Recent Publication: Impostures, translated by Michael Cooperson (NYU Press)

Recent Publication: Impostures, translated by Michael Cooperson (NYU Press)

NYU Press has recently published a “groundbreaking” translation of Al-Ḥarīrī entitled Impostures: Fifty Rogue’s Tales Translated Fifty Ways by Michael Cooperson. 

Publisher’s Overview: An itinerant con man. A gullible eyewitness narrator. Voices spanning continents and centuries. These elements come together in Impostures, a groundbreaking new translation of a celebrated work of Arabic literature.

ImposturesImpostures follows the roguish Abū Zayd al-Sarūjī in his adventures around the medieval Middle East—we encounter him impersonating a preacher, pretending to be blind, and lying to a judge. In every escapade he shows himself to be a brilliant and persuasive wordsmith, composing poetry, palindromes, and riddles on the spot. Award-winning translator Michael Cooperson transforms Arabic wordplay into English wordplay of his own, using fifty different registers of English, from the distinctive literary styles of authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer, Mark Twain, and Virginia Woolf, to global varieties of English including Cockney rhyming slang, Nigerian English, and Singaporean English.

Featuring picaresque adventures and linguistic acrobatics, Impostures brings the spirit of this masterpiece of Arabic literature into English in a dazzling display of translation.

Praise for Cooperson’s Translation: 

“To translate a work that has been called untranslatable for a thousand years requires more than just expertise in languages—it requires wit, creativity, and an ocean-deep reservoir of knowledge of history and literature and humanity. Michael Cooperson has all of that, plus the most essential, and rarest element: the courage to climb this Everest of world literature. The result isn’t just a translation—it’s a dazzling work of literary creation in its own right, with the linguistic gymnastics of Pale Fire, the genre-switching of Cloud Atlas, and the literary range of 2666.” ~Peter Sagal, Host of NPR’s Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!

“Both engrossing and entertaining to read.” ~Asian Review of Books

“[An] astounding new adaptation of the Maqāmāt of al-Harīrī… The verbal profusion is ludicrous, joyfully so. Speaking to an interviewer, Mr. Cooperson remarked that the Maqāmāt is ‘a book that shows off everything that Arabic can do.’ Impostures shows off English in the same flattering light, demonstrating its dynamism, its endurance, its mutability and its glorious, weedy wildness. In this way, a translation that is so brazen in its liberties is faithful to the spirit of the original.” ~Wall Street Journal

About the Author: Michael Cooperson is Professor of Arabic in the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA. His translations include The Life of Ibn Ḥanbal by Ibn al-Jawzī for the Library of Arabic Literature, and The Author and His Doubles by the eminent Moroccan literary critic Abdelfattah Kilito.

Interested readers may purchase the book here, or find it at your institutional library.


Content courtesy of NYU Press.


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