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CAT Book Club: The Apartment in Bab El-Louk

Highlights from last month’s event with Egyptian artist Ganzeer and translator Elisabeth Jaquette.

Last month we hosted an event with translator Elisabeth Jaquette and Egyptian artist Ganzeer at Green Apple Books on the Park in San Francisco. In a conversation moderated by translator Edward Gauvin, they discussed their work on the graphic novel The Apartment in Bab El-Louk by Donia Maher, Ganzeer, and Ahmad Nady, translated from Arabic by Jaquette. There is no audio from this event, but we have some highlights for you!

Ganzeer and Elisabeth Jaquette talked about the translation process and the intensely collaborative nature of the project. Donia Maher sent Ganzeer her original text and gave him full control over the style and direction of the visual elements. He had the freedom to decide what text would be on each page and how much text there would be. Donia had suggested that political cartoonist Ahmed Nady illustrate the last part of the text in classic comic book style and Ganzeer agreed. Ganzeer and Ahmed pulled many all-nighters powered by pizza to complete the project. It was at one of these all-night pizza-fueled sessions that Elisabeth first saw the project and came on board to do the translation.

The book is beautifully rendered in three colors: black, white, and a striking turquoise. Ganzeer selected this specific shade of turquoise because of it’s ubiquitous presence in the neighborhood of Bab El-Louk and throughout Cairo. It shows up on balcony doors, signs, painted walls, almost everywhere.

The Egyptian version was more of “an illustrated short story,” only forty pages long and neither a graphic novel nor a comic book. The illustrations, according to Ganzeer, “aren’t a mere add on, but an integral part of the storytelling mechanism involved, making the format of the book the only way you can experience the story.” The English version was expanded to eighty pages with new illustrations created by Ganzeer.

Ganzeer took issue with the typographic treatment of the excerpt translated by Elisabeth for Words Without Borders primarily because he had done “everything by hand” for the original, “and that handmade quality is completely absent from the text in that translated version. So he completely redid the text treatments in the English version published by Darf.

One particular challenge was adapting the images to English. Since Arabic is written right to left instead of left to right like English, many of the images had to be adapted to fit the English text.

For example, the cat had to walk the other direction

…and the rain had to fall the opposite way.

So what’s next?

Ganzeer is working on a graphic novel called The Solar Grid. You can follow along at thesolargrid.net.

And be sure to look for Elisabeth Jaquette’s forthcoming translations:

Thirteen Months of Sunrise by Rania Mamoun (Dec 2018)

The Frightened Ones by Dima Wanness (2019)