Humphrey Davies, famous translator of Arabic literature, dies at 74


That day was a turning point, Davies said in a 2011 video interview with literary figure André Naffis-Sahely, when “the West as a whole – whatever that means – kind of woke up to the point. that they wanted to know, understand better what is happening in the Arab world and that literature is a way to achieve it.

The onus of presenting Arabic works to English readers “falls primarily on the dedicated translators and the small and heroic presses who have rendered this service from the start”, wrote Claudia Roth Pierpont in The New Yorker in 2010.

One of these publishing houses, Archipelago Books, published Mr. Davies’ translations of four of Khoury’s novels. “We have lost not only a remarkable translator, but also a passionate advocate for Arabic literature,” Jill Schoolman, founder and editor of Archipelago, said in an email.

When the Banipal Prize committee named his 2011 translation of “I Was Born There, I Was Born Here” (2009), by Mourid Barghouti, as a finalist for the prize, he said of Mr. Davies: “He manages one thing – to make you feel that you are reading the book in the language in which it was written.

Humphrey Taman Davies was born on April 6, 1947 in London. Her father, John Howard Davies, was a music librarian for the BBC and her mother, Phyllis Theresa Mabel (Corbett) Davies, was a local librarian. He graduated from University College School, London in 1964 and received a Diploma in Arabic Studies from Jesus College, University of Cambridge in 1968.

Mr. Davies spent the following year at the Center for Arab Studies Abroad at the American University in Cairo. He then worked in publishing in the Middle East for several years, including helping to prepare an Egyptian Arabic dictionary. He married Kristina Nelson, an ethnomusicologist who worked alongside him on the dictionary, in 1975, and they had two children. (The couple divorced in 2002.)

The family eventually made it to the United States, where Davies earned a doctorate. from the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1981.

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