The Banipal Trust for Arab Literature

The 2020 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation

Winner Shortlist Entries

 KAY HEIKKINEN wins the 2020 Prize

A celebration of the triumph of the imagination over the mundane”

The 2020 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation is awarded to Kay Heikkinen for her translation of the novel Velvet by Huzama Habayeb, published by Hoopoe Fiction. Following the shortlist of five titles that was announced on 24 November 2020, the judges are unanimous in naming Kay Heikkinen as the winner of the £3,000 prize, to be awarded by the Society of Authors on 11 February 2021.

The judges in this 15th year of the Prize comprised Emeritus Professor of Arabic, University of Durham Paul Starkey (Chair), fiction editor at The Guardian Justine Jordan, writer, publisher & broadcaster Nii Ayikwei Parkes, and film director & philanthropist Omar Al-Qattan.

THE JUDGES’ REPORT

“Kay Heikkinen deserves the highest commendation for her sensitive translation of Huzama Habayeb’s award-winning novel Mukhmal, published in 2016. The novel is an intense and vivid story of one woman’s life in a Palestinian refugee camp, told with sensitivity to the sensuous but tragic world of its heroine but above all to her disturbing and almost heroic defiance of reality. The coarseness of Hawwa’s everyday life stands in stark contrast to the softness of the material around which much of her world revolves. On one level, the novel is a study of the claustrophobia of poverty and oppression, of daily lives shorn of all tenderness and of the stranglehold of family and patriarchy. Throughout it all, however, there remain dreams of individual fulfilment and the possibility of love and escape, turning the novel into a celebration of the triumph of the imagination over the mundane.        

“Hawwa’s story is told in a rich, carefully crafted Arabic that represents a significant challenge for any translator, requiring stamina and resilience as well as accuracy and precision. The judges were impressed by the way in which Kay Heikkinen’s translation has succeeded in conveying not only the sense but also the mood and emotion of the original, bringing to life a narrative that vividly portrays the repressive life of ordinary Palestinian women while scrupulously avoiding any hint of political platitude. Her translation faithfully adheres to the elegance of the original without losing the deeply tragic tenor of its events.

“The judges were impressed by the quality of several other shortlisted translations, including two shorter works, but after extensive discussion reached the decision to award the prize to Kay Heikkinen for a translation that they considered to be of outstanding quality and which deserves to enjoy the same success in English as it has already done in Arabic, through the award of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2017.

ABOUT THE WINNING TRANSLATION Velvet

from the translator, the author and the publisher

Translator Kay Heikkinen reacted to the news:

“I am overwhelmed! I cannot begin to thank you as I would like to. Nor can I begin to thank Huzama Habayeb as she deserves, both for writing this beautiful book and for her unfailing and unstinting support throughout the translation process. I am delighted at the recognition of her accomplishment in writing such a beautiful human story of a courageous woman, who retains a capacity to be light-hearted in the face of crushing circumstances, and of her accomplishment in writing a new kind of Palestinian story, one that engages with politics only very indirectly. I’m grateful also to all those at Hoopoe who championed this project, as well as to the Banipal committee—more grateful than I can say. Thank you all.”

Author Huzama Habayeb wrote:

“I am thrilled that Velvet has won the 2020 Saif Ghobash Banipal Translation Prize. It is a well-deserved award to the wonderful Kay Heikkinen, who has done a great job in conveying it into English. I thought the translation of Velvet would be a rather challenging task or even a “mission impossible” at times, partly because of its language, which is delicately woven, freshly coined, personalized, and infused with a character of its own, and also for its narrative, which spirit Kay brilliantly captured.

"I was more than lucky to have Kay work on the translation, as she exhibited utter dedication, approaching the work with an open heart and mind. I also greatly enjoyed discussing the translation with her – our discussions often leading us to delve deep in the social and historical context of the novel. A particularly heartening moment was when I explained the symbolism behind one of Fairouz’s songs to Kay, only to see her express greater appreciation for the novel, which made me even more convinced that hers was truly a labour of love. Only love can produce a work like Velvet, both in Arabic and English.

"Thank you, Kay for your brilliant and passionate translation. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking care of Hawwa and Sitt Qamar, loving them as much as I had loved them, and feeling heartbroken for them as much as I had felt.”

Khaled Seoudi of Hoopoe Fiction said:

“Kay Heikkinen is an incredibly accomplished and talented translator and it is always a pleasure and a privilege to work with her at Hoopoe. Her exquisite translation of Huzama Habayeb's Velvet has rendered this powerful and complex novel into eloquent, flowing English, capturing the passion and pain, the nuance and the many layers of the original. We are delighted that she has been given this much-deserved recognition.”

ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR

Kay Heikkinen is a translator and academic who holds a PhD from Harvard University and is currently Ibn Rushd Lecturer of Arabic at the University of Chicago. Among other books, she has translated Naguib Mahfouz’s In the Time of Love and Radwa Ashour’s The Woman From Tantoura.





ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Huzama Habayeb is a Palestinian writer who was born and raised in Kuwait, where she started writing and publishing short stories, poetry, and journalistic pieces as a student of English language and literature. She started writing and publishing short stories and poetry as a student, and her journalistic writings were published in several newspapers and magazines. When the Gulf War erupted in 1990, she fled to Jordan and established her reputation as a short-story writer. Habayeb’s first novel, Asl al-hawa (Root of Passion), was published in 2007, gaining wide critical acclaim, and her second novel, Qabla an Tanama al-Malika (Before The Queen Falls Asleep), published in 2011, was described by critics as an epic novel of the Palestinian diaspora. Her third novel, Mukhmal (Velvet), for which in December 2017 she was awarded the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, was first published in Arabic in Beirut in 2016 by the Arab Institute for Research and Publishing.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Velvet by Huzama Habayeb (Palestine)

Published by Hoopoe Fiction (an imprint of AUC Press), Cairo, 2019

ISBN:  9789774169304.  Pbk, 272 pages, £10.99 / USD17.95. Kindle £9.41 / USD12.42

Hawwa is a child of the grinding hardship of a Palestinian refugee camp. She has had to survive the camp itself, as well as the humiliation and destruction of an abusive family life. But now, later in life, something most unexpected has happened: she has fallen in love. Velvet unfolds over a day in Hawwa’s life, as she makes plans for a new beginning that may take her out of the camp. She sifts back through her memories of the past: the stories of her family, her childhood, and her beloved mentor, who invited her into the glamorous world of the rich women of Amman. This is a novel of enormous power and great beauty. Rich in detail, it tells of the women of the camp, and the joy and relief that can be captured amid repression and sorrow.

“This is Huzama Habayeb’s third novel and marks a high point in her writing career, with the Arabic original, Mukhmal, awarded the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2017. It was hailed by the judges as “a new kind of Palestinian novel” that wrote about the “everyday lives of Palestinians”, and about the “human condition” through its portrayal of woman […] Velvet is a heady, emotional read.”
                   From the review of Velvet by Margaret Obank, published in Banipal 68 (Summer 2020).

The Translation Prizes Award Ceremony, hosted by the Society of Authors, will take place on 11 February 2021 as an online event, with a Banipal Trust online event celebrating the 2020 Winner taking place the following week on Wednesday 17 February.

The 2020 Prize – The Shortlist

The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize is pleased to announce the shortlist of the 2020 Prize. Five works were selected for the shortlist from a total of fourteen entries, which comprised one collection of short stories, one volume of poetry, and twelve novels (some of which might be better classified as novellas). In this connection, the judges noted the difficulties of making comparisons between works in different genres or conceived on different scales, which sometimes demand different qualities from the translator and these factors are reflected in the shortlist. The judges also noted that three of the shortlisted works (and five of the total number of entries) were published by the same publisher.

In selecting the shortlist, the judges noted a rich diversity of styles, themes and settings ranging from sprawling cities to humble villages. It was particularly noticeable that several of the works selected for the shortlist revolve around the lives and dreams of ordinary people, providing intimate insights into the societies concerned, which themselves cover the full span of the Arab world, from Morocco to Iraq. Writings of this sort pose particular challenges and demand a high level of sensitivity to the subtleties of the original Arabic on the part of the translator. The judges are happy to report that these qualities were in ample evidence not only in the shortlisted works but also in many of the other translations submitted for the prize.

The shortlisted works are:

       

Trees for the Absentees by Ahlam Bsharat (Palestine)
Translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp & Sue Copeland

Publisher: Neem Tree Press

A Shimmering Red Fish Swims with Me by Youssef Fadel (Morocco)
Translated by Alexander E. Elinson

Publisher: Hoopoe Fiction (an imprint of AUC Press)

Velvet by Huzama Habayeb (Palestine)
Translated by Kay Heikkinen

Publisher: Hoopoe Fiction (an imprint of AUC Press)

The Old Woman and the River by Ismail Fahd Ismail (Kuwait)
Translated by Sophia Vasalou

Publisher: Interlink Books

The Egyptian Assassin by Ezzedine C. Fishere (Egypt)
Translated by Jonathan Wright

Publisher: Hoopoe Fiction (an imprint of AUC Press)

* * * *

The judges of the 15th year of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation are Professor Paul Starkey (Chair), Guardian fiction editor Justine Jordan, writer and activist Nii Ayikwei Parkes, and film director and philanthropist Omar Al-Qattan.

The Judges' Comments

Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp & Sue Copeland

shortlisted for their translation of

Trees for the Absentees by Ahlam Bsharat (Palestine)

Published by Neem Tree Press, 2019

ISBN: 9781911107231. Paperback, 96 pages, £8.99 / USD9.99 EPUB £8.99 / USD9.99

“Ahlam Bsharat’s Trees for the Absentees is a coming-of-age story with a magical realist touch. The novella centres on Philistia, a young Palestinian woman on the brink of adulthood, who is studying at university but who also works part-time washing women’s bodies at the ancient Ottoman hammam in Nablus. This portrait of a young woman bonding with her friends, yearning for love and lamenting the absence of her long-imprisoned father has a down-to-earth, intimately universal appeal; but it is also an elegantly oblique meditation on the heartbreak and loss of years of occupation, and a philosophical inquiry into the borders between life and death. Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp and Sue Copeland’s translation captures well the subtlety and occasional ironic humour of a text that ultimately bristles with hope against all odds.”

Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp is a British literary translator working from Arabic, German and Russian into English. She has a particular interest in literature for children and young adults, and in translating history and historical fiction.  Ruth has translated novels by Ahlam Bsharat, Katja Frixe, Kathrin Rohmann, Hanna Winter, Yulia Yakovleva and Fadi Zaghmout, and nonfiction by Samar Yazbek, Peter Wohlleben and Wassily Kandinsky. Her translation of Farewell to the Horse by Ulrich Raulff was shortlisted for the 2019 Helen & Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize.  Ruth graduated from the University of Oxford in 2003 and has been a professional translator since completing an MA in Translation and Interpreting at the University of Bath in 2004. 

Sue Copeland is a British translator working from Arabic, French, Italian and Spanish into English. Since graduating from the University of Exeter in 1977, she has spent most of her career working for the UK government as a multilingual translator and researcher, but for the past two years has been a freelance translator and also works as an Arabic interpreter with Syrian refugees in Gloucestershire. Sue became a Member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists in March 2016. She enjoys translating fiction and non-fiction, particularly that associated with human rights and refugees.

Ahlam Bsharat is a Palestinian writer who grew up in a village in Northern Palestine. She completed her Master’s Degree in Arabic Literature at An-Najah National University in Nablus. Besides poetry, picture books, short stories, novels and memoirs, she has written a number of television and radio scripts. Her books have received many awards and recommendations. Ismee Alharakee Farasha (translated into English as Code Name: Butterfly) was included in the IBBY Honour List for 2012, a biennial selection of outstanding, recently published books from more than seventy countries. Ismee Alharakee Farasha and Ashjaar lil-Naas al-Ghaa’ibeen (translated into English as Trees for the Absentees) were both runners-up for the Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature in 2013. Code Name: Butterfly was also shortlisted for the UK based Palestine Book Awards in 2017. Ahlam has been active in numerous cultural forums, and her craft has taken her to Belgium, France and Spain, where she was artist in residence. She has also led many creative writing workshops for children and adults, including twice at the Emirates Literature Festival in Dubai.

 

* * * *


Alexander E. Elinson

shortlisted for his translation of

A Shimmering Red Fish Swims with Me by Youssef Fadel (Morocco)

Published by Hoopoe Fiction (an imprint of AUC Press), Cairo, 2019

ISBN: 9789774169373. Paperback, 440 pages, £11.99 / USD17.95 Kindle £9.04

“Youssef Fadel’s rich, polyphonic novel marks the triumphant conclusion of a landmark trilogy about modern Morocco. The work of a master storyteller, A Shimmering Red Fish Swims with Me juxtaposes the grand designs of the privileged against the minutiae of the lives of the less fortunate in a passionate, furious work of protest against injustice. Set in the historical, working-class quarter of Casablanca, whose residents are being expelled to accommodate the construction of the new grandiose Hassan II Mosque, the novel centres on a tragic love story, which is traced in witty, playful and humane prose, including the use of local dialect. Overall, the tone of the novel is grand and classical, and this confers upon the book a certain furious dignity that has been brilliantly captured in Alexander E. Elinson’s sensitive and accomplished translation.”

Alexander E. Elinson is a scholar and translator. He teaches Arabic Language and Literature at Hunter College/CUNY and his research interests cut across the Middle East and North Africa, including Arabic and Hebrew literature from the Andalusi to the contemporary period. His current research is on language change and the use of Moroccan Arabic in writing. His previous translations include Youssef Fadel’s A Beautiful White Cat Walks with Me and Allal Bourqia’s short story “A Noisy Disappearance in an Ill-Reputed Alley” in Marrakech Noir. He is currently working on translating Yassin Adnan’s novel Hot Maroc.

Youssef Fadel is an award-winning Moroccan novelist and screenwriter born in Casablanca in 1949. During Morocco’s ‘Years of Lead’ he was imprisoned in the notorious Moulay Cherif prison (1974–75). A Shimmering Red Fish Swims with Me is his tenth novel, and the final part in his modern Morocco series. He lives in Casablanca.

 

* * * *


Kay Heikkinen

shortlisted for her translation of

Velvet by Huzama Habayeb (Palestine)

Published by Hoopoe Fiction (an imprint of AUC Press), Cairo, 2019

ISBN:  9789774169304.  Paperback, 272 pages,  £10.99 / USD17.95. Kindle £9.41 / USD12.42

“Huzama Habayeb’s novel is an intense and vivid story of one woman’s life in a Palestinian refugee camp, told with sensitivity to the sensuous but tragic world of its heroine but above all to her almost heroic defiance of reality. On one level, the novel is a study of the claustrophobia of poverty and oppression, of daily lives shorn of all tenderness, and of the stranglehold of family and patriarchy. Throughout it all, however, there remain dreams of individual fulfilment and the possibility of love and escape, turning the novel into a celebration of the triumph of the imagination over the mundane. The richness of the Arabic original is captured by Kay Heikkinen in a translation that faithfully adheres to its elegance without undue artifice and without losing the deeply tragic tenor of its events.”

 

Kay Heikkinen is a translator and academic who holds a PhD from Harvard University and is currently Ibn Rushd Lecturer of Arabic at the University of Chicago. Among other books, she has translated Naguib Mahfouz’s In the Time of Love and Radwa Ashour’s The Woman From Tantoura.

Huzama Habayeb is a Palestinian writer who was born and raised in Kuwait, where she started writing and publishing short stories, poetry, and journalistic pieces as a student of English language and literature. She started writing and publishing short stories and poetry as a student, and her journalistic writings were published in several newspapers and magazines. When the Gulf War erupted in 1990, she fled to Jordan and established her reputation as a short-story writer. Habayeb’s first novel, Asl al-hawa (Root of Passion), was published in 2007, gaining wide critical acclaim, and her second novel, Qabla an ‘Tanama al-‘Malika (Before The Queen Falls Asleep), published in 2011, was described by critics as an epic novel of the Palestinian diaspora. Her third novel, Mukhmal (Velvet), for which in December 2017 she was awarded the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, was first published in Arabic in Beirut in 2016 by the Arab Institute for Research and Publishing.

* * * *

Sophia Vasalou

shortlisted for her translation of

The Old Woman and the River by Ismail Fahd Ismail (Kuwait)
Published by Interlink Books, Northampton, USA, 2019

ISBN: 9781623719821. Paperback, 176 pages,  £11.62 / USD15.00

 

“Ismail Fahd Ismail’s novella tells the story of an Iraqi woman, Um Qasem, who is forced from her home during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war but determines to return her husband’s bones to their final resting place, now a parched military zone. Her journey, in the company of her faithful donkey Good Omen, provides the material for a haunting, Quixotic narrative that is also a life-affirming novella of defiance. Despite Um Qasem’s apparent naivety, her indomitable spirit brings life and hope to the land she loves, and her story presents a warm parable of human resilience and the waste of war. Sophia Vasalou’s translation, in which every word has been chosen with care, perfectly captures the cheeky spirit of the original Arabic, leaving the reader with a lingering image both of Um Qasem’s donkey and of her indomitable will.”

 

Sophia Vasalou studied Arabic and Islamic Studies at SOAS and Cambridge (where she took her PhD in 2006). She has held research fellowships at Gonville & Caius College in Cambridge, Orient Institut Beirut, Oxford Brookes University, and New York University Abu Dhabi. At present, she works in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham as a Senior Lecturer and Birmingham Fellow in philosophical theology. Her translation work has ranged from pre-modern to modern Arabic texts, and includes both fiction and philosophy. She had two works published in 2019: a translation of the anthology of literary-philosophical Q&A between the litterateur Abu Ḥayyan al-Tawḥidi and the philosopher Abu ’Ali Miskawayh, and Ismail Fahd Ismail’s The Old Woman and the River.

Ismail Fahd Ismail (1940 – 25 September 2018) is regarded as the founder of the art of the novel in Kuwait. After the appearance of The Sky Was Blue, in 1970, he published 27 novels, as well as three short story collections, two plays and several critical studies. The Phoenix and the Faithful Friend was long-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2014. He was revered for his encouragement of new Kuwaiti and Arab literary talent. Al-Sabiliat was shortlisted for the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

 

* * * *

Jonathan Wright

shortlisted for his translation of

The Egyptian Assassin by Ezzedine C. Fishere (Egypt)
Published by Hoopoe Fiction (an imprint of AUC Press), Cairo, 2019.

ISBN: 978-9774169311. Paperback, 368 pages,  £9.99 / USD17.95 Kindle £7.34 / USD9.74

 

“Ezzedine Fishere’s novel takes the reader on a rollicking, high-speed chase through Egypt, Sudan, France and Afghanistan, in a tale motivated above all by revenge. This story of how an ordinary lawyer becomes an unstoppable trained killer is an ambitious blend of globe-trotting thriller, family psychodrama and social panorama. Behind the high-octane caper, however, lies a more serious narrative, exploring themes of global politics and finance and of radicalisation in contemporary autocratic states. Fishere’s novel touches on issues of corruption, fundamentalism, fatherly love and the catastrophic effects of violence on the human spirit in a highly personalised narrative, the spirit of which has been admirably captured by Jonathan Wright in a page-turning English translation.”

 

Jonathan Wright studied Arabic, Turkish and Islamic History at St John’s College, Oxford University and was from 1980 based for three decades in the Middle East as a Reuters news agency correspondent and Cairo bureau chief. His career as an Arabic literary translator began in 2008 with his translation of Egyptian writer Khaled al-Khamissi’s Taxi. He has received numerous translation awards:  he was joint winner of the 2013 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for his translation of Azazeel by Egyptian author Youssef Zeidan, and winner of the 2016 Prize for his translation of The Bamboo Stalk by Kuwaiti Saud Alsanousi. (Both novels had won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, IPAF). He was a judge of the 2014 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize, and was in the following year commended by the Prize for his translation of Jordanian Amjad Nasser’s Land of No Rain. He was shortlisted for the 2018 Prize for his translation of Iraqi novelist Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad, and for the 2019 Prize for his translation of Palestinian Mazen Maarouf’s short story collection Jokes for the Gunmen, which was also shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize. His translation of Iraqi author Hassan Blasim’s The Iraqi Christ won the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. His other translations include Sudanese author Hamour Ziada’s The Longing of the Dervish, Egyptian Ibrahim Essa’s The Televangelist (both had been shortlisted for IPAF) and works by Rasha al-Ameer, Fahd al-Atiq, Alaa El-Aswany, Galal Amin and Bahaa Abdelmajid. His translation of Hassan Blasim’s debut novel God 99 is forthcoming from Comma Press.

Ezzedine C. Fishere is an acclaimed Egyptian writer, academic, and diplomat. He has written numerous successful and bestselling novels, including Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge, which was shortlisted for the 2012 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), and also writes political articles for Arabic, English, and French news outlets. He currently teaches at Dartmouth College in the US, where he lives.

 * * * *

Call for Entries

We are pleased to alert you to the Call for Entries to the 2020 Prize. It will be the 15th year of the prize dedicated to promoting contemporary Arabic literature in English translation. The deadline for both publication of titles and of entries to the 2020 prize is 31 March 2020. 

We hope that you have been busy selecting more great works for translation from the hundreds of interesting and powerful literary works published in Arabic. We are looking for entries of fiction or poetry – first published in English translation between 1 April 2019 and 31 March 2020 and translated from full-length imaginative and creative Arabic work of literary merit and general interest, published in original Arabic after or during the year 1967. Entries can have been published in English anywhere in the world, but must be available for purchase in the UK, either through the usual distribution channels or online. We are very pleased to see that the number of publishers publishing Arabic literature in translation is growing, with 14 different publishers entering the 17 entries of the current 2019 prize.

The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize is administered by the UK’s Society of Authors. There is now a very efficient online form to complete for each title entered. The full rules of entry can be found at http://www.banipaltrust.org.uk/rules/ and the online entry form is here:  https://www.societyofauthors.org/Prizes/Translation-Prizes/Saif-Ghobash-Banipal

Send the entries, 3 copies of the original Arabic, and 5 copies of the English translation. to:

          THE SAIF GHOBASH BANIPAL PRIZE
          THE SOCIETY OF AUTHORS
          24 BEDFORD ROW 
           LONDON WC1R 4TQ
           UK

There is a judging panel of four, two who read both the Arabic and the English, and two who assess only the English. You can access all information about previous judging panels here.

It is preferable to present the judges with copies of the actual Arabic books rather than photocopied pages. If you have difficulty in sourcing copies of the Arabic originals via your translator or direct from the Arab publishers, do let us know directly on info@banipaltrust.org.uk and we will help obtain them for you through our contacts with Arab publishers. We now also ask for e-versions or PDFs of the books, as judges find these very useful when they might be travelling.

Regarding the 2019 current year prize, the results will be announced on 8 January 2020 on our website at http://www.banipaltrust.org.uk/prize/award2019, where you can currently see details of both the shortlist and the 17 entries and judging panel. The 2019 Award Ceremony of all the UK literary translation prizes will take place on the evening of Wednesday 12 February 2020, hosted by the Society of Authors, with venue details etc, to be announced later. Our own event celebrating the winner of the 2019 Prize, hosted by the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature, will take place the following day 13 February 2020, full details to come.