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Arabic-to-English book translations grow since 2010

October 27, 2022 at 1:00 pm

A novel by Iraqi novelist, poet and screenwriter Ahmed Saadawi are displayed on April 30, 2014 [KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images]

The number of Arabic books translated into the English language has risen significantly since 2010, according to new research carried out by the British-based Literature Across Frontiers (LAF) presented at the recent Frankfurt Book Fair. Between 2010 and 2020, the study found that there were 596 Arabic-to-English literary translations published in the UK and Ireland across multiple genres, including fiction and non-fiction.

By way of contrast, just 310 works were translated between 1990 and 2010; the number has almost doubled in half the time. However, despite the progress, the researchers said that there is still a long way to go in achieving mainstream visibility for Arabic literature in the Anglophone world, which has been inhibited in part by xenophobia.

“Arabic literature in English translation is still far from mainstream,” said the research team, “far from commercially successful in the main, rarely reviewed, hard to fund, and precariously placed with respect to its profitability and exposure.”

The study also found that interest in current and cultural affairs of the Arab world surged following the so-called Arab Spring, which erupted across parts of the region in 2011. This peak, the report notes, meant that, “The Anglophone reading public turned to translated Arabic literature in search of information.”

Abdel-Wahab Khalifa, the study’s co-author and lecturer in translation and interpreting at Cardiff University, explained that, “Whenever there is a geopolitical event, you’ll find a spike in the numbers of translations from Arabic into English.”

Of the 26 regional countries included in the report, Egypt tops the list with 127 books translated, followed by Iraq and Palestine at 114 and 71 respectively. Egypt’s famed Nobel Prize winning novelist Naguib Mahfouz has the most translated works published in the UK and Ireland with sixteen titles.

MEMO’s own flagship annual literary event, the Palestine Book Awards, will be entering its 11th year next month. It promotes and recognises the best books written in English on the subject of Palestine and related themes. Among the awards given is the Translation Award, which was won in 2021 by author Sonia Nimr and translator Marcia Lynx Qualey for the novel Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands.

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