The Banipal Trust for Arab Literature

The 2014 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation

* The Events *

Tuesday 24 February

Sinan Antoon talks with Paul Blezard

203/206 Piccadilly
London W1J 9HD

with Reading and Q&A. Reception. Special performances by virtuoso oud player Khyam Allami

For more details, go to Waterstone's Piccadilly webpage here

This is a free event, but please reserve your place by emailing
Image of Piccadilly Waterstones 

Wednesday 25 February

The Award Ceremony of Translation Prizes
from Arabic, French, German, Spanish and Italian

To listen to the Award Ceremony as it happened, click here for the Society of Authors' recording

Europe House
32 Smith Square
London SW1P 3EU

Introduced by
Paula Johnson
Prize Administrator for the Society of Authors

Prizes presented by
Sir Peter Stothard
editor TLS

with readings by the winning translators

followed by
Philip Hensher on “Wonderful Translations”

Hosted by
The Society of Authors

Society of Authors Prizes logo

and the TLS

TLS logo 

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photo of BALMAL library

Are you a member of our library of modern Arab literature (BALMAL)?

Most of the 2014 entries for the Saif Ghobash Prize can be found in BALMAL library, available for loan to members. Lifetime membership of the library costs just £10 - click here for more details.

To browse online the rich collection of Arab fiction in the BALMAL Library, click here

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Some of the 2014 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize entries, plus many more of the latest works of modern Arab fiction, have been reviewed in issues of BANIPAL magazine.

To read a selection of the book reviews featured in BANIPAL magazine, click here
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Society of Authors logo

The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic translation is annually administered by The Society of Authors

The other 2014 literary translation prizes administered by The Society of Authors are for translation from German, French, Italian and Spanish. For more information on the prizes, click here

Winner Shortlist Entries

The winner of the 2014 Prize Sinan Antoon

Image of Sinan Antoon

The 2014 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation is awarded to Sinan Antoon for his translation of his own novel The Corpse Washer, published by Yale University Press.

Paula Haydar is highly commended for her translation of June Rain, by Jabbour Douaihy, published by Bloomsbury Qatar Publishing Foundation.

The judging panel comprised literary translator and joint winner of the 2013 Prize Jonathan Wright, translator and writer Lulu Norman, broadcaster and writer Paul Blezard, and Banipal editor and trustee Samuel Shimon.  They met in December 2014 to select the winning titles from 17 entries, under the chairmanship of Paula Johnson of the Society of Authors.

The Judges' Announcement


SINAN ANTOON for the translation of his novel The Corpse Washer

Front Cover of 'The Corpse Washer'

"A poetic and profound story that resonates with human pathos"

Heart-warming and horrifying, sad and sensuous in equal measure, The Corpse Washer is the moving story of Jawad, a young Iraqi whose family washes and prepares bodies for burial, and of the fracturing effects of war, occupation and civil strife - on Jawad, his family, his friends and their country. The subject matter is often grim, as befits the tragedies that Iraq has suffered for over three decades, but the meticulous portrayal of the corpse-washing rituals, Jawad's ambivalent feelings about his work and the other world of his nightly dreams, show a gentler, more human side to a world of violence and brutality.

 Thoughtful, precise and consistent in voice and mood, Sinan Antoon comes close, in this translation of his own novel, to the ideal in literary translation - the invisibility of the translator. His fluent and forthright language matches the style and rhythm of his own original Arabic and the unadorned, sometimes affectless tone reflects the hollowness of life as the onslaught of war brings an onslaught of bodies for the corpse washers of Baghdad. The novel ends with Jawad sitting under the pomegranate tree that grows from the water he uses to wash the corpses. A rich, profound insight into an Iraq we hear very little of, this is a story that resonates with human pathos and bears every hallmark of becoming a modern classic.


Margellos World Republic Of LettersOn being given news of the award, Yale University Press Director John Donatich said:

"We are very pleased to see Sinan Antoon win this prestigious and deserved award. The Corpse Washer is a uniquely powerful narrative of the damning effects of war on the aspirations of real human lives. The novel is also notable for having been translated into English by its author, a challenge wonderfully met. We hope the award will help bring the book to the attention of new readers who want a viscerally powerful portrait of life in contemporary Iraq."

As both translator and author of the novel, Sinan Antoon reacted to the news by saying: 

"Writing is never easy and when one writes about death and catastrophe the task becomes even more visceral. The joy of finishing this novel in its Arabic original was followed, as usual, by postpartum pain. I had lived in and with its characters for more than two years and was left bereft of their presence. Translating the novel was the only way to return and inhabit those beings and places once more and to relive their pain and pleasure. It was challenging on many a level, and masochistic at times, but it had its advantages as well. The author and the translator inhabited the same person and could communicate very well most of the time. The novel speaks another language and the text has an afterlife in new readers."

He added: "Translation is a vital act and is underappreciated, especially from languages of thGlobal South. It is an honour and a pleasure to be awarded this prestigious prize. Both author and translator are delighted."

The Corpse Washer is published by Yale University Press
UK edition: 9780300205640
International edition:  ISBN 9780300190601

To read a review of The Corpse Washer in Banipal 49, click here 

To buy a paperpack copy of The Corpse Washer, click here
To buy a hardcover copy, click here
To buy a e-book copy, click here

To buy a paperback copy of The Corpse Washer, click here
To buy a hardcover copy, click here
To buy a ebook copy, click here 

Image of Anton Sinaan

Sinan Antoon is a poet, novelist and translator, born and raised in Baghdad. He earned a BA in English from Baghdad University. He left Iraq after the Gulf War in 1991 and continued his studies in the US where he earned an MA from Georgetown and a PhD in Arabic and Islamic Studies from Harvard in 2006.

He has published two collections of poetry in Arabic; Mawshur Muballal bil-Hurub (Cairo, 2003) and Laylun Wahidun fi Kull al-Mudun (One Night in All Cities) (Dar al-Jamal, 2010), and one in English; The Baghdad Blues (Harbor Mountain Press, 2006). His first novel I'jaam (2003), was published in English translation as I'jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody (City Lights, 2006) as well as in Norwegian, German, Portuguese, and Italian editions. His second novel Wahdaha Shajarat al-Rumman (The Pomegranate Alone) was translated by himself and published as The Corpse Washer (Yale University Press, 2013) which has won the 2014 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, the 2014 Arab American Book Award of the Arab American National Museum (fiction category), and was longlisted for the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Translations in French, Turkish, Polish, and Malayalam are forthcoming. His third novel, Ya Maryam (Dar al-Jamal, 2012) was shortlisted for the 2013 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (The Arabic Booker) and was translated to Spanish and published as Fragmentos de Bagdad (Turner Libros, 2014).

His translation of Mahmoud Darwish's last prose book In the Presence of Absence(Archipelago, 2011) won the 2012 National Translation Award given by the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA). His co-translation (with Peter Money) of a selection of Saadi Youssef's late poetry, Nostalgia, My Enemy, was published by Graywolf in November 2012.

His essays have appeared in major Arabic newspapers and journals as well as The NationAl-Ahram WeeklyMiddle East Report, and New York Timesamong others. His scholarly works include essays on contemporary Arab poetry and politics, and Iraqi history, as well as The Poetics of the Obscene: Ibn al-Hajjaj and Sukhf (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2013). He is a member of the Editorial Review Board of the Arab Studies JournalHe is an associate professor at the Gallatin School, New York University and co-founder of Jadaliyya and co-editor of its culture page. You can follow him on Twitter: @sinanantoon.

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for her translation of June Rain by Jabbour Douaihy

Image of Front Cover of 'June Rain'

“An astonishing translation which exactly captures the novel’s tone and heft”

The judges very highly commended the masterly translation by Paula Haydar of June Rain by Lebanese author Jabbour Douaihy. This complex story explores the effects – at once  cohesive and corrosive – of family and clan loyalties in a mountain village in northern Lebanon, taking as starting-point a massacre in 1957 and its repercussions throughout the community. Eliyya Kfoury returns there after decades living in the United States to search for the truth behind the murder of his father, which took place before he was born.

Lyrical and at times wistful, Douaihy’s novel, part tragedy, part ‘whodunnit’, is rendered through a kaleidoscope of superb stories and characters. Using multiple points of view, the shifting of time and a cast of beautifully drawn characters, his affectionate, at times humorous, conjuring of Lebanese village life makes June Rain a very rich and rewarding read. Paula Haydar’s astonishing translation exactly captures the tone and heft of an extraordinary novel that tells us so much about sectarianism and its heartbreaking legacies.  

Bloomsbury Qatar Publishing Foundation Logo

On hearing the news, Head of English Publishing at Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing Thalia Suzuma said:

"Translation excellence is at the very heart of BQFP's mission, and we are delighted that translator Paula Haydar has been recognised by the Saif Ghobash Prize. We are very proud to work with translators and writers of her and Jabbour Douaihy's calibre."

Paula Haydar sent us her reaction this morning. We are sorry that there was no time to include it in the press announcement:  

"It is a great, great honour to be selected as the highly commended runner-up of the 2014 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for my translation of Jabbour Douaihy’s highly-acclaimed novel 
Matar Haziran. Working on June Rain was one of, if not the most rewarding translation experiences I have had in my career as a literary translator. As in all life experiences, it is those that present the greatest challenges that also have the capacity to deliver the greatest rewards if and when the challenge is met and conquered. A large part of what makes Jabbour Douaihy’s Matar Haziran so deserving of all the high praise it has received since its publication in Arabic in 2006 is not only its sensitive treatment of events and themes that are at once specifically Lebanese and yet widely universal, and not only its poignant portrayal of a wide variety of interesting and memorable characters readers can easily relate to and sympathize with, but most importantly, and from a translator’s perspective in particular, what makes Matar Haziran the literary masterpiece that it is, is the compelling and beautifully-crafted language in which it is so elegantly dressed. It was in that dense linguistic style, jam-packed as it is with interesting details and striking images and cast in wonderfully extensive and complex Arabic sentences that often spanned entire paragraphs and pages, that I found some of the greatest translation challenges of my career. 

"And it was with a deep, heartfelt desire to be loyal to that original style that I found myself often trying to push the limits of the English language by stretching and expanding it to accommodate Douaihy’s Arabic, all the while proceeding with caution, for fear of going too far, of pushing the English past the breaking point and in the process destroying the work instead. Many portions of the translation in its final, published form are the result of numerous writings and rewritings and tinkerings in English during which I believe I drew on every facet of my education, experience and ability as a translator, as well as on essential help from colleagues, friends, and press editors, to whom I am forever grateful."

June Rain is published by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing.
ISBN: 9789992142783

To buy a paperback copy of June Rain, click here
to buy a ebook copy, click here

To buy a paperback copy of June Rain, click here
To buy a ebook copy, click here

Image of Paula Haydar

Paula Haydar is Professor of Arabic at the University of Arkansas. She holds a Ph.D. degree in Comparative Literature and an M.F.A. degree in Literary Translation. Her translation of Lebanese novelist Jabbour Douaihy’s June Rain (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing), which in its original Arabic was shortlisted for the 2008 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, is the highly commended runner-up of the 2014 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation and also made the Beirut Daily Star’s year end book review list of the six Top Middle East Novels of 2014. She has translated six other novels by contemporary Lebanese novelists, three by Elias Khoury – Gates of the City and The Journey of little Gandhi (University of Minnesota Press), and The Kingdom of Strangers (University of Arkansas Press), the latter winning the 1996 Arkansas Arabic Manuscript Translation Award, and two by Rashid al-Daif, This Side of Innocence and Learning English (with co-translator Adnan Haydar) (both Interlink, 2001 and 2007 respectively) and the third in 2014 with co-translator Nadine Sinno, Who's Afraid of Meryl Streep? (University of Texas Press). She has also translated Sahar Khalifeh's The End of Spring (Interlink, 2008) and Adania Shibli's Touch (Clockroot, 2014). The latter was awarded the Young Writer's Award – Palestine by the A.M.Qattan Foundation in its original Arabic edition, and longlisted in translation for the 2011 Best Translated Book Awards at the University of Rochester's Three She has translated a number of short stories and poems that have appeared in international and national journals. She also holds a B.S. in Physics with minor in Arabic and an M.Ed. in Secondary Level Physics Education and teacher certification in Physics and Maths, and has taught Arabic, Physics and Maths in the USA and the Middle East.

Image of Jabbour Douaihy

Jabbour Douaihy is a novelist and Professor of French Literature at the University of Lebanon. He was born in Zgharta, northern Lebanon, in 1949.

To date, he has published seven works of fiction, including Autumn Equinox (Arkansas University Press, 2001) as well as short stories and children's books. The Arabic original of June Rain (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, 2014) was shortlisted for the inaugural International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2008.

His novel American Neighbourhoods, has been longlisted for the 2015 IPAF prize.

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The entries for the 2014 Prize

There were 17 entries for this year's prize, all novels.

The translators of the 17 entries are: Kareem James Abu-Zeid, Roger Allen (2 novels), Sinan Antoon, Aida Bamia, Raphael Cohen (2 novels), Robyn Creswell, Humphrey Davies, Michelle Hartman, Paula Haydar, Kay Heikkinen, William M Hutchins, Nancy Roberts (2 novels), Maia Tabet and Michael K. Scott, and Max Weiss.


Cover of the Mehlis Report  Front cover of the Arch and the Butterfly  Front Cover of Private Pleasures   Cover for Ben Barka Lane

The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber, trans. Kareem James Abu-Zeid (New Directions)
The Arch and the Butterfly by Mohammed Achaari, trans. Aida Bamia (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing)
Private Pleasures by Hamdy El-Gazzar, trans. Humphrey Davies (AUC Press)
Ben Barka Lane by Mahmoud Saeed, trans. Kay Heikkinen (Interlink Publishing Co.)

Front Cover of Other Lives  Front Cover of the Corpse Washer  Front cover of June Rain  Front cover of Throwing Sparks

Other Lives by Iman Humaydan, trans. Michelle Hartman (Interlink Books)
The Corpse Washer by Sinan Antoon, trans. Sinan Antoon (Yale University Press)
June Rain by Jabbour Douaihy, trans. Paula Haydar (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing)
Throwing Sparks by Abdo Khal, trans. Maia Tabet and Michael K. Scott (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing)

Front cover of That Smell  Front cover of House of the Wolf  Front cover of New Waw

That Smell by Sonallah Ibrahim, trans. Robyn Creswell (New Directions)
House of the Wolf by Ezzat El Kamhawi, trans. Nancy Roberts (AUC Press)
New Waw by Ibrahim al-Koni, trans. William M. Hutchins (University of Texas Press)

Front cover of Moon and Henna Tree  Front cover of Bridges of Constantine  Front cover of Earth Weeps Saturn Laughs

Moon and Henna Tree by Ahmed Toufiq, trans. Roger Allen (University of Texas Press)
The Bridges of Constantine by Ahlem Mosteghanemi, trans. Raphael Cohen (Bloomsbury)
Earth Weeps, Saturn Laughs by Abdulaziz al Farsi, trans. Nancy Roberts (AUC Press)

Front cover of Gertrude  Front cover of Status Emo  Front cover of the Silence and the Roar

Gertrude by Hassan Najmi, trans. Roger Allen (Interlink Books)
Status Emo by Eslam Mosbah, trans. Raphael Cohen (AUC Press)
The Silence and the Roar by Nihad Sirees, trans. Max Weiss (Pushkin Press)