Translator Sarah Enany wins 2021 Banipal Prize for ‘The Girl with Braided Hair’

The winner of the 2021 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize is Rasha Adly’s novel, Shaghaf, “superbly translated” into English by Sarah Enany as The Girl with Braided Hair, published by Hoopoe (2021), the AUC Press literary imprint.

“We are delighted that Sarah Enany’s impressive skill as a translator has been recognized with this prestigious prize,” said Nadine El-Hadi, acquisitions editor of Hoopoe. “She deserves great commendation for her translation of Rasha Adly’s intricate and rich novel The Girl with Braided Hair into eloquent, vivid English, and we are proud to have been the novel’s publisher in translation.”

Following the shortlist of five novels last November, the Banipal judges were unanimous in naming Enany as the winner of the £3,000 prize, to be awarded in an online ceremony by the Society of Authors on 10 February 2022.

“I’m thrilled that my translation of Rasha Adly’s The Girl with Braided Hair has won this year’s prestigious Banipal Prize,” said Enany, a literary translator and an assistant professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at Cairo University. “I’m very grateful to Hoopoe and the AUC Press for giving me this opportunity, and to the judges for their kind words about the translation. I hope this award will encourage English-language readers to enjoy this richly detailed and poignant novel.”

Enany has translated a number of novels by writers such as Yusuf Idris and Mohamed Salmawy, as well as works of nonfiction, including Ahmed Aboul Gheit’s Egypt’s Foreign Policy in Times of Crisis: My Testimony (AUC Press, 2020). She is the translator of Kamal Ruhayyim’s ‘Galal trilogy,’ published in English by AUC Press as Diary of a Jewish Muslim (2014), Days in the Diaspora (2012), and Menorahs and Minarets (2017). She also translated Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables into colloquial Egyptian Arabic.

Rasha Adly’s rich novel, which is based on historical events, weaves together the story of two women living centuries apart who are bound together by an enigmatic painting. While working on restoring an unsigned portrait of a strikingly beautiful girl from the Napoleonic Era, Yasmine, an art historian, discovers that the artist has embedded a lock of hair into the painting. The mysterious painting came into the museum’s possession without record, and Yasmine sets out to uncover the secret concealed within this captivating work. Meanwhile, back in the eighteenth century, at the close of the French Campaign in Egypt, sixteen-year-old Zeinab, the daughter of a prominent sheikh, is drawn into French high society when Napoleon himself requests her presence. Enamored by the foreign customs of the Europeans, she finds herself on a dangerous path, one that may ostracize her from her family and culture.

(Left to right) Sarah Enany, cover of The Girl with Braided Hair, and Rasha Adly

The Banipal judges commended the novel’s “wonderful combination of art and history,” and the “narrative, skilfully segmented into its two time frames.” They unanimously praised Enany’s highly accomplished translation for its accuracy and its ability to combine the two separate narratives into a seamless text that is a pleasure to read, saying that “the subtle and beautifully crafted translation faithfully echoes the style of the author.” In the words of one of the judges: “I was looking for a gem, and I found it in The Girl with Braided Hair.”

The judges comprised Roger Allen (chair), Professor Emeritus of Arabic and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania; Rosemarie Hudson, Founder Publisher, HopeRoad Publishing; Ronak Hosni, Professor of Arabic and Translation Studies at the American University of Sharjah; and Caroline McCormick, Director, Achates.

Rasha Adly, upon hearing the news of the Banipal Prize, said: “I am very happy. . . . Thank you to the judges, thank you to the administration of the award, and congratulations to Sarah Enany.” Adly, born in Cairo, is a researcher and freelance lecturer in the history of art, and is Cairo correspondent for the Emirates Culture magazine. Her writing career began with a blog in 2007. She published her first novel, Sakhab al-samt (The Clamor of Silence), in 2010. She is the author of eight novels. Her novel Akhir ayyam al-Basha (The Last Days of the Pasha) was longlisted for the 2020 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

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