Fiction · German · Translation

Apple Cake and Baklava

I’m currently working on what might be my dream book project, and it’s definitely one you’re going to hear me go on about a lot. Apple Cake and Baklava, by Kathrin Rohmann, is a novel for late primary kids and early secondary, dealing with asylum, how it feels to be a refugee, parallels between WWII and Syria, grandmas, recipes, a lost walnut that means the world and a budding friendship between Max and Leila. I love this book and can’t wait to see it in UK schools and libraries from summer 2018. I’m even already planning a German-Syrian-English baking class at a local cafe for a Gloucestershire launch event!

My translation will be published by Darf Publishers in 2018, with support for the translation costs from the Goethe Institut, UK. There are more details about the book here on the New Books in German website.

‘Apple Cake and Baklava is a story about otherness, openness and the willingness to come to know one another. Many children will be aware of the latest surge of refugees and their plight. Leila’s is a sadly universal and timeless story of leaving behind a home country forever. While set in rural Northern Germany, it could equally take place in most European countries.

This is an absorbing book for older primary and younger middle-school children, and Franziska Harvey’s lovely black-and-white illustrations – some small, some full page – enrich the story.’ (New Books in German)

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 

Reviews

‘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 · Translation

Bottled up by Basma Abdel Aziz

‘I could wander aimlessly from one colleague’s office to another, stopping here and there for a chat, maybe a cup of coffee or a bite to eat. I’d sit back with a carefree yawn, my notebooks and files piled up in front fo me, gnawing on a pencil that splinters between my teeth. I wouldn’t bother with any correspondence or with responding to any queries, no matter how pressing. Instead I’d gaze on idly as the people wait, crushed by their exasperation. But why should I feel the need to do anything about it?’ Extract from Bottled Up, published in Index on Censorship magazine, September 2016

‘In a new short story, published here in English for the first time, a woman trapped in a glass bottle is able to see, but unable to influence, the world around her. By failing to resist, she views the women, who are concerned only with the superficial details of life, as complict in the regime. Her inspiration was a pivotal moment of understanding that “we have given away our transient victory to such a totalitarian authority and that we keep turning int he same vicious closed circle, without an end.”‘ Interview with Basma Abdel Aziz by Charlotte Bailey, in the same edition of Index on Censorship magazine, September 2016

Short story title: Bottled Up

Author: Basma Abdel Aziz

Translator: Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

First published: The Unnamed: Does anonymity need to be defended? Index on Censorship, vol 45, issue 3, September 2016

Arabic · Fiction · Translation

Tajdeed: Contemporary Arabic Stories in Translation

Long awaited, the Arabic short story special of The Common journal is now out!

‘The issue was co-edited by Jennifer Acker and Jordanian short-story writer Hisham Bustani, with an eye not just to bringing new Arabic literature into translation, but into joyous, sharp translation — with work by some of the best emerging Arabic-English translators. This collection is not for Arabists, but for English-language fictionophiles.’ (ArabLit blog)

The Common issue 11, entitled Tajdeed: Contemporary Arabic Fiction, features the work of 31 contributors from 15 Middle Eastern countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Translated for contemporary English-speaking audiences, the issue presents a diverse group of emerging and established literary stars.

The anthology is available to buy at www.thecommononline.org. You can also read several of the short stories online, including the one I translated – the surreal Minouche by Moroccan author Anis Arrafai – but I’d urge you to buy a copy of this stunning publication. One to treasure.

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 · Fiction · Translation

The Bride of Amman by Fadi Zaghmout

The Bride of Amman, a huge and controversial bestseller when first published in Arabic, takes a sharp-eyed look at the intersecting lives of four women and one gay man in Jordan’s historic capital, Amman-a city deeply imbued with its nation’s traditions and taboos.

When Rana finds herself not only falling for a man of the wrong faith, but also getting into trouble with him, where can they go to escape? Can Hayat’s secret liaisons really suppress the memories of her abusive father? When Ali is pressured by society’s homophobia into a fake heterosexual marriage, how long can he maintain the illusion? And when spinsterhood and divorce spell social catastrophe, is living a lie truly the best option for Leila? What must she do to avoid reaching her ‘expiry date’ at the age thirty like her sister Salma, Jordan’s secret blogger and a self-confessed spinster with a plot up her sleeve to defy her city’s prejudices?

These five young lives come together and come apart in ways that are distinctly modern yet as unique and timeless as Amman itself.

Title: The Bride of Amman

Author: Fadi Zaghmout

Translated by: Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp from Arabic (original title: عروس عمان)

Published by: Signal 8 Press (21 July 2015)

November 2015 launch tour

Fadi Zaghmout and I had a busy, exhausting but exhilerating week in November, touring the south of England to launch The Bride of Amman. We had such a great time and I’m very proud especially of our conversation with students at the Middle East Centre at St Anthony’s College, Oxford, our radio interview with Ivan Jackson on Bristol Community FM’s ShoutOut show, and our packed launch event with Brian Whitaker at Gay’s the Word – probably the world’s first Arabic book launch in an LGBTQ bookshop? Huge thanks to Brian for his support and to everyone who came along, tweeted and shared their #bookface selfies on Pinterest! Fadi shared a very thorough write-up of the week on his blog, The Arab Observer.
More about The Bride of Amman:
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