with the Hay Festival's Beirut39 contest, celebrating Beirut's year as UNESCO World Book Capital, to find the hottest authors under 40 of Arabic origin. Nominations are open until August 24th, 2009.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Translation, Transliteration, Treason?

We're back, and the year begins with exciting news. The Literary Saloon's sleuthwork uncovered the winner of the 2008 Naguib Mahfouz medal: it's Hamdi Abu Galil -- at least according to Al-Ahram Weekly. Other sources spell the author's name in other ways. The Salooner comments:
We've often complained about the lack of uniform transliteration of author-names from the Korean, but this is pretty bad too. Come on ! -- just settle on one spelling and stick to it! Please!

Abu Galil's success is reported in an interesting and considered round-up of Egypt's year in literature in 2008, covering obituaries, prizes, censorship, and litigation, including the controversy around Arabic Booker-nominated Azazel. The article portrays a vibrant literary culture, which was also in evidence at the Egyptian Writers' Union meeting last week, where translation was on the agenda. Mohamed Salmawy, head of the Egyptian Writers’ Union, said in his opening speech that, “Without translation, there is no dialogue between cultures.”

Each prizewinner honoured by the conference expressed a different concern about translationadn publishing in general. Bahaa Taher, a prizewinner for his “Hob fel Manfa” (Love in Exile), said that: “I wish the number of translations were smaller in quantity but greater in quality," while journalist and novelist Gamal Al-Ghitany pointed to the effective censorship produced by the recent shutdown of The Center for Eastern and Arabic Tendencies (“Ma’ahad Al-Asteshraq wal-Earab”) and by what he called "literary terrorism" practiced by law courts against writers by means of large monetary fines. Mohamed Afifi Mattar raised the pertinent question of translation as intercultural dialogue.
In their eyes, we are the world of Arabian Nights, we are a quirky tale of folklore. Europe translates its own image of us. I wish that the ones who translate our literature are our own people and our writers and not those barbarians.

It's timely, then, that Kanishk Tharoor, writing in The Nation, reviews Abdelfattah Kilito's Thou Shall Not Speak My Language: a history of translation from Arabic, recently translated into English by Waïl S. Hassan. It's an essay well worth reading, touching as it does on the unbroken history of written Arabic literature, the difference in translation non-fiction, fiction and poetry, the colonial context for contemporary translation from Arabic, and the particularities of Kilito's situation in Rabat.


From Literary Saloon, a few days later: a plea for an international council on Arabic transliteration. Not sure how serious this is (given the colonialist implications), but as LS points out it is pragmatic. In the age of Google spelling is a person's USP. And it does seem a little unreasonable that Mohamed El-Bisatie's name is spelled in three different variants on the Arab Booker's shortlist page.

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