The Arabic Translation for Leila Aboulela’s River Spirit Just Came Out Amidst the Ongoing War in Sudan

The Arabic Translation for Leila Aboulela’s River Spirit Just Came Out Amidst the Ongoing War in Sudan

The Arabic translation for Leila Aboulela’s 2023 novel River Spirit just came out despite the obstacles posed by the ongoing war in Sudan. Published by Sudanese publisher Dar Al Musawarat and translated by Professor Badreldin Al Hashimi, the translation (The Spirit of the Ancient River) was released at the Cairo International Book Fair last month.

River Spirit tells the story of the Mahdist War in 19th century Sudan through young Akuany’s coming of age story set in a time of religious and political conflict. Read our review of River Spirit here and buy the English version here.

A month after the publication of River Spirit in the U.S. in March, armed conflict began in Sudan and is still currently ongoing. Yet, despite the violence of the war, Aboulela’s book got its Arabic translation, thanks to the devoted team at Dar El Musawarat. Aboulela remarked on her Instagram that she could not be more grateful to them:

Despite the war, devastation, losses and exile, my Sudanese publishers are heroically bringing out the Arabic translation of River Spirit ( The Spirit of the Ancient River). It feels like a miracle alhamdulilah! The book will be available for sale at the Cairo Book Fair. I salute Dar Al Musawarat for their incredible efforts, thank my translator Professor Badreldin Hashimi and hope that the novel gives solace and comfort to its Arab readers.

Khartoum-based publisher Dar Al Musawarat is run by Osama Awad Elrayah. In a conversation with us, he shared that the war has greatly affected his publishing company, both in terms of personal and work life. The war halted daily routines and activities, cutting off sources of livelihood and disrupting the publishing workflow at the library, printing press, warehouse, and distribution.

Elrayah added that the war led to many buildings around the company being looted, and many of Dar El Musawarat’s belongings went missing as well. It was difficult to resume work in Sudan due to high rental costs and lack of a source for book supply and printing in Khartoum. But they did not give up and decided to change strategies by participating in international book fairs, despite the difficulties.

The novel was released at the Cairo International Book Fair, held from January 24 to February 6, 2024. According to Elrayah, it became very popular at the fair and was one of the bestselling books in the booth. He added that perhaps Arab readers were able to resonate with the book because it touches on an important history for Sudanese people related to the periods of colonization and Mahdism in Sudan.

The translation was carried out by Badreldin Al Hashimi, who has previously translated Aboulela’s other books such as Minaret, Lyrics Alley, and The Kindness of Enemies. Aboulela added, “It’s a faithful and accurate translation and I am delighted with it. The translator is Sudanese and he has captured the particular speech patterns and cultures of Sudan brilliantly.”

Leila Aboulela is a Sudanese author whose work has been translated into 15 languages. She was the first winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing back in 2000 and has been thrice nominated for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Her published novels include Bird Summons (2019), The Kindness of Enemies (2015), and Lyrics Alley (2011), which won the Fiction category of the Scottish Book Awards. Check out our interview with Aboulela about River Spirit here.

Congrats to Aboulela as well as Dar El Musawarat for publishing the Arabic translation of River Spirit during such a difficult time.


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