Denys Johnson-Davies, RIP.

The name Denys Johnson-Davies sounded vaguely familiar to me, and it turned out he’s translated a number of Arabic novels I own or have read; he died a couple of days ago, and Arabic Literature (in English) has a nice post on eleven books he wrote or translated. The first is his 2006 Memories of a Life in Translation: A Life Between the Lines of Arabic Literature, and I like the first paragraph:

“An unlikely set of circumstances set me on the path to studying Arabic,” the memoir opens. He spent his childhood in Cairo, Wadi Halfa in Sudan, and finally in Uganda and Kenya, traveling back to England on a doctor’s orders at the age of twelve. He didn’t thrive there, and when his father asked him at fourteen what he wanted to do, his answer was unequivocal: “I would like to study Arabic.”

Few of us are so clear about our life goals at fourteen! And this is impressive:

Johnson-Davies also introduced Arab women writers to an English reading public long before they were in fashion. His first volume includes stories by Latifa El-Zayyat and Laila Baalbaki; subsequent collections showcase Alifa Rifaat, Hanan Al-Shaykh, Salwa Bakr as well as unestablished writers like Buthayna Al-Nasseri and Alia Mamdouh (from Iraq), Salma Matar Seif (from the United Arab Emirates), Hana Attiya and Amina Zaydan (both from Egypt). Alifa Rifaat’s Distant View of a Minaret and a volume of Salwa Bakr’s stories, The Wiles of Men and Other Stories, are among his best-known works in this context.

Thanks for the link, Trevor!

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