How One Translator Unlocks Arabic Books for French Readers

Arabic literature is notoriously difficult to translate — not only for the complexity of the language but also for the variety of dialects and the challenge of making the prose accessible to Western readers. Arabic literary translators are few and far between, and the Arabic-to-English translators have become, in their world, akin to rock stars, thanks to the establishment in 2005 of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic literary translation. In France, although translators are given more recognition — their names appear on the front covers of books, for example — many of the Arabic-to-French literary translators are less exposed, and no prize specifically for Arabic-to-French translation exists yet.

Stéphanie Dujols is one such translator. Based in Alexandria, Egypt, she says, “I’m far away from everything, sort of in my cave.”

Dujols translates an average of one to two novels a year, primarily for Actes Sud’s Sindbad collection run by Farouk Mardam-Bey. Her translations are outstanding: seamless, informed and sensitive. Her interest in Arabic began when she was young. She lived in Tunisia from age nine to fourteen, where she began to learn Arabic “in a not very serious way, moreover it was an era when everyone spoke French very well.”

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