Sunday, October 23, 2011

bqfp to publish sonallah ibrahim's 'beirut, beirut' in english

Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP) announced today that it has signed a contract for the English rights to Beirut, Beirut, the 1984 novel by Sonallah Ibrahim (74), a pioneering figure on the Egyptian and Arab literary scenes for around 45 years. Publication of the translation is set for September 2013.

Beirut, Beirut is set during the Lebanese civil war of 1975-90. "In 1979 Sonallah Ibrahim travelled to Beirut to find a publisher for his novel but found himself in the middle of the conflict," BQFP says. "In an attempt to understand what was happening, Ibrahim began to research and document events, which formed the basis for Beirut, Beirut."

Beirut, Beirut received much critical acclaim on publication in Arabic in 1984 and has been reprinted several times. "Beirut, Beirut is one of a trilogy of documentary novels by Sonallah Ibrahim that employ a literary style unique in Arabic writing", BQFP notes. Ibrahim's other documentary style novels are Zaat (1992) and Warda (2002). And Beirut, Beirut is one of four novels in which the central protagonist is a writer, starting with The Committee (1981).

Several of Ibrahim's novels have been published in English translation including his 1966 debut prison novel The Smell of It (Heinemann African Writers Series, trans. Denys Johnson-Davies, 1971); The Committee
(American University in Cairo - AUC - Press, trans. Mary St. Germain Charlene Constable, 2001); Zaat (Syracuse University Press, trans. by Anthony Calderbank, 2001); Stealth (Aflame Books, trans Hosam M. Aboul-Ela, 2009).

Sonallah Ibrahim was born in 1937. After studying law and drama at Cairo University, he worked as a journalist until he was arrested and imprisoned in 1959 for his leftist activities. When released in 1964 he moved to Berlin to work for a news agency, and then to Moscow to study cinematography. He returned to Egypt in 1974 and since then has been a full-time writer.In addition to his novels, Ibrahim has written short stories and a dozen children's books. His works have been translated into many languages.

In 1999 he was a visiting associate professor in the Department of Near Eastern Studies of the University of California at Berkeley. In 2003 he was awarded the Egyptian State’s Arab Novel Award, but rejected the award in public and used the event to deplore the corruption within the Egyptian regime.

In an interview for Jadaliyya conducted by Arabic-English translator and Chair of the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University Elliott Colla in June this year, Ibrahim speaks about the Egytpian uprising ("not a revolution"), whether there is such a thing as revolutionary literature ("I don't think so"), and about his own writing process.

BQFP,which has its headquarters in Doha, is owned by Qatar Foundation and managed by Bloomsbury Publishing of London. It has built up a impressive list of authors since starting its official launch in April 2010. Its authors include Ibrahim Essa, Khaled Hosseini, Kamila Shamsie, Khaled AlKhamissi, Susan Abulhalwa, Suad Amiry, Abdo Khal, Mohammed Achaari and Ahlam Mostaghanemi. Earlier this month it signed for the English rights to Egyptian author Radwa Ashour's novel Farag to be published in English in February 2013.

BQFP has three stated aims: to publish books of excellence and originality in English and Arabic; to promote the love of reading and writing, including helping establish a vibrant literary culture in Qatar and the Middle East; and to transfer publishing and related skills to Qatar through regular internships and secondments in Doha and at Bloomsbury’s headquarters in London, as well as through training courses in key areas of publishing, and the mentoring of aspiring Qatari publishers.

BQFP has a commitment to helping improve standards of translation into and out of Arabic. It recently held the second annual BQFP International Translation Conference in Doha, in partnership with Carnegie-Mellon University Qatar.

Susannah Tarbush

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