German · non-fiction · Translation

Farewell to the Horse: The Final Century of Our Relationship

*** Farewell to the Horse was BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week from 29 May! ***

Farewell to the Horse is an engaging, brilliantly written and moving discussion of what horses once meant to us. Cities, farmland, entire industries were once shaped  as much by the needs of horses as humans. The intervention of horses was fundamental in countless historical events. They were sculpted, painted, cherished, admired; they were thrashed, abused and exposed to terrible  danger. From the Roman Empire to the Napoleonic Empire,  every world conqueror needed to be shown on a horse. Tolstoy once reckoned he had cumulatively spent some nine years of his life on horseback.

“Ulrich Raulff ’s book, a bestseller in  Germany, brilliantly translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, is a superb monument to the endlessly various creature who has so often shared and shaped our fate.”

(from the inside cover)

Title: Farewell to the Horse: The Final Century of Our Relationship

Author: Ulrich Raulff

Translator: Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

Publisher: Allen Lane, published 25 May 2017 


‘This unusual book is a series of airy, winging essays that alight briefly on world history, art, literary criticism and historiography before leaping on to make new, often surprising connections. […] This is not the Pony Club Manual or a trot through the more familiar sights of equestrian art history; it’s Kafka, Aby Warburg, Tolstoy, psychoanalytic theory, Nietzsche and bleak monochrome photos in the style of Sebald. This epic enterprise is relieved by Raulff’s spare, vivid style and deep learning. He is as comfortable analysing the etymology of Pferd and Ross as he is discussing the Chicago School, Clint Eastwood and the Amazons, and he rarely loses his audience.’

Susanna Forrest in The Literary Review

‘A beautiful and thoughtful exploration of the role of the horse in creating our world… Farewell to the Horse is a grown-up, but also lyrical and creative, history book, and I very much enjoyed it.’

James Rebanks

‘In his conclusion you feel the deep underlying affection that drives his historical mission. “Anthropologists see the man, historians see the farmer, technologists see the plough and perhaps someone will even be interested in the harness,” Raulff laments, “whereas nobody feels responsible for the horse.” This refined and ambitious book corrects that tragic neglect.’

James McConnachie in The Sunday Times, 14 May 2017

‘Sex, violence and 6,000 years of horse power: Melanie Reid enjoys an elegy to the way horses have galloped through our culture’

Melanie Reid in The Times, 20 May 2017

‘As you pick up the reins of this books – trying to get a sense of what sort of ride it is to be – it becomes evident within three paragraphs that you have never read a book like it. […] Raulff’s ability to corral scattered equestrians in art, letters and life makes scintillating reading and his writerly pace is exhilarating – especially when he takes flight from his own starting gates.’

Kate Kellaway in The Observer, 21 May 2017

‘Mr Raulff gallops through time and space, art criticism, philosophy and economics, plaiting in tales of Kafka, Tolstoy and Comanche, the hard-drinking stallion who was the only non-Indian survivor of the Battle of Little Bighorn. His is a category-defying, often dizzying, piece of writing; both books are imbued with hippophilia.’
The Economist, 1 June 2017

Arabic · Fiction · German · non-fiction · Russian · Translation

Shortlisted for an Arts Foundation fellowship 2016

My head is still reeling after attending one of the most exciting arts events I’ve ever been invited to. There were children’s theatre entrepreneurs, people who stage symphonies in unusual locations, innovative jewellery designers and the creator of the world’s first sustainable fabric made from pineapple leaves, Pinatex. A truly inspiring celebration of young people in the arts. And not only was I wined and fed with delicious canapés, I came home with a cheque for £1000, as a shortlisted candidate for the Arts Foundation 2016 fellowship in literary translation. I’m delighted that the fellowship was awarded to, IMHO, the most deserving of the 5 of us on the shortlist, the amazing Deborah Smith: scholar of Korean literature, award-winning translator and founder of the radical publishing house Tilted Axis Press. Thank you to the Arts Foundation and to Alexandra who nominated me.

Arabic · non-fiction

The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria

By: Samar Yazbek
Translated by: Nashwa Gowanlock and Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp
Published: Rider Books 2015
‘The Crossing is not simply reportage or political analysis. It bears comparison with George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia as a work of literature. Yazbek is a superb narrator who knows how to pace her text, craft dialogue and convey a universal sense of grief; this is how she crosses the line from journalism to high literary art.
Although it is probably not be what she intended, it may be that Samar Yazbek has written one of the first political classics of the 21st century.’
Andrew Hussey, The Observer
Michael Palin
‘It was insanely dangerous: a friend told Yazbek she was “showing off”, but there is little bravado in The Crossing.’
Margarette Driscoll, The Sunday Times
More reviews in The EconomistThe Financial Times, The Irish TimesThe Daily Mail and The Sunday Times; interviews with Samar Yazbek about The Crossing in World Literature Today, Qantara and Middle East Monitor
Published extracts

‘The barbed wire mauled my back as I crawled between the two countries. Then I ran…’ The Observer, June 2015

German · non-fiction

The new divide: why the world didn’t get better

The fall of the Berlin Wall created a bigger gap between rich and poor than there was previously in eastern Europe, and discrimination against minorities continues today, argues award-winning German author Thomas Rothschild

The latest edition of Index on Censorship includes an article I translated by Thomas Rothschild on the resurgence of nationalism across Europe and the worsening economic divide since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

First published in Brick by brick: Freedoms 25 years after the Wall, Index on Censorship Vol 43, Issue 2, 11 June 2014

Sample available online here at Sage Journals

Arabic · Drama · non-fiction · Translation

Political satire from Lucien Bourjeily and a short story by Samar Yazbek

I had two translations in this edition of Index on Censorship magazine.

Lebanese political satire

When writer Lucien Bourjeily made censorship the theme of his latest play, he knew he was in for a battle. And he was right. His play about censorship ended up being banned. Not surprisingly, he thinks this decision tells its own story about Lebanon today.

In this extract from Will It Pass or Not?–published for the first time in English–Lucien Bourjeily exposes the ridiculousness – and arbitrary nature – of the Lebanese Censorship Bureau, which commonly bans material that is deemed to be obscene, offensive to religions or politically sensitive.

Title: Will it pass or not? (click here for online extract)

Author: Lucien Bourjeily

Translator: Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

First published in: Mission creep — defending religious tolerance and free speech, Index on Censorship, vol. 42, issue 4, pp. 134-148, December 2013

Sample: this extract is available online here

Syrian short story

In a story written for this publication, Syrian dissident author Samar Yazbek reflects on what it’s like to be a writer of fiction faced with the violence and atrocities of civil war and asks: how can we produce literature right now, in this era of bloodshed?

Title: I write with blind eyes and forty fingers

Author: Samar Yazbek

Translator: Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

First published in: Mission creep — defending religious tolerance and free speech, Index on Censorship, vol. 42, issue 4, pp. 130-133, December 2013

Sample: this extract is available online here

Arabic · non-fiction · Translation

Samar Yazbek in The Washington Post

I am two women. They stand head to head, at loggerheads. 

The revolutionary in me joined what started as peaceful demonstrations against the Syrian government in March 2011.  The novelist in me fled to France that July. 

The revolutionary, who has several times since then furtively crossed the border back into her country, is steeped in the smell of blood. She wipes the dust off the corpses of children disfigured by violence, stops to wring out her heart, then carries on.

It was an honour to translate this powerful piece on Syria by Samar Yazbek, a Syrian author in exile and winner of the 2012 PEN/Pinter Prize for international writer of courage. The piece appeared in the Washington Post on Friday.

Title: The novelist vs. the revolutionary: my own Syrian debate

Author: Samar Yazbek

Translator: Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

First published: The Washington Post, Sept 2013

This article is available to read online.