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Fantasy in Translation: Improving Arabic Through Translated Books

August 19, 2023
Photo Credits: Abjjad.com

When looking up the world’s most difficult languages to learn, Arabic consistently makes an appearance near the top.

It particularly becomes a challenge to those who learn it as a second language, or even to native speakers who spend long periods of time abroad. It requires a lot of time to learn, and use to maintain.

That being said, there are many ways to practice both dialectical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) — especially through local media. While television series and songs are good ways to become familiar with dialects, reading is a very effective method to keep MSA skills sharp.

Not only does it help familiarize readers with the spelling of Arabic words, but it also improves vocabulary and grammar skills.

While picking up any Arabic book may seem intimidating at first, there are ways to make the task less daunting. For example, choosing an Arabic book that has been translated from a favorite in English.

Countless books from several genres have been translated for Arabic-speaking audiences over the years — and with the considerable popularity of the fantasy genre recently, many of those have received Arabic translations.

With that in mind, here are three fantasy New York Times (NYT) bestsellers that are available in Arabic in local bookstores or online shops.

The Night Circus (2011)

Photo Credit: Abjjad.com

Al-Cirque Al-Laily’ (The Night Circus) by Erin Morgenstern is a historical fantasy about a traveling circus with magical attractions. It follows two competing magicians, Celia and Marco, who add more and more to the circus to best one another in a duel they have trained for since childhood.

However, their duel grows complicated when they grow close to each other — and things really start to go wrong when they come to understand what winning the deadly competition actually entails.

Readers can trust in the quality of the story itself, since it spent seven weeks on the NYT bestseller list. It was also the runner-up for Best Fantasy on Goodreads in 2011, second only to George R.R. Martin’s ‘A Dance with Dragons’ which is the most recent installment of the series that was adapted into the critically acclaimed television series (Game of Thrones, 2011-2019)

This book is a good choice to read in Arabic, especially because it is widely praised for its prose. For those looking to increase their vocabulary through a complex story of magic, suspense, and heartbreak, ‘The Night Circus’ is the way to go.

Six of Crows (2015)

Photo Credit: Abjjad.com

Sitta min Al-Ghirban’ (Six of Crows) is a fantasy novel by Leigh Bardugo, following a rag-tag group of outcasts looking to pull the greatest heist of all time from the world’s most unbreakable prison.

With a cast featuring a criminal prodigy, a spy, a magic-user, a wrongfully-convicted prisoner, a gambling sharpshooter, and a demolitionist with a secret, this book offers both an engaging story and a wealth of new vocabulary through fascinating and uncanny descriptions.

‘Six of Crows’ has a 4.49-star rating on Goodreads, spent over a year on the NYT bestseller list, and is even part of the Netflix adaptation of the ‘Shadow and Bone’ series — so the quality of the story is well-established.

While the Arabic edition of the book is a bit heavy, the English edition is easily accessible, so readers who are having trouble might consider using the books side by side.

In general, reading the story in the language one is more familiar with first makes reading the Arabic version much easier.

Tress of the Emerald Sea (2023)

Photo Credit: Abjjad.com

Fatat Bahr El-Zumurud’ (girl of the emerald sea) is the Arabic title for Brandon Sanderson’s ‘Tress of the Emerald Sea.’ A high fantasy take on the beloved ‘Princess Bride’ story, this novel features a rescue mission, pirates, and a cast of fun characters set in a world that seems out to kill all who inhabit it.

What makes this novel such a fascinating read in Arabic is the narration. With a deft combination of humor, well-timed sarcasm, and a flair for the dramatic, Sanderson uses a narrative voice almost as fun as the story itself.

Another valuable element of this book lies in its vivid descriptions. Taking place in a fantastical world of unique spores, magical science, and mythical monsters, the story is a treasure trove of new words to take in.

While the book is not a NYT bestseller as it was independently published, the Kickstarter campaign it was a part of gained 84,600 backers and USD 20.8 million (EGP 641.5 million) in only three days. 30 days later, it closed with 185,341 backers pledging over USD 41.7 million (EGP 1.28 billion).

This, in addition to its 4.51-star rating should vouch for the quality of the novel and encourage readers to give it a try in Arabic.

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