Stephan Weidner, a leading translator of Arabic literature into German, criticizes the tastes of German readers in this Expatica interview.
“Rafik Schami and ‘A Thousand and One Nights’ fulfil 95 percent of the demand for anything Arabic,” said the author and scholar, who has translated into German works by the Syrian poet known as Adonis and the Palestian Mahmud Darvish.
Schami, a Syrian who lives in Germany, writes fairy-tale-style stories that are
very successful in the west but practically unknown among Arab readers.
I’m not sure if the criticism should be leveled at readers or at publishers. Either way, I think it’s fairly clear that the Arabic literature being translated is not the same as the one being read in the Arab world. Compounding the problem, Weidner says, is the fact that exiled authors often tend to regard writers who’ve stayed home as rivals and these latter regard exiles as ‘Westernized’ (i.e. inauthentic).
Elsewhere at the fair, a handful of books among those brought by the official delegation were called into question by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which demanded that they be withdrawn over claims of anti-Semitism. The matter was turned to the police, which found that, while the books were severely critical of Israel, they did not violate any of Germany’s hate speech laws, and so declined to prosecute.
And last but not least, Peter Esterhazy was awarded the peace prize at the Frankfurt Book Fair on its closing day.