Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize Annual Lecture 2022


St Jerome or St Christopher?

This year’s Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation Lecture will be given by the scholar, Arabist and indefatigable literary translator Hartmut Fähndrich. He reflects on what he calls the dubiouspleasure of translating modern Arabic literature into German, and will present a fascinating insight into his forty years of translations since the mid-1980s when he became, in his own words, a “fanatical translator of contemporary Arabic literature” into German after discovering in 1982 “practically no publications, nothing translated”.

7pm, Thursday, 10 November 2022

at The British Library
96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB

Every guild has its patron, a saint – either male or female – whose emblem is basic for the activities performed by its member craftsmen. So Mary Magdalene became the patron of perfume traders as she is said to have poured a vase of precious ointment over Christ’s feet. Less obvious is the reason of the bartenders’ choosing Bernard of Clairvaux, the preacher initiating the second crusade, as their patron. More obvious is the translators’ choice of Saint Jerome to be their patron saint. After all, he spent a good part of his life translating the Old Testament into Latin, all by himself with only a lion squatting quietly in front of him.

Yet, this peaceful image does not suffice to convey the daily effort and pain of translators.

And here another saint comes into one’s mind, one not normally connected with the craft of translating: Saint Christopher, known to have carried people across a river. One day there was a child begging for his service. And the man did what he always did: he took the child crossing the river to the other bank. On the way, however, his precious “load” became heavier and heavier and in the end he hardly reached the other side.

The load consists of many parts: the desires of the authors, the demands of the publishers, the expectations of potential readers and the trials and tribulations of an adequate rendering of the text.

This is the burden weighing on the shoulders of the translator as Saint Christopher, this man whom the German poet R.M. Rilke in a powerful poem described as “knowledgeable on both banks” and “receptive for all that want to cross over”.

This event will take place at the British Library's Foyle Suite. Tickets (from £0.00 to £11.00) may be booked to attend in person.  For technical reasons, the Lecture will be filmed and a recording uploaded after the event, rather than being live-streamed. 

Hartmut Fähndrich
has been translating contemporary Arabic literature into German since the mid-1980s. His published translations currently number about 70, mostly novels, and include works by Palestinian authors Emile Habiby, Ghassan Kanafani and Sahar Khalifeh; many major authors from Egypt including Naguib Mahfouz, Sonallah Ibrahim, Gamal al-Ghitani, Salwa Bakr, Edwar al-Kharrat, Mansoura Ez Eldin and Alaa al-Aswany; from Libya Ibrahim al-Koni; from Lebanon Emily Nasrallah; from Saudi Arabia Raja Alem; from Iraq Hassan Blasim, Inaam Kachachi and Ahmed Saadawi; and Khaled Khalifa from Syria. He has published essays in numerous journals and magazines on modern and “classical” Arabic literature and civilization.

Hartmut has received several awards for his translation activities, including Switzerland’s annual Special Award for Translation in 2016, awarded for the first time for translation from Arabic, and in 2018, the Sheikh Hamad Award for Translation and International Understanding (Qatar).

For more information about Hartmut Fähndrich click here.

Published Date - 23/09/2022