A new Arabic translation initiative is asking Americans to weigh in on what books of poetry and fiction best represent the literature of the United States. Based upon nominations made by U.S. readers, Kalima, a program based in the United Arab Emirates and funded by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, will oversee the translation into Arabic of several literary titles, as well as their publication, distribution, and marketing. The initiative is part of Kalima's drive to correct what the organization calls a "translation drought in the Arab world" by making a hundred books originally written in a range of global languages accessible to readers of Arabic each year.
"The complete works of great American writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner are inaccessible to Arab readers," said Ali bin Tamim, Kalima's chief executive officer, in a press release. "These writers paint a vivid picture of the trials and triumphs of life in America, and by putting works like these into the hands of Arab readers, we are restoring ancient bridges between our two cultures."
On the Kalima Web site, the organization poses the questions, "What literature best captures American dreams, opportunities, and challenges? Which books could help build mutual understanding between the United States and the Arab World?" U.S. readers can cast their votes online or at Kalima's exhibit space at the National Book Festival, which will be held on Saturday, September 27, at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Last November, Kalima (which means "word" in Arabic) announced the first hundred candidates for its larger translation program, a catalog of canonical works of literature, history, philosophy, and other genres. Selected literary titles include texts originally written in Greek, Latin, English, and a range of European languages by authors such as Virgil, Horace, Chaucer, Albert Camus, Czeslaw Milosz, and Rainer Maria Rilke.
Kalima has already published several books from that list, including Haruki Murakami's novel Kafka on the Shore, Il Segno (The Sign) by critic Umberto Eco, and The Future of Human Nature by philosopher Jürgen Habermas. Nobel Prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer's novel The Pickup is among the next round of titles slated for release.