Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp © C. Pleasant Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp is a British literary translator who translates from German, Russian and Arabic into English. She has an MA from Oxford University, an MA in Translation and Interpreting from Bath University and a Postgraduate Diploma in Translation in all three of her language combinations.
She has translated novels by Hanna Winter, Yulia Yakovleva, Fadi Zaghmout and Kathrin Rohmann, and non-fiction books on nature, history, politics, civil rights, child psychology, linguistics, art history and literary criticism.
She is the translator of the Goethe Institut-funded non-fiction title, Farewell to the Horse: The Final Century of Our Relationship by Ulrich Raulff (Allen Lane), which was BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week in May 2017 and Sunday Times History Book of the Year 2017. Her translation of Apple Cake and Baklava, Kathrin Rohmann’s middle grade novel about a Syrian girl settling into school in Germany, was also awarded Goethe-Institut funding.
Ruth is the co-translator with Nashwa Gowanlock of The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria by Samar Yazbek (Rider Books), which The Times Literary Supplement described as ‘beautifully translated… with virtuosic prose’.  She has also translated plays from Russia, Syria and Lebanon, and several short stories and children’s books.


Why did you choose to become a translator? Is it the profession you always wanted?

I think I knew I wanted to be a translator even before I’d taken my GCSEs! Initially I imagined myself at the UN or the EU – inspired by school exchange trips to Strasbourg – but I realised during my Masters that I actually had the wrong language combination, and that with my love of books I was much more suited to literary translation, although I had no idea at that stage how I could make a career of it.
Which German book do you like the best and why?
So many German novels have left an impression on me over the years: Drei Kameraden by Erich Maria Remarque, everything by Günter Grass (particularly Katz und Maus), Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina, Heinrich Böll’s Das Brot der frühen Jahre… I can’t imagine choosing a favourite!
Is there a particular book you would like to translate?
I have a very long wish list! I would especially love to finish a fascinating novel which I started translating as part of the New Books in German Emerging Translators scheme: Die undankbare Fremde (The Thankless Stranger) by Irena Brežná, a Slovak-Swiss writer and journalist. It’s a lovely novel about emigrating from Czechoslovakia to Switzerland, about culture shock and homesickness, about identity and rebellion. It also has a strand about public service interpreting, a topic close to my heart!
Besides fiction, I would dearly love to translate more popular history, travel and nature writing. One book I read last year which I’d love to translate is Dirk Liesemer’s Lexikon der Phantominseln (Lexicon of Phantom Islands). And I adored Ewald Frie’s Geschichte der Welt (History of the World) – the most expansive and objective global history I’ve come across, written with superb clarity and conciseness; it makes a refreshing departure from European perspectives. Another important historical text I’d love to translate is Lager (Camp) by Angela Rohr (1890-1985) – a memoir of her experiences as a prisoner and a doctor in the Soviet Gulag

  • Peter Wohlleben, The Forest Manual (Rider Books, 2019)
  • Peter Wohlleben, The Weather Detective: Rediscovering Nature’s Secret Signs (Rider Books, 2018)
  • Kathrin Rohmann, Apple Cake and Baklava (Darf Publishing, 2018) 
  • Thomas Bärnthaler, Now Make This! (co-translation with Jessica West, Phaidon,  2017) 
  • Ulrich Raulff, Farewell to the Horse: The Final Century of Our Relationship (Allen Lane, 2017) 
  • Hanna Winter, Sacrifice (Manilla, 2016)