Fifty rogue’s tales translated fifty ways
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.
Impostures 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.
"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!"
"One might describe al-Hariri's 12th-century Arabic classic as 'Melville's Confidence-Man meets Queneau's Exercices de style,' but in this remarkable Oulipean carnival of a translation by Michael Cooperson, there are so many other voices—and languages: Singlish, Spanglish, Shakespeare, middle management-speak, Harlem jive, the rogue's lexicon, Naijá... Impostures is a wild romp through languages and literatures, places and times, that bears out and celebrates Borges's dictum: 'Erudition is the modern form of the fantastic.'"
— Esther Allen, translator of Zama, winner of the 2017 National Translation Award
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