A minor yet important play by the late Egyptian literary legend Naguib Mahfouz received its first English reading by NYU Abu Dhabi students at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.
The plot of The Jinni Speaks, which was written in the mid-1970s, is inspired by The City of Brass, a story from Thousand and One Nights. It follows three Arab travellers who attempt to rescue a cursed city from destruction.
Paulo Horta, the NYU Abu Dhabi assistant professor of literature, who read as one of the travellers, said the project started last year after one his students took on the task of translating the play from Arabic to English.
“This year I am teaching the course Adaptation Across Media and some of our students who are film and theatre majors wanted to do a reading or production of the play,” he says. “So this is all a nice collaboration between translation and adaptation.”
While The Jinni Speaks didn’t receive the same recognition as those of Mahfouz’s other novels, Horta says it played a significant role in developing Mahfouz’s writing craft.
“Recent scholarship has shown that Mahfouz often turned to screenplays and drama plays for ways to explore ideas that would then go in his novels,” he says. “After he wrote The Jinni Speaks he wrote Arabian Night and Days, a novel which explored similar themes.”
Horta says there are plans to use the newly translated play in other courses at NYU Abu Dhabi and to publish the translation.
• The Abu Dhabi Dhabi International Book Fair runs until tomorrow at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center. For details go to www.adbookfair.com
* Saeed Saeed