Last Monday, January 31, saw the award ceremony in London for the Society of Author’s translation prizes. Humphrey Davies, the winner of the fifth Saif Ghobash–Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation was unable to attend due to the situation in Cairo, where he lives, so the prize was accepted his behalf by his brother.
Elias Khoury, the Lebanese author of the prize-winning novel, Yalo, chose not to attend in the light of Davies absence, in order to highlight the extent to which he considers the author-translator relationship to be a genuine and equal partnership
It is the second time that Davies has won the prize, and the second time he has won it with Elias Khoury: the inaugral Banipal Prize went to Davies translation of Khoury’s The Gate of the Sun in 2006. If that wasn’t enough, Davies was also named joint runner-up on Monday night for his translation of Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher, alongside Kareem James Abu-Zeid for his translation of Cities without Palms by Tarek Etayeb.
It was also a proud night for Andrea Belloli, who has edited both The Gate of the Sun and Yalo, and has just finished with As Though She Were Sleeping, the third novel to be published by Khoury and Davies, due from MacLehose Press in June.
The Judges’ Citations
“The judges were unanimous in their decision to award the 2010 Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation to Humphrey Davies for his translation of Elias Khoury’s novel Yalo. It was first choice on all the judges’ lists.” Yasir Suleiman
“This novel is a tour de force for both author and translator, an ambitious work which deals magnificently with the violence of history and the loss and uses of language, with torture and rape and sexuality. An important and complex book, which brings the history of Lebanon vividly, painfully and colourfully to life.” Margaret Drabble
This is a powerful, moving book that works on many levels. The device of flashbacks and retellings of the protagonist’s story is well-handled, and engages the reader’s attention from the outset . . . The translation is fluent and the language well-crafted. Once I started reading this book, I found it compulsive and it went straight to the top of my list of winners.” Susan Bassnett
“With Yalo, Elias Khoury once again confirms his pre-eminent reputation among contemporary Arab writers. This is not merely a novel – it is a politically charged and philosophically nuanced interrogation of what literature can and cannot do with regard to histories of violence, and the answers it renders are disturbing.” Elliott Colla
Reflections on Yalo
The following is from a talk given by André Naffis-Sahely for the The Banipal Trust and The Mosaic Rooms
on Tuesday, 1 February
In light of Humphrey Davies being unable to join us this evening due to recent events in Cairo, I think it fitting to begin this talk on the matter of state repression and what is perhaps one of its most grievous offences: that of censorship. Later this year, the MacLehose Press will be publishing another of Elias Khoury’s novels (also translated by Davies) entitled As Though She Was Sleeping. That book was banned at the 2008 Cairo International Book Fair – primarily because of its sexual contents. Yalo, for instance, was also banned in Jordan as well as in a number of Gulf countries.
Of course, as with all cases of censorship, nothing is straightforward – in fact, it is fair to say that, even in Saudi Arabia, few books are explicitly banned. Instead, the censor’s approval is merely withheld, making the book ‘unavailable’ – the implication of course being that ‘unavailable’ sounds more like an unfortunate hiccup rather than the crime it actually is. This situation is further compounded by the political climate; at a time when Arab voices are needed the most, to help dispel facile Western stereotypes (Arab ones too of course), those very voices are instead silenced in this most heinous of manners.
Here might be a welcome occasion to repeat an old adage: “Cairo writes, Beirut publishes, and Baghdad reads”. Though I can see its point – where is Tripoli, Tunis, Damascus, Riyadh? Also – while Beirut is indeed the focus of Arab publishing activities, the story doesn’t end there. As Khoury once pointed out, “they don’t censor you here, they kill you.”, a stance certainly coloured by the deaths of two of Khoury’s friends, Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueni in 2005.
To continue reading please download the essay in pdf form: Reflections on Yalo
André Naffis-Sahely has published poetry, fables and criticism. He lives in London and is currently at work on his first collection.
Further information may be found at: poetrytranslation.org
As Though She Were Sleeping
In June 2011 we will be publishing Humphrey Davies’ third translation of an Elias Khoury novel. Below is a proof jacket: click to enlarge and read the copy.