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The 2023 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation is awarded to Luke Leafgren for his translation of Mister N by Najwa Barakat, published by And Other Stories. Following the shortlist of six works that was announced on 1 December 2023, the judges are unanimous in naming Luke Leafgren as the winner of the 2023 prize, to be awarded by the Society of Authors on 7 February 2024.
The judging panel of four comprised Ros Schwartz (Chair), award-winning translator from French of over 100 fiction and nonfiction titles, Tony Calderbank, translator, former teacher of Arabic and translation, and for many years British Council director in South Sudan, Bahrain and Libya, Sarah Enany, winner of the 2021 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize and Assistant Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Cairo University and Barbara Schwepke, founder, publisher and CEO of Gingko Library, and founder of Haus Publishing. For more information about the judges click here.
THE JUDGES’ REPORT
It was quite a challenge to select a winner from such a range of genres – including fiction, testimony, a children’s book and historical fiction – but the judging process was as delightfully simple as it was unanimous. In our individual selections, almost all the judges had Mister N as a contender and it was highly spoken of by all.
We soon reached a consensus as to the shortlist, and one of us said, “Right, so we all seem to pretty much agree that Mister N is our winner?” There was enthusiastic assent from everyone. This unanimity is even more striking given the sterling quality of the works on our shortlist. All of them are beautifully written originals, with compelling narratives – saddening and sobering in the case of What Have You Left Behind?; uplifting and exciting in Thunderbird; contemplative and profound in The Turban and the Hat; captivating and atmospheric in The King of India; and complex and enthralling in Firefly. The translations of these works more than do them justice; they give the originals new life in a new language.
And yet, this said, Mister N was the standout choice for its magnificent translation. In smooth, self-effacing prose, enriched by a widely varied vocabulary, Luke Leafgren leads the reader seamlessly into Najwa Barakat’s creation of a labyrinthine world where all is not as it seems. The shifts in time and point of view are conveyed with aplomb, and the general effect is of a riveting psychological thriller written in delightfully rich and eloquent English.
Capturing the spirit and the letter of the original in all its depth and virtuosity, Mister N is an exceptionally good example of the translator’s art. It is both faithful and creative, fully representing the original work with all its dark complexity, fragmented narration and splashes of sombre humour. The choices of structure, vocabulary, and idiom that Luke Leafgren has made, perfectly render the Arabic, recreating the obsessive fastidiousness of the protagonist, the ambiguous nature of his accommodation and the serial instability of the city around him.
REACTION FROM WINNER LUKE LEAFGREN
“Winning the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation in 2018 meant more to me than any other achievement in my life, and that special feeling is echoed now. This prize is also for Najwa Barakat, whose creativity is a gift to readers, and whose remarkable novel rewarded all the hours I spent in reading, drafting, revising, and editing since the day she sent me two sections of the manuscript in 2018. I am happy to share this honor with Stefan Tobler and everyone at And Other Stories, and especially with editor Jeremy Davies, whose careful reading and creative suggestions improved my translation immensely. In addition to being a powerful work of literature, this book is a testament to the capacious history of Beirut, and to that great city’s resilience and promise through past and current tragedies.”
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR
Luke Leafgren is an Assistant Dean of Harvard College. He has published seven translations of contemporary Arabic novels and received the 2018 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for his translation of Muhsin Al-Ramli’s The President’s Gardens. In May 2023 And Other Stories published his translation of Shalash the Iraqi by Shalash.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Najwa Barakat was born in Lebanon in 1961. After receiving a degree in theatre at the Fine Arts Institute in Beirut, she moved to Paris and studied cinema at Le Conservatoire Libre du Cinéma Français. She has hosted cultural programs produced by Radio France Internationale (RFI), the BBC, and Al Jazeera, and is the author of seven novels as well as being the Arabic translator of Albert Camus’s notebooks. She lives in Paris.
ABOUT THE BOOK
by Najwa Barakat (Lebanon)
Published by And Other Stories, 17 May 2022. https://www.andotherstories.org/mister-n/
Pbk ISBN: 9781913505325. £11.99
Ebook ISBN: 9781913505332 £9.99.
Mister N is a dark tragi-comic novel which relates the tale of a former novelist who has returned to writing in order to exorcise the disturbing memories of his past. As he sits in his room in a mysterious hotel, struggling to disentangle the relationships he has had with the members of his own family and the characters he has created in his novels, his life lurches further into disorder. Time, place, and Mister N’s inner dialogue become ever more fragmented, and just like the damaged city around him, he cannot quite manage to put things back together.
THE AWARD CEREMONY – 7 February 2024
The Translation Prizes Award Ceremony, hosted by the Society of Authors, will take place on 7 February 2024 at the British Library, and will award eight translation prizes: the Bernard Shaw Prize (Swedish biennial), the Premio Valle Inclán (Spanish), the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize (Arabic), for the first time the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation Translation Prize (Japanese), the Schlegel-Tieck Prize (German), Scott Moncrieff Prize (French), the Translators’ Association First Translation Prize (debut translation from any language into English) and The Goethe-Institut Award (biennial).
A CELEBRATION OF LITERARY TRANSLATION
The Annual Lecture and the Winner of the 2023 Prize
6.00pm - 9pm. Thursday 8 February 2024
The Brunei Gallery, SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, London WC1B 5DQ
On Thursday 8 February, from 6.00pm GMT, at the SOAS Brunei Gallery, The Banipal Trust for Arab Literature will co-host with the SOAS Centre for Translation Studies and Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies A Celebration of Literary Translation at which Prizewinner Luke Leafgren will be in conversation with chair of judges Ros Schwartz, and acclaimed poet and poetry translator Khaled Mattawa will give the Annual Prize Lecture on the subject: Stations of Translation: Power, Eros, and Betrayal. The event will be in-person and online, followed by a Q&A and reception.
All welcome to this free event. Register to attend in-person or online at these links:
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