The Men Who Swallowed the Sun by Egyptian author Hamdi Abu Golayyel, translated by Humphrey Davies (Hoopoe, 2022), is among the three shortlisted works for the 2022 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.
In their official online announcement released on December 1, the Banipal judges praised Abu Golayyel’s novel and the English rendering by Davies, the late award-winning translator.
“[Hamdi Abu Golayyel’s] The Men Who Swallowed the Sun is a phenomenal translation of a unique and exciting novel about a young Bedouin from Egypt who migrates to Libya under Gaddafi, and then onwards to Italy, hoping to make big bucks, have a good time, and avoid getting sent back to Egypt,” writes Prize Judge Katharine Halls, an award-winning translator, in the Banipal’s report. “The dense, stream-of-consciousness narration of its unlikeable but undeniably charismatic protagonist drags the reader immediately into the gritty surroundings that form the backdrop of this picaresque quest. The novel has overtones of the Arabic oral epic and of the picaresque, through which it traces marginal, forgotten, and uncomfortable histories with sly wit. The richness of the language stretches from the nuances of dialect, proverbs, and colloquialisms, to clever wordplay within Modern Standard Arabic.”
Halls also highly commended the English translation: “Humphrey Davies handles this richness with aplomb, conveying the narrator’s chattiness and scattered thoughts, alongside moments of fraught action, and shifts to historical and personal memories. It is a magnificent achievement to have brought this novel to English with such flair. The cultural specificities and idiosyncrasies of the original are conveyed, while the translation remains a gripping and vivid read thanks to Davies’ profound knowledge of Arabic, and creative talent in finding solutions to the most demanding challenges. . . Judged on its technical merits, this translation is a feat of research, accuracy and creativity; judged on its literary merits, it is an unusual and exhilarating book which will certainly enrich the Anglophone literary landscape.”
Hamdi Abu Golayyel, born in Fayoum, Egypt, in 1967, is a writer and a journalist. He is the author of numerous short story collections and novels, including Thieves in Retirement and A Dog with No Tail, which was awarded the 2018 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature. He is editor-in-chief of the Popular Studies series, which specializes in folklore research, and writes for Arabic news outlets, such as al-Ittihad and al-Safir.
Humphrey Davies (1947–2021) translated some thirty book-length works from Arabic, including The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany, and was a two-time winner of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.
This year, the Banipal Prize received seventeen submissions, most of them novels, from across the Arab world, reflecting the great diversity of today’s writing practices, including lengthy historical novels, gripping romances, works of structural experimentation, satirical short stories and poetry.
The other two shortlisted novels are Hot Maroc by Yassin Adnan, translated by Alexander E. Elinson (Syracuse University Press) and Slipping by Mohammed Kheir, translated by Robin Moger (Two Lines Press).
This year’s judges also included Charis Olszok (Chair of the Judging Panel), Associate Professor of Modern Arabic Literature at the University of Cambridge, a Fellow of Newnham College, author, co-editor, and translator; Becki Maddock, toponymist, linguist, translator, and editor; and Susheila Nasta, founder of Wasafiri, the magazine of international contemporary writing.
The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation is an annual award of £3,000, made to the translator(s) of a published translation in English of a full-length imaginative and creative Arabic work of literary merit published after, or during, the year 1967 and first published in English translation in the year prior to the award. The Prize aims to raise the profile of contemporary Arabic literature as well as honoring the important work of individual translators in bringing the work of established and emerging Arab writers to the attention of the wider world. It was the first prize in the world for published Arabic literary translation into English and was established by Banipal, the magazine of modern Arab literature in English translation, and the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature. The inaugural prize was awarded on 9 October 2006. The prize is administered by the Society of Authors in the United Kingdom, alongside the other prizes for literary translation from languages that include Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish. The prizes are awarded annually at a ceremony hosted by the Society. The Prize is wholly sponsored by Omar Saif Ghobash and his family in memory of his father, the late Saif Ghobash, a man passionate about Arabic literature and other literatures of the world.