A Look at 99 Books: Algerian Literature in English Translation

via ArabLit /Arabic Literature and Translation:

Which Algerian books have been translated to English, which haven’t, and which should be?

By Nadia Ghanem

As Algeria approaches another momentous step in its political history with a presidential election that, like Brexit, could happen or not but probably yes rather than not, what better time than to plunge into the fiction of Algerian novelists who have played, like their counterparts everywhere, the role of seers, chroniclers, time travellers, and magicians for the last century. The polyglottic nature of Algerian literature makes its access a little challenging for non-Arabic-French-Tamazight-Derja speakers. But since 1956, about 99 novels, living memoirs, and poetry collections written by Algerian writers have appeared in translation. The below is a list of nearly 100 titles, collected to be enjoyed.

The ‘beginning’

1956 could be said to have marked the beginning of the Algerian novel in English translation with the appearance of Mouloud Mammeri’s The Sleep of the Just, translated from the French by Len Ortzen. The original in French had appeared in 1952. But I keep a special spot in the “first in English translation” race for The Golden Ass by Apuleius, our top Amazigh scholar and eccentric. The Golden Ass was translated from Latin in 1566 by William Adlington. Sarah Ruden’s 2011 translation is recommended.

It’s well known that Algerian literature is being written in several languages nationally: in Arabic, French, Tamazight, and Derja. And, in recent years, a small number of Algerian novelists have begun to write directly in English, such as Djaffar Chetouane with his tremendous Donkey Heart Monkey Mind, Noufel Bouzeboudja with Pebble in the River, Belkacem Mezghouchene with Sophia in the White City, and the young Iheb Kharab with The Inner Light of Darkness. But writing in English is a new phenomenon, and the English language is still a new addition to Algerian novelists’ quiver of languages.

Out of the 99 titles I have so far gleaned, with more titles to unearth — particularly for the 60s and 70s, which have disclosed no info — it came as no surprise to discover that the dominant language combination is French-English. Next comes Arabic-English, with Ahlem Mosteghanemi’s and Tahar Watar’s novels. One of Waciny Laredj’s novels was announced in English translation from the Arabic last year, and although I list it here I have not yet seen further announcement or a copy. A lesser-known combination, Italian-English is notable, thanks to Amara Lakhous’ writing. Among these works, a third have appeared since 2010, which means that for the least 63 years (beginning a count down from 1956), one Algerian title plus the beginning of a new book have been translated each year.

While the Algerian novel written in Arabic is vastly neglected in translation, and also underrated, among all the languages in which Algerian literature is written, Tamazight is the least-translated. It also gets the least visibility. The work of the Kabyle poet Ahcene Mariche is an exception, thanks to friends who regularly translate his collections into English. As more Tamazight speakers become more comfortable in English, this trend might soon change.

While it is not surprising that translation efforts overwhelmingly favor French, the utter lack of interest in Algerian women’s writing is shocking. I have found only seven Algerian women accessible in English translation: Assia Djebar, Leila Sebbar, Malika Mokeddem, Nina Bouraoui, Leila Marouane, and Maissa Bey — who write in French — and then Ahlem Mosteghanemi and Zhor Ouanissi, who save the day in Arabic. My search has no doubt missed several titles, but the accurate total is unlikely to double the figure I found, and I am left to gasp at barely 10% of Algerian women’s literary production, as among that available in the English language.

How the novelist Rabia Djelti or the poet Zineb Laouedj have not appeared in translation is unanswerable. These women are of Ahlem Mosteghanemi’s ilk and generation (okay, slightly younger). Missing from this list is also the novelist and psychiatrist Yamina Méchakra, with her utterly traumatising but phenomenal La grotte éclatée, a cornerstone in Algerian literature of the late 70s.

I would have loved to have seen the dramatist H’mida Ayachi in this long list of men, and my favourite go-to novelist Chawki Amari. Tragedy and humour cannot be fully illustrated without these two.

But among those we have, The Mischief by Assia Djebar, the sensuous story of a spoilt young girl who teases a couple during her summer holiday with terrible consequences, must be reissued. Copies of it still float about, but they are shamefully hard to come by.

While novels should not be approached as guides to someone’s reality, anyone interested in 1960s and 1990s Algeria should read The Earthquake by Tahar Wattar and The Star of Algiers by Aziz Chouaki. Yasmina Khadra is by far the most translated into English, and beware even in this language his literary feats remain a game of Russian roulette, but his Inspector Llob series, starting with Morituri is exceptionally well constructed and thoroughly entertaining.

I hope someone somewhere is preparing to translate Our Wealth by young Kaouther Adimi (Nos richesses, Seuil, 2017), a fictionalized journal of Edmont Charlot, Algeria’s famous librarian on Algiers’ Hamani Street, who edited, during colonization, the first works of many a writer of Mouloud Feroun and Garcia Lorca’s cut. Fatma n’paraplui, a comix written in Derja by Safia Ouarezki, inked by her sister Soumia, with drawings by Mahmoud Benameur, Soumia’s husband, is soon to appear in French and begs to be translated in English.

I also dream to see the short story writer Zakia Allal accessible in English. Allal writes in Arabic, and her collection Nakes Veins, is deliciously creepy.

The below is provisional. Enjoy it.

  • 1. 1956 – The Sleep of the Just by Mouloud Mammeri, transl from the French by Len Ortzen (Cresset eds)
  • 2. 1958 – The Mischief by Assia Djebar, transl from the French by Frances Frenaye (Simon & Schuster)
  • 3. 1985 – Who Remembers the Sea by Mohammed Dib, transl from the French by Louis Tremaine (Passeggiata Press)
  • 4. 1986 – The Colonial Harem by Malek Alloula, transl from the French by Wlad Godzich (Univ Of Minnesota Press)
  • 7. 1989 – Tea in the Harem by Mehdi Charef, transl from the French by Ed Emery (Serpent’s Tail)
  • 9. 1991 – Nejma by Katib Yacine, translates from the French by Richard Howard (University of Virginia Press)
  • 10. 1992 – The Honor of the Tribe by Rashid Mimouni, transl from the French by Joachim Neugroschel (Quartet books)
  • 13. 1993 – The Ogre’s Embrace by Rachid Mimouni, transl from the French by Shirley Eber (Quartet Books)
  • 14. 1993 – The Chrysalis by Aicha Lemsine, transl from the French by Dorothy S. Blair (Quartet Books)
  • 15. 1994 – The Repudiation by Rashid Boudjedra, transl from the French by Golda Lambrova (Three Continents Press)
  • 16. 1995 – Forbidden Vision by Nina Bouraoui, transl from the French by Melissa Marcus (Station Hill Press)
  • 17. 1997 – “Birth of a Writer,” by Zhour Ounissi, transl from the Arabic by Shirley Eber and Fadia Faqir, in: In the House of Names: Autobiographical Essays by Arab Women Writers (Garnet)
  • 18. 1998 – The Forbidden Woman by Malika Mokeddem, transl from the French by Karen Melissa Marcus (University of Nebraska Press)
  • 19. 1999 – So Vast the Prison by Assia Djebar, transl from the French by Betsy Wing (Seven stories Press)
  • 20. 2000 – The Earthquake by Tahar Wattar, transl from the Arabic by William Granara (SAQI books)
  • 22. 2000 – The Abductor by Leila Marouane, transl from the French by Felicity McNab (Quartet eds)
  • 23. 2000 – In the Name of God by Yasmina Khadra, transl from the French by Linda Black (Toby Press)
  • 24. 2000 – Journal 1955-1962 by Mouloud Feraoun, transl from the French by Mary Ellen Wolf and Claude Fouillade (CARAF eds)
  • 25. 2000 – Banipal 7 – Special issue on Algerian Literature, with excepts from several texts originally in French and Arabic
  • 26. 2001 – The Savage Night by Mohammed Dib, transl from the French C. Dickson (University of Nebraska press)
  • 27. 2001 – The Lovers of Algeria by Anouar Benmalek, transl from the French by Joanna Kilmartin (Harvill Press)
  • 28. 2001 – Algerian White by Assia Djebar, transl from the French by David Kelley (Seven Stories Press)
  • 30. 2002 – The Watchers by Tahar Djaout, transl from the French by Marjolijn de Jager (Ruminator Books)
  • 31. 2003 – The Selected Plays of Hélène Cixous, edited by Eric Prenowitz, transl from the French by Brian J. Mallet, Ann Liddle, Donald Watson, Bernadette Fort, and Judith G. Miller (Routledge)
  • 33. 2004 – L.A. Trip by Mohammed Dib, transl from the French by Paul Vangelisti (Green Integrer)
  • 34. 2004 – Morituri by Yasmina Khadra, transl from the French by David Herman (Toby Press)
  • 35. 2004 – Wolf Dreams by Yasmina Khadra, transl from the French Linda Black (Toby Press)
  • 36. 2005 – Double Blank by Yasmina Khadra, transl from the French by Aubrey Botsford (Toby Crime)
  • 37. 2005 – The Poor Man’s Son by Mouloud Feraoun, transl from the French by Lucy R. McNair (CARAF)
  • 38. 2005 – Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra, transl from the French by John Cullen (Anchor eds)
  • 39. 2005 – The Star of Algiers by Aziz Chouaki, transl from the French by Ros Schwartz and Lulu Norman (Grayworld Press)
  • 40. 2006 – The Day I Wasn’t There by Hélène Cixous, transl from the French by Beverley Bie Brahic (Northwestern University Press)

  • 42. 2006 – Children of the New World by Assia Djebar, transl from the French by Marjolijn de Jager (The Feminist Press)
  • 43. 2006 – Century of Locusts by Malika Mokeddem, transl from the French by Laura Rice (University of Nebraska Press, part of their European Women Writers series)
  • 44. 2006 – Autumn of the Phantoms by Yasmina Khadra, transl from the French by Aubrey Botsford (Toby Press)
  • 46. 2007 – Tomboy by Nina Bouraoui, transl from the French by Jehanne-Marie Gavarini and Marjorie Attignol Salvodon (Bison books)
  • 47. 2007 – Voluble Nights (poetry) by Ahcene Mariche, transl by Dalila Ait Salem (self published)
  • 48. 2008 – Banquet of Lies by Amin Zaoui, transl from the French by Frank Wynne (Marion Boyars eds)
  • 50. 2008 – The Seine was Red by Leila Sebbar, transl from the French by Mildred Mortimer (Indiana University Press)
  • 52. 2009 – My Men by Malika Mokeddem, transl from the French by Laura Rice (University of Nebraska Press)
  • 54. 2009 – Dead Man’s Share by Yasmina Khadra, transl from the French by Aubrey Botsford (Toby Crime)
  • 56. 2010 – The Silence of Mohammed by Salim Bachi, transl from the French by Christopher Moncrieff (Pushkin)
  • 57. 2010 – A Passenger from the West by Nabile Fares, transl from the French by Peter Thompson (University of Orleans Press)
  • 64. 2012 – Divorce Islamic Style by Amara Lakhous, transl from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa eds)
  • 65. 2012 – Poems for the Millenium is a stunning anthology that contains, among others, work by early and contemporary Algerian poets, translated from the Arabic, French, Tamasheq by Pierre Joris and Habib Tengour (University of California)
  • 66. 2012 – Abduction by Anouar Benmalek, transl from the French by Simon Pare (Arabia Books)
  • 67. 2012 – The Attack by Yasmina Khadra, transl from the French by John Cullen (Anchor Eds)
  • 68. 2012 – Exile and Helplessness by Nabile Fares, transl from the French by Peter Thompson (Diálogos Books)
  • 69. 2012 – Exile is My Trade by Habib Tengour, transl from the French by Pierre Joris (Commonwealth Books)
  • 70. 2012 –Land and Blood by Mouloud Feraoun, transl from the French by Patricia Geesey (CARAF)
  • 71. 2013 – The Barbary Figs by Rashid Boudjedra, transl from the French by Andre Naffis-Sahely (Haus Publishing)
  • 72. 2013 – Crossings by Habib Tengour, transl from the French by Marilyn Hacker (Post Apollo Press)
  • 73. 2013 – The Obstinate Snail by Rachid Boudjedra, transl from the French by Leon Stephens (Xenos books)
  • 77. 2014 – Harraga by Boualem Sansal, transl from the French by Frank Wynne (Bloomsbury)
  • 78. 2014 – Chaos of the Senses by Ahlem Mosteghanemi, transl from the Arabic by Nancy Roberts (Bloomsbury)
  • 80. 2015 – Father / Son by Abdelkader Djemai, transl from the French by Peter Thompson (Dialogos eds)
  • 82. 2015 – The African Equation by Yasmina Khadra, transl from the French by Howard Curtis (Gallic Books)
  • 86. 2016 – The Angels Die by Yasmina Khadra, transl from the French by Howard Curtis (Gallic books)
  • 87. 2016 – The Dust of Promises by Ahlem Mosteghanemi, transl from the Arabic by Nancy Roberts (Bloomsbury)
  • 88. 2016 – The Butterly Kingdom by Waciny Laredj, transl from the Arabic (Katara Books). No info on translator.
  • 96. Forthcoming February 2019Muslim: A Novel by Zahia Rahmani, transl from the French by Matt Reeck (Deep Vellum Publishing)
  • 97. Forthcoming May 2019Albert Camus, Jean Sénac, or The Rebel Sonby Hamid Nacer-Khodja, transl from the French by Kai Krienke (Michigan State University Press). The Algerian scholar Nacer-Khodja gathered letters exchanged between Camus and the poet Jean Sénac.
  • 99. forthcoming 2019 The Selected Poems of Samira Negrouche, by Samira Negrouche, transl by Marilyn Hacker (Pleiades Press)

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nadiaDr. Nadia Ghanem is ArabLit’s Algeria Editor. Based between Algeria and the UK, she blogs  at tellemchaho.blogspot.co.uk about living in Algeria, and Algerian literature.

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