I’m so pleased there’s been a lot of interest in my latest translation, Shatila Stories (Peirene Press), a collaborative novel written by nine refugees who have lived or worked in Lebanon’s Shatila camp. The book is a unique project, amalgamating the collective work of aspiring writers and giving them the opportunity to tell their own stories.
The book launch was held at the Waterstones Gower branch in London during Refugee Week in June and was sold out! On the panel were publisher Meike Ziervogel, editor Suhir Helal, photographer Paul Roman and myself. Hearing my fellow panellists talk about their experience of actually being in the camp made me even more sorry I had not been involved in the project since its inception.
I had the chance to communicate directly with the authors but only after the book was published. Since power cuts are regular in the camp and internet access unreliable, when I was actually translating their work, I posed my technical queries to Meike and Suhir who were both very close to all of the stories. The pair had led last year’s creative writing workshop in Shatila and helped the writers develop their stories following the workshop. But when Middle East Eye expressed an interest in a feature article on the refugee authors, I began to speak with the writers individually via WhatsApp, which felt extremely surreal.
Suddenly, I could hear the background noise of the camp that permeates their building’s thin walls. We chatted as they walked along the camp’s narrow alleyways, stood on the balconies or elsewhere in their homes, all locations I had carefully imagined while translating their stories as their characters moved from one location to another.
Not all of the detail in the stories I translated ended up in the final novel, since some were excerpted and storylines blended in order to birth a consistent narrative. Family ties and character names were manipulated so that the plot would make sense and flow. But the result remains undeniably the voice of the writers, not that of a detached observer.
It was an honour to help bring their tales to light and even more of an honour to get to know them on a personal basis. For more background on some of the authors of Shatila Stories, you can read my feature on Middle East Eye:
To order a copy of Shatila Stories:
Join us on October 4 at Waterstones in Brighton, where we will be talking about the book as well as other publications by Peirene Press. The event is part of Bookblast’s 10 x10 TOUR, a national series of themed talks chaired by indie publishers:
Reviews of Shatila Stories:
The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jul/11/shatila-stories-suhir-helal-review
The Economist: https://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2018/06/tales-complicated-place
Arab News: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1340766/books