The 2015 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation is awarded to Paul Starkey for his translation of the debut novel The Book of the Sultan's Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars by Youssef Rakha, published by Interlink Books.
Jonathan Wright is commended for his translation of the debut novel Land of No Rain by Amjad Nasser, published by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing.
The four judges were Robin Ostle (Chair), Emeritus Research Fellow at St John's College, Oxford; Samira Kawar, literary translator; Alastair Niven, lecturer and writer; and Susannah Tarbush, cultural journalist and blogger. They made their decision on 17 December 2015 at a meeting at the offices of the Society of Authors convened by Paula Johnson, the Administrator of the Translation Prizes, as below:
Paul Starkey for his translation of the novel The Book of the Sultan's Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars by Youssef Rakha
"One of the most adventurous and innovative novels to have appeared in Arabic in recent years and its English version is a tour de force of translation"
"Published at the height of the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, this is one of the most adventurous and innovative novels to have appeared in Arabic in recent years and its English version is a tour de force of translation. The book is an extraordinary exploration of the profound fragmentations and contradictions which mark the personality of the protagonist Mustafa Çorbaci, and by analogy the city and the society which he inhabits. Via a series of erratic (and on occasion, erotic) journeys through his Cairo, which is at once ancient and modern, he wrestles with the dilemmas of identity which beset this journalist, intellectual and aspiring artist. The solutions which are hinted at lie more within the rich variety and inclusiveness of Arabic culture rather than in any particular ideology.
"This text confronts the translator with extraordinary challenges. It mirrors the fundamental tension in the book between the heritage and modernity by constant reference to the classical literary tradition. The author chooses the pre-modern form of 'epistles' or 'treatises' for his rambling narrative, and the language of the text swings from the most formal classical Arabic to the most contemporary vernacular, along with extraordinary fusions of linguistic registers. Paul Starkey addresses these problems with great skill, and has produced a masterly English version of this riotous, chaotic and often comedic story, which is also deeply moving."
Jonathan Wright for his translation of the novel Land of No Rain by Amjad Nasser
"An inspired and inspiring account of that perennial theme of the modern Arab experience: exile and return"
The judges were deeply impressed by Jonathan Wright's translation of Land of No Rain, an inspired and inspiring account of that perennial theme of modern Arab experience: exile and return. The narrative is that of the protagonist's return after twenty years in exile to a fictional Arab country where the body politic is dominated by a military dictatorship totally intent on the perpetuation of its repressive rule. Through its taut, succinct language, the reader is confronted by a succession of interlocking themes such as the workings of memory, the divided self of the narrator, and the manner in which individuals cope with threatening power in an atmosphere of constant imminent danger.
"The outstanding feature of this book is its highly poetically charged prose which Jonathan Wright has rendered into English with a sureness of stylistic touch which does complete justice to the Arabic original."
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