The number of Arabic-to-English literary translations published in the United Kingdom and Ireland between 2010 and 2020 rose by about 92% from the two decades prior, according to research recently presented at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
From 1990 to 2010, the researchers identified 310 books translated from Arabic to English and published in the UK and Ireland. That number nearly doubled in just half the time: 596 were published between 2010 and 2020. The research, funded by Literature across Frontiers, posits that increased interest in current events and geopolitics in the Arabic-speaking world have prompted this rise. The researchers also note that, despite the growing body of translated work, Arabic literature has a long way to go in achieving mainstream visibility in the Anglophone world.
The researchers note that following the Arab Spring, English speakers developed a stronger interest in the culture and current events of Arabic-speaking countries. To gain an understanding of the events unfolding in the Arab world, the researchers write that “the Anglophone reading public turned to translated Arabic literature in search of information.”
The report notes that institutions like ArabLit, an online literary magazine, and the Library of Arabic Literature at New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus have been particularly critical in increasing the output of literary translations from Arabic to English.
Of the 26 countries and geographical regions accounted for in the report, Egypt, Iraq, and Palestine produced the most literary translations into English during the 2010s. And of the 596 titles translated during this decade, the Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz — also the 1988 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature — wrote the most, with 16 of his works translated and published in English.
Despite the increasingly prolific nature of works translated from Arabic to English, the researchers write that “Arabic literature in English translation is still far from mainstream, far from commercially successful in the main, rarely reviewed, hard to fund, and precariously placed with respect to its profitability and exposure,” noting societal xenophobia as one factor precluding Arabic literature in English translation from receiving widespread acclaim.