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International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2011

This morning it was announced that The Arch and the Butterfly by Mohammed Achaari and The Doves’ Necklace by Raja Alem jointly won the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction. (AKA the Arab Booker.)

Iraqi poet and novelist Fadhil Al-Azzawi was the chair of this year’s judging committee, and here’s what he had to say:

“The Judging Panel decided to give the Prize equally to two novels, which are The Arch and the Butterfly by Mohammed Achaari and The Doves’ Necklace by Raja Alem. They are two wonderful novels with great literary quality and they both deal with important and realistic problems in the Middle East, problems which have been reflected on banners during the recent protests that have shaken the Arab world, demanding change.

“The first novel, The Arch and the Butterfly, deals with Islamic extremism and terrorism and its destructive effect upon Arabic society itself, rather than on the West. The second, The Dove’s Necklace, reveals the true face of Mecca: behind the city’s holy veil there is another Mecca, where many crimes are committed and there is also corruption, prostitution and mafias of building contractors who are destroying the historic areas of the city, and therefore its soul, for commercial gain.”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that a woman has finally won the prize. But the idea of sharing it (and being listed second everywhere in this press release) kind of taints the whole thing for me. Sure, both novels will be translated and published in English (win), but they have to split the $50,000 cash award. Something about this just doesn’t sit right . . . It’s like VCU and UAB making the NCAA Tournament. Fine, it’s fine. But all the explanations (“both novels are great!,” “all teams are deserving!”) feel half-hearted and cheap.

(Oh, and is it “The Doves’ Necklace“ or “The Dove’s Necklace“? Confused.)

But whatever. I just wish Raja Alem had won straight out. Not only does it diminish her accomplishment of being the first female to receive the reward, but it’s kind of stupid to have a prize and split it between two books. Make up your minds! Choose a winner!

That’s all. Congrats to both authors.



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