February 22, 2015
This week: English translation of Antoon’s book is awarded the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation

This week: English translation of Antoon’s book is awarded the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation

We’re very proud to share this news: The 2014 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation will be awarded this week to Sinan Antoon for the 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 Foundation Publishing.

Both June Rain and The Corpse Washer are on RAYA’s list of represented titles.

 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 winner from the 17 entries, under the chairmanship of Paula Johnson of the Society of Authors.


Below is the Banipal Trust press release.



for the translation of his own novel The Corpse Washer (The Pomegranate Alone).

“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.

On 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 an 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 that is 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 the Global South. It is an honour and a pleasure to be awarded this prestigious prize. Both author and translator are delighted.”





for her translation of June Rain by Jabbour Douaihy


“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.  

Head of English Publishing at Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing Thalia Suzuma commented:

“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 Banipal Prize. We are very proud to work with translators and writers of her and Jabbour Douaihy’s calibre.”

Paula Haydar told us: 

“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 Haziranthe 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.”