This week saw the penultimate session of the online Translated Fiction Book club in which we talked about Thirteen Months of Sunrise, a collection of short stories published by Comma Press, written by the Sudanese writer Rania Mamoun and translated by Elisabeth Jaquette.
The evening commenced with a conversation with Elisabeth Jaquette on her translation of the wonderful book. This was a very interesting beginning to the meeting, with Jaquette telling us a little about Rania’s quite astounding journey. To start with, however, she focused more on the translation side of things, discussing the ins and outs of the Arabic language, a diglossic language with many different dialects. Elisabeth learnt her Arabic in Cairo, a city that speaks its own dialect of Arabic, thus, when translating Thirteen Months of Sunrise, which is written in standard arabic, and peppered with Sudanese Arabic words and phrases, there were some points in which Elisabeth had to research words, or discuss them with Rania. Elisabeth says that Rania was very supportive through the translation process, and despite having never met in person, the pair corresponded a lot through email. Elisabeth then went on to tell us Rania’s inspiring story. Rania is very politically active, something that comes with great danger in Sudan. Therefore in the first steps of the translation of Thirteen Months of Sunrise, Rania was actually in the process of moving to the US, however, right at the same time that the pair received the great news that they had a PEN Translates grant in order to help translate the book, Donald Trump imposed the infamous travel ban on several countries, including Sudan. Luckily, however, after a very long process and help from many others, Rania finally made it to the US three years later.
As we moved on to the group discussions of the book, it was very quickly clear to see that we all loved Rania’s tender touch for storytelling. In each story, Rania introduces us to a person and a new theme. Despite the very short length of each of the stories, she manages to allow us to understand the depths of the character’s mind and personality, and whilst she doesn’t give a lot away, what does appear in the narrative is incredibly descriptive and poetic. Rania paints a beautiful picture with her writing, in fact, someone perfectly described her prose as like an ‘impressionist painting’, her stories delicate and graceful. Despite wanting to know more about these character’s and their stories, Rania leaves you to write the rest of the story, leaves you to figure out the significance and the meanings (of which I am sure there are a vast amount) behind each story. The collection explores a range of themes, for example, in the story ‘Thirteen Months of Sunrise’ Rania tells of finding connection in differences, in ‘Passing’ she speaks of loss and religion, and in ‘Woman Asleep on a Bundle’ she writes of morals. All three of the themes explored in these stories continue to resonate throughout the beautiful collection.
I absolutely loved this week’s discussion, and am looking forward to next week’s meeting where we will be talking about Singer in the Night, published by Istros Books, written by Olja Savičević Ivančević, and translated by Celia Hawkesworth.