Sunday, August 27, 2006

'in the country of men' on guardian shortlist; arabic version in december

There is further good news about Libyan writer Hisham Matar's novel In the Country of Men, following its longlisting for the £50,000 Man Booker Prize (it is the only debut novel on this year's longlist of 19 novels). The London-based Guardian newspaper has announced that In the Country of Men is among the ten books longlisted for the £10,000 Guardian First Book Award. In addition, there will be an Arabic version by the end of the year, published by Dar al-Muna of Sweden.

The Guardian prize is open to all genres of writing, fiction, poetry and non-fiction. The other fiction works on the longlist are by women: they are Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany Australia), Harbor by Lorraine Adams (USA), Poppy Shakespeare by Clare Allan and A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li (China). The shortlist will be announced in November, and the winner in December. Wikipedia calls the Guardian First Book Award "the oldest and best-established of the awards sponsored by a newspaper."

As for the Man Booker Prize, the shortlist will be announced in mid-September and the winner at a dinner on October 10.

Meanwhile, a publishing deal has been reached under which Dar al-Muna, the Stockholm-based publishing house, will publish the Arabic translation of In the Country of Men. Publication is set for December. Before the Arabic rights were sold, rights had arleady been sold in 13 other languages. The novel is being translated into Arabic by the Lebanese writer Sukaina Ibraheem.

Mona Henning, who was born Zureikat in Amman, Jordan, established Dar al-Muna after moving to Sweden (she is a pharmacy graduate of the American University of Beirut).

Henning says Dar Al-Muna was keen to publish the Arabic edition of In the Country of Men "because of its artistic value and the sincere and honest human touch in it. The child is trying all the time to remember the innocence part of his childhood in spite of all the sad experiences. The author describes incidents, places, so vividly that you feel as if you are around all the time." She adds: "It is the child in In the Country of Men who makes you enter his own world of hopes, suspicion, longing, love and hate. Children are genuine in nature and this makes the story so near to the reader from the very first page."

Dar Al-Muna has specialised in translating world-famous works by Scandinavian authors into Arabic. The authors who have been translated include Astrid Lindgren (who wrote Pippi Longstocking), Jostein Gaarder whose translated works are Sofie's World (Alam Sofie), the Orange Maid (Fatat Al Burtuqal) and a few days ago The Kabal Mystery (Sir Al Sabr).

Mona Henning points out that Gaarder has recently been much mentioned in the Arabic press because of his article critical of Israel published in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.

Dar Al-Muna has published many children's books, and in 1999 Henning was awarded by Swedish Authors' Union prize for her efforts to spread reading among children. This year she was among the nominees for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

"For the moment we are doing it the other way round, and translating Mahmoud Darwish into Swedish," Henning says. Dar Al-Muna is producing three of his works simultaneously in Swedish translation - Halat Hisar, Sarir Al Ghariebah and Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone?

Susannah Tarbush

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