12 February 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Following on last month’s announcement of the longlist for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, the six-title short list was revealed yesterday.

This year’s six novels are wide-ranging in both subject matter and style. They include: a prison novel from Morocco; a story about one family’s dispersal around the globe, from 1950s Iraq to the modern day; a police hunt for an Iraqi Frankenstein terrorising Baghdad; one man’s search for knowledge as he travels around North Africa and the Middle East; the grim reality of one family’s struggle to survive in present day Aleppo and a psychological thriller played out in a psychiatric hospital in Cairo. [. . .]

Saad Albazei [chair of the judging committee] comments: ‘This year’s longlist was full of excellent books – a reflection of the overall quality of Arabic fiction published this year – so it was a real challenge to whittle the list down to just six. The shortlisted novels are varied in their narrative styles and language: from discovering virtual reality to the mingling of fantasy and reality, they also include classical language and multiple narrative voices and demonstrate the Arabic novel’s ability to flower despite the harsh realities of daily life.’

And here are the six shortlisted titles with short descriptions:

Aziz is a pilot at the air force base who loves flying and forgets his cares when he is up in the air. It is flying that he thinks of on his wedding night, rather his 16 year-old bride, Zina, waiting in the adjoining room. The following morning, he leaves his house at the crack of dawn, not to return for 18 years. His wife, Zina, looks for him everywhere – in prisons, offices, cities and forests – asking questions and following false leads, only to be disappointed. However, one day – in the bar where she and her sister Khatima work – a stranger presses a scrap of paper into her pocket. It takes her on one last journey in search of her husband . . .

Tashari deals with the tragedy of Iraqi displacement of the past few decades, through the life story of a female doctor working in the countryside in southern Iraq in the 1950s. The narrative also follows her three children, who now live in three different continents, particularly her eldest daughter who has also become a doctor and works in a remote region of Canada. The title of the novel, ‘Tashari’, is an Iraqi word referring to a shot from a hunting rifle which is scattered in several directions.

No Knives in this City’s Kitchens is a profound exploration of the mechanics of fear and disintegration over half a century. Through the story of one Syrian family, it depicts a society living under tyranny with stifled aspirations. The family realise that all their dreams have died and turned into rubble, just as the corpse of their mother has become waste material they must dispose of in order to continue living. Written with shocking perception and exquisite language, from the very beginning this novel makes its readers ask fundamental questions and shows how regimes can destroy Arab societies, plundering lives and wrecking dreams.

A researcher stumbles across a manuscript and attempts to edit it, to make it into a doctoral thesis. Entitled The Journeys of ‘Abdi, the manuscript is an account of one man’s journeys from Morocco to the Hijaz in Saudi Arabia in search of knowledge, written in the manner of Moroccan intellectuals such as Ibn Khaldun. ’Abdi’s journey turns into an examination of Arabic and Muslim society, with ’Abdi emphasising the need for Arabs to learn from Europe in order to achieve social progress.

After five years of self-imposed isolation, Doctor Yahya returns to work at the Abbasiya Psychiatric Hospital in Cairo, where there is a surprise in store for him. In ‘West 8’, the department in charge of determining the mental health of patients who have committed crimes, he meets an old friend who reminds him of a past he is desperately trying to forget.

Hadi al-Attag lives in the populous al-Bataween district of Baghdad. In the Spring of 2005, he takes the body parts of those killed in explosions and sews them together to create a new body. When a displaced soul enters the body, a new being comes to life. Hadi call it ‘the-what’s-its-name’; the authorities name it ‘Criminal X’ and others refer to it as ‘Frankenstein’. Frankenstein begins a campaign of revenge against those who killed it, or killed the parts constituting its body.

YES! I’m so glad Frankenstein made it. I really hope this book wins . . .

8 January 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

From the official Arab Fiction website:

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction has today (Tuesday 7 January) announced the longlist of 16 novels in contention for the 2014 prize. Those selected were chosen from 156 entries from 18 countries, all published within the last 12 months.

The 2014 longlisted authors come from 9 different countries, with the highest numbers from Morocco, Iraq and Egypt. A Kuwaiti writer makes the list for the second time in 2014, following Saud Alsanousi’s success in 2013.

It’s great to see this diversity for this prize—a prize that has led to the English publication of a number of Arab works, including The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber, which came out from New Directions earlier this year.

In terms of this year’s longlist, here are all 16 books, with brief summaries found on the official site:

The events of the novel take place in the 1970s, when the cosmopolitan spirit which has characterised the city throughout history has disappeared. In place of the melting pot of ethnicities, religions and cultures comes intolerance and hatred, destroying Alexandria’s secular traditions. The city occupies a large portion of the imaginary space of the novel, in which the characters play out their parts to reveal the social and religious crisis of a city now bereft of its free spirit.

The events in Love Stories on al-Asha Street take place in the 1970s, on al-Asha Street in the populous district of Manfouha, Riyadh. Three heroines are searching for their freedom. [. . .] Their story begins in the romantic period of black and white films and lovers’ trysts on the rooftops, where people sleep outside. However, with the advent of colour television comes a wave of religious extremism, opposing the social transformations which have changed the city.

The Bearer of the Purple Rose tells the story of a writer’s arrest and imprisonment in ‘The Citadel of the Port’, a 700-year old Mamluk fortress built to guard the coast. The arrest of the writer, back from a long exile in the West, is a conundrum for all his friends, who see him as a quiet, peace-loving man. He is imprisoned in a bare cell, possessing only two high windows, impossible to reach, and a picture of the tyrant, who stares at him day and night.

  • 366 by Amir Tag Elsir (Sudan)

366 is the love letter of one man to a woman who doesn’t even know he exists. The protagonist falls in love with Asmaa the moment he sees her at a relative’s wedding. Captivated, he begins a quest to find her, searching everywhere from wedding photographs to the street, the neighbourhood and the faces of other women. He even looks for her in horoscopes, in love stories and in his own vivid imagination. In his letter, he lays out details of his life – from the job that he gives up in order to search for her – to his entanglement in certain political issues. When he fails to find her, he even announces his symbolic death, signing his letter as ‘the deceased’, as a preliminary step before completing suicide.

Aziz is a pilot at the air force base who loves flying and forgets his cares when he is up in the air. It is flying that he thinks of on his wedding night, rather his 16 year-old bride, Zina, waiting in the adjoining room. The following morning, he leaves his house at the crack of dawn, not to return for 18 years. His wife, Zina, looks for him everywhere – in prisons, offices, cities and forests – asking questions and following false leads, only to be disappointed. However, one day – in the bar where she and her sister Khatima work – a stranger presses a scrap of paper into her pocket. It takes her on one last journey in search of her husband . . .

A French saxophonist is invited by a Moroccan friend to visit the Aglmam Azgza lake in the Middle Atlas mountains, to try pike fishing. Once there, he finds himself dragged into a confusing maze, at the heart of which is the legendary place itself and the savage pike. He encounters many colourful and dubious characters including: Virginia from London; a blonde fisherman nicknamed ‘pike-tamer’ and a young hotel employee, who is investigating the tragic fates of those who have visited the lake since 1910. There is also a young girl at the lake, a scriptwriter, two actresses called Hagar and Sara, a piano player and so on . . .

The Phoenix and the Faithful Friend is the life story of Mansi Ibn Abihi (literally: ‘Forgotten One, Son of his Father’), who comes from a class of Kuwaitis called the bedun (‘without’) because they lack Kuwaiti citizenship. Released from prison after the liberation of Kuwait, he decides to write his life story, addressing it to the daughter he has never seen, Zeinab – who was born whilst Kuwait was under occupation – in the hope that she will get to know her father.

Tashari deals with the tragedy of Iraqi displacement of the past few decades, through the life story of a female doctor working in the countryside in southern Iraq in the 1950s. The narrative also follows her three children, who now live in three different continents, particularly her eldest daughter who has also become a doctor and works in a remote region of Canada. The title of the novel, ‘Tashari’, is an Iraqi word referring to a shot from a hunting rifle which is scattered in several directions.

No Knives in this City’s Kitchens is a profound exploration of the mechanics of fear and disintegration over half a century. Through the story of one Syrian family, it depicts a society living under tyranny with stifled aspirations. The family realise that all their dreams have died and turned into rubble, just as the corpse of their mother has become waste material they must dispose of in order to continue living. Written with shocking perception and exquisite language, from the very beginning this novel makes its readers ask fundamental questions and shows how regimes can destroy Arab societies, plundering lives and wrecking dreams.

God’s Land of Exile is set in ‘al-Wa’ara’, an imaginary oasis in the Egyptian desert of al-Wadi al-Jadid. The main character, Hajizi, is over 100 years old and has spent most of his life working with his father Shadid, embalming the corpses of animals. Disturbed by how the speed with which the living forget the dead, he longs for immortality and fears his own death and burial. When he hears from a passing monk that Christ rose from the dead and that righteous Christians rise from death, he decides to accompany the monk to join his brethren in the mountains. There he meets Christ, who tells him to wait for ‘The Comforter’ who will advise him how to achieve life after death.

Ashes of the East: The Wolf who Grew Up in the Wilderness sees Jazz, a young musician of Arabic origin, exploring his identity through a symphony he is composing. The different elements of the music reflect the harsh reality of his life in America, where he is regarded as a hostile Muslim Arab, as well as stories from the life of his grandfather, Baba Sheriff. Going through key moments of his family history, he reconstructs an unadorned picture of the beginning of the twentieth century: such as Baba Sheriff being carried on his mother’s back, or the death of Baba Sheriff’s father, who was incarcerated in Lebanon’s Aliah prison before being strung up on the gallows in Beirut by order of the Ottoman ruler Jamal Pasha, nicknamed ‘the Manslayer’. Jazz goes back to a time shaped by the pursuit of European, rather than Arab, interests, touching on the influence of well-known historical figures.

A researcher stumbles across a manuscript and attempts to edit it, to make it into a doctoral thesis. Entitled The Journeys of ‘Abdi, the manuscript is an account of one man’s journeys from Morocco to the Hijaz in Saudi Arabia in search of knowledge, written in the manner of Moroccan intellectuals such as Ibn Khaldun. ’Abdi’s journey turns into an examination of Arabic and Muslim society, with ’Abdi emphasising the need for Arabs to learn from Europe in order to achieve social progress.

After five years of self-imposed isolation, Doctor Yahya returns to work at the Abbasiya Psychiatric Hospital in Cairo, where there is a surprise in store for him. In ‘West 8’, the department in charge of determining the mental health of patients who have committed crimes, he meets an old friend who reminds him of a past he is desperately trying to forget.

The events in The Edge of the Abyss are told through the voices of three characters whose lives are intertwined: a former minister, known for his corrupt practices; his lawyer wife, restricted by her association with him and a professor, whose personal interests dictate that he should serve the minister, but who at the same time seeks to fulfil his dreams of love through romantic adventures and becomes entangled with the minister’s wife. Their stories intersect with the changes following the Arab Spring, which is drawing everyone to the edge of the abyss.

In The Sad Night of Ali Baba, Iraqi writer Abdel Khaliq Al Rikabi continues his imaginative retelling of the history of modern Iraq. Using the American occupation in 2003 as a starting point, he looks back at the defining social and historical events which have taken place in the country during the 20th century, from the Ottoman Empire to the British and American occupations.

Hadi al-Attag lives in the populous al-Bataween district of Baghdad. In the Spring of 2005, he takes the body parts of those killed in explosions and sews them together to create a new body. When a displaced soul enters the body, a new being comes to life. Hadi call it ‘the-what’s-its-name’; the authorities name it ‘Criminal X’ and others refer to it as ‘Frankenstein’. Frankenstein begins a campaign of revenge against those who killed it, or killed the parts constituting its body.

Frankenstein seems like a great title to end with . . . Few of them on here that sound pretty appealing. Hopefully English publishers will pick up on this. And we’ll post an update when the shortlist is announced.

13 December 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Bit behind with this, but last week the longlist of the 16 novels in the running for the 2013 International Prize for Arabic Literature (f/k/a the Arabic Booker) were announced.

This year’s longlisted authors come from nine different countries, including Kuwait for the first time. Rabee Jaber, who won the Prize in 2012 with The Druze of Belgrade, returns to the list and is joined by formerly shortlisted authors Waciny Laredj (The Andalucian House, 2011) and Ibrahim Nasrallah (Time of the White Horses, 2009), as well as Muhsin al-Ramly, longlisted for the Prize in 2010 for Fingers Pass. Twelve of the sixteen writers have not appeared in previous long or shortlists, though Mohammed Hassan Alwan is an alumnus of IPAF’s inaugural writer’s workshop, having participated in the nadwa in 2009. It was in fact during this workshop that he began writing The Beaver, which has gone on to feature in this year’s longlist.

Unlike some lists in the past, the 2013 longlist moves away from historical settings, with the majority focusing on contemporary issues from the last 25 years. These range from the impact of 9/11 on Arabs living in Europe to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle and political and sexual freedom and emancipation. Whilst the Arab Spring did feature heavily across this year’s submissions in general, the judges noted that the subject still needs some time to mature.

That’s an interesting statement about the Arab Spring as a subject . . . On a sidenote, Open Letter might be publishing its first Arab Spring-related novel in the near future. More info on that later.

In the meantime, here’s the list of the 16 books:

Ave Maria by Sinan Antoon (Iraqi, Al-Jamal)

Toya by Ashraf El-Ashmawi (Egyptian, Al-Dar al-Masriya al-Lubnaniya)

The Kingdom of this Earth by Hoda Barakat (Lebanese, Dar al-Adab)

I, She and Other Women by Jana Elhassan (Lebanese, Arab Scientific Publishers)

Jaffa Prepares Morning Coffee by Anwar Hamed (Palestinian, The Arabic Insitute for Research and Publishing)

The Beaver by Mohammed Hassan Alwan (Saudi Arabian, Dar al-Saqi)

Our Master by Ibrahim Issa (Egyptian, Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation)

The Birds of the Holiday Inn by Rabee Jaber (Lebanese, Dar al-Tanwir)

Sinalkul by Elias Khoury (Lebanese, Dar al-Adab)

Lolita’s Fingers by Waciny Laredj (Algerian, Dar al-Adab)

The Return of the Sheikh by Mohammed Abdel Nabi (Egyptian, Rawafid)

Lanterns of the King of Galilee by Ibrahim Nasrallah (Palestinian-Jordanian, Arab Scientific Publishers)

The President’s Gardens by Muhsin al-Ramly (Iraqi, Thaqafa)

The Bamboo Stick by Saud Alsanousi (Kuwaiti, Arab Scientific Publishers)

His Excellency the Minister by Hussein Al-Wad (Tunisian, Dar al-Janub)

The Goatherd by Amin Zaoui (Algerian, Al-Ikhtilef)

I found the links to those three excerpts on Arabic Literature which definitely has the best coverage of this award. If you click there, you’ll find profiles of the Rabee Jabar novel and Hoda Bakarat’s. Additionally, there’s an overview of the list, information from one of the judges and more. Excited to see what else M. Lynx Qualey posts in the buildup to the January 9th announcement of the shortlist.

28 March 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction—also known as the Arabic Booker—was announced yesterday as a sort of kick-off for this year’s Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

This is the second time Jaber has been shortlisted for the prize, which, when you think about the fact that this is only the fifth iteration of the award, is pretty remarkable.

Here’s a bit about the book and Jaber himself:

After the 1860 Civil War in Mount Lebanon, a number of fighters from the religious Druze community are forced into exile, travelling by sea to the fortress of Belgrade on the boundary of the Ottoman Empire. In exchange for the freedom of a fellow fighter, they take with them a Christian man from Beirut called Hanna Yacoub; an unfortunate egg seller who happens to be sitting at the port. The Druze of Belgrade follows their adventures in the Balkans, as they struggle to stay alive.

Lebanese novelist and journalist Rabee Jaber was born in Beirut in 1972. He has been editor of Afaq, the weekly cultural supplement of Al-Hayat newspaper, since 2001. His first novel, Master of Darkness, won the Critics’ Choice Prize in 1992. He has since written 16 novels, including Black Tea, The Last House, Yousif Al-Inglizi, The Journey of the Granadan (published in German in 2005), Berytus: A City Beneath the Earth (published in French by Gallimard in 2009) and America, which was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2010.

And from the press release:

As well as winning 50,000 US Dollars, Rabee Jaber is guaranteed an English translation of his novel, as well as increased book sales and international recognition. In the past five years, all winners of the Prize have secured English publishing deals for their novels, with three former winners—Youssef Ziedan, Abdo Khal and Mohammed Achaari—to be published in English in 2012.

11 January 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The shortlist for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (better know as the Arabic Booker) was announced earlier today. According to Chair of Judges, Georges Tarabichi,

In these novels the authors’ show an innovative use of new styles to describe the social and historical variety of the Arab world, as well as giving premonitions of the current peoples’ movements, displayed by the concentration on corruption and tyranny formerly prevalent in the Arab world.

You can find the full longlist by clicking here, and here are the six finalists (all descriptions from the official press release):

  • The Vagrant by Jabbour Douaihy (Lebanon)

The Vagrant provides a realistic, engaging portrayal of the Lebanese civil war through the eyes of a young man who finds himself uprooted by the conflict. The hero represents the crisis of the Lebanese individual imposed upon by a sectarian reality. We follow his struggle to belong as he faces unfamiliar situations and conflicts in a society that considers him an outsider.

  • Embrace on the Brooklyn Bridge by Ezzedine Choukri Fishere (Egypt)

Embrace on the Brooklyn Bridge is a novel about alienation in its various forms and senses: the hero who doesn’t belong; his second wife, torn between professional ambition and a desperation to give her husband the impression she belongs in his world; his son, with whom he has limited communication; his granddaughter, uncertain where she belongs, and his Egyptian friend, who discovers that neither his children nor his Cuban-American-Lebanese wife belong to his world. All these characters are linked by their relationship with the protagonist, who draws them together by inviting them to his granddaughter’s birthday party, at which he intends to convey some sad news.

  • The Druze of Belgrade by Rabee Jaber (Lebanon)

After the 1860 civil war in Mount Lebanon, a number of fighters from the religious Druze community are forced into exile, travelling by sea to the fortress of Belgrade on the boundary of the Ottoman Empire. In exchange for the freedom of a fellow fighter, they take with them a Christian man from Beirut called Hana Yaaqub; an unfortunate egg seller who happens to be sitting at the port. The Druze of Belgrade follows their adventures in the Balkans, as they struggle to stay alive.

  • The Unemployed by Nasser Iraq (Egypt)

The Unemployed tells the story of a young, educated Egyptian man from a middle-class family who, like so many others, is forced to look for work in Dubai due to the lack of opportunity in Cairo. In Dubai, he discovers an astonishing world filled with people of all nationalities and he experiences mixed treatment from his friends, relations and acquaintances. And then, just as he falls in love with an Egyptian girl, he finds himself imprisoned for the murder of a Russian prostitute . . .

  • Toy of Fire by Bashir Mufti (Algeria)

Toy of Fire is the story of a meeting between the novelist, Bashir Mufti, and a mysterious character called Rada Shawish, who presents Mufti with a manuscript containing his autobiography. Shawish’s goal in life has always been not to turn out like his father, who ran an underground cell in the seventies and committed suicide in the eighties. However, circumstances have driven him to follow in his father’s footsteps, resulting in him becoming a leading member of a secret group of his own.

  • The Women of Al-Basatin by Habib Selmi (Tunisia)

The Women of Al-Basatin is an intimate portrayal of the daily lives of a modest family living in the Al-Basatin district of Tunis in Tunisia. Through the stories of this small matriarchal environment, we observe the contradictions of the wider Tunisian society, exposing a world in flux between burdensome religious traditions and a troubled modernity.

No way to really make any predictions based on this smidgen of information, but I think The Vagrant will win, although Toy of Fire and The Unemployed also sound pretty interesting . . .

10 November 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Seems like today is a day of award announcements . . . The International Prize for Arabic Fiction (aka, the Arab Booker) started five years ago as a way of bringing more international attention to great works of arabic literature. So far, they’ve given the award to five titles (two won last year), and all five—Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher, Azazel by Youssef Ziedan, Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles by Abdo Khal, The Arch and the Butterfly by Mohammed Achaari, and The Doves’ Necklace by Raja Alem—have all found English language publishers. (A number of these books are coming out in 2012, which is why you might not have heard of them yet.)

The six shortlisted authors (which will be announced on December 7th), each receive $10K, and the winning author (announced March 27th, right before the start of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair), receives an additional $50K.

Thirteen novels are on this year’s longlist, including the new book from 2009 winner Youssef Ziedan, books from Jabbour Douaihy, Habib Slmi, and Rabee Jaber, who were all on the shortlist in the past, and Ezzedine Choukri Fishere, who was longlisted in 2009. (Interesting & encouraging to see some repeat authors on the list.)

There’s not a lot of info available about the books themselves on the Arabic Fiction site, but if I find descriptions somewhere else, I’ll put them up in a separate post. I’m sure there will be a lot more info about the six finalists, but for now, here’s a list of all the books in the running:

Sarmada by Fadi Azzam (Syria)

Paving the Sea by Rashid al-Daif (Lebanon)

The Vagrant by Jabbour Douaihy (Lebanon)

Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge by Ezzedine Choukri Fishere (Egypt)

The Druze of Belgrade by Rabee Jaber (Lebanon)

The Unemployed by Nasr Iraq (Egypt)

Toy of Fire by Bashir Mufti (Algeria)

Under the Copenhagen Sky by Hawra al-Nadawi (Iraq/Denmark)

Suitcases of Memory by Sharbel Qata (Lebanon)

Nocturnal Creatures of Sadness by Mohamed al-Refai (Egypt)

The Women of al-Basatin by Habib Selmi (Tunisia)

The Amazing Journey of Khair al-Din ibn Zard by Ibrahim al-Zaarur (Jordan)

The Nabatean by Youssef Ziedan (Egypt)

And here’s a quote from the 2012 Chair of Judges about the longlist: “The fifth cycle of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction takes place in exceptional circumstances, with many Arab uprisings against despotic regimes which have been entrenched in most regions of the Arab world for long decades. Without actually asserting that the novels nominated for this prize cycle directly prophesy the Arab Spring, we can say that many of them paint a picture of the stifling conditions prevalent before the explosion of uprisings. They take the reader into the underground world of the secret police and portray the thirst for freedom of many of their heroes and secondary characters, at the same time exposing the opportunism of those who co-operate with those secret forces.”

Can’t wait to find out more . . . And hopefully be able to read a few of these books.

14 March 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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.

9 December 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The six-title shortlist for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction/Arab Booker was announced this morning, along with the names of the five judges. (Yes, this is kept secret until this announcement is made.)

In case you’re interested, the panelists are: Fadhil al-Azzawi (Chair), Iraqi poet and novelist living in Germany; Munira al-Fadhel, Bahrain academic, researcher and critic; Isabella Camera d’Affilitto, Italian academic, translator and critic; Amjad Nasser, Jordanian writer and journalist; and Said Yaktine, Moroccan writer and critic.

But on to the fun part . . . Here are the six titles—four of which, I picked out to highlight in my initial post about the longlist. My track record of picking winning books is total trash, so four out of six seems pretty damn good. Anyway:

  • Mohammed Achaari, The Arch and the Butterfly (Morroccan)

Tackling the themes of Islamic extremism and terrorism from a new angle, The Arch and the Butterfly explores the effect of terrorism on family life. It tells the story of a left-wing father who one day receives a letter from Al-Qaeda informing him that his son, who he believes is studying in Paris, has died a martyr in Afghanistan. The novel looks at the impact of this shocking news on the life of its hero and consequently on his relationship with his wife.

  • Raja Alem, The Doves’ Necklace (Saudi Arabian)

The sordid underbelly of the holy city of Mecca is revealed in this astonishing story. The world painted by heroine Aisha embraces everything from prostitution and religious extremism to the exploitation of foreign workers under a mafia of building contractors, who are destroying the historic areas of the city. This bleak scene is contrasted with the beauty of Aisha’s love letters to her German boyfriend.

  • Khalid Al-Bari, An Oriental Dance (Egyptian)

An Oriental Dance tells the story of a young Egyptian who, on marrying an older British woman, moves to England. Through his eyes, the reader is given a vivid account of the struggles and relationships of the Arab expatriate community living in the UK.

  • Bensalem Himmich, My Tormentor (Moroccan)

In a gripping novel, whose narrative style is a blend of Kafka and One Thousand and One Nights, Himmich imagines an innocent man’s experience of extraordinary rendition in an American prison. During his captivity, the protagonist is subjected to interrogation and torture by both Arabs and foreigners and yet, against all odds, the author manages to find some hope in an otherwise desperate situation.

  • Amir Taj Al-Sir, The Hunter of the Chrysalises (or The Head Hunter) (Sudanese)

The Hunter of the Chrysalises is the story of a former secret service agent who, having been forced to retire due to an accident, decide to write a novel about his experiences. He starts to visit a café frequented by intellectuals, only to find himself the subject of police scrutiny.

  • Miral Al-Tahawy, Brooklyn Heights (Egyptian)

Brooklyn Heights tells the story of the New York’s Arab immigrants and those who live among them through the eyes of the female narrator. By contrasting her experiences in her chosen home, America, and her homeland Egypt, she reveals the problematic relationship between East and West. It is a story of fundamentalism and tolerance, loss and hope in love. Simple yet full of rich detail, the novel evokes the atmosphere of America over the last decade.

In case it’s not obvious, all descriptions are from the official Arabic Fiction website.

Based only on these descriptions above, I’m rooting for My Tormentor . . .

The winner will be announced right before the opening of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

And speaking of Abu Dhabi, how awesome is it that tango is taking the Middle East by storm? ADIBF 2011 is gonna rock!

15 November 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

Out of 123 total entries, the judges for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (aka the Arab Booker), selected 16 books for the longlist. It’s interesting to note that, according to the press release, of the 16, seven of the books are written by women (yay!), and that “religious extremism, political and social conflict, and women’s struggles emerge as key themes” (isn’t this the same as saying that all the books were about life?).

The shortlist of six titles will be announced on December 9th in Doha, Qatar (which is when the list of panelists will also be revealed), and the winner will be announced on March 14th, during the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. Shortlisted authors receive $10,000, with the winner receiving an additional $50,000. (Not bad, not bad.)

Anyway, here are the 16 titles, with descriptions (from the press materials) of a few that sound interesting:

  • Mohammed Achaari, The Arch and the Butterfly (Morroccan)

Tackling the themes of Islamic extremism and terrorism from a new angle, The Arch and the Butterfly explores the effect of terrorism on family life. It tells the story of a left-wing father who one day receives a letter from Al-Qaeda informing him that his son, who he believes is studying in Paris, has died a martyr in Afghanistan. The novel looks at the impact of this shocking news on the life of its hero and consequently on his relationship with his wife.

  • Raja Alem, The Doves’ Necklace (Saudi Arabian)
  • Maqbui Moussa Al-Alawi, Turmoil in Jeddah (Saudi Arabian)
  • Khalid Al-Bari, An Oriental Dance (Egyptian)
  • Fawaz Haddad, God’s Soldiers (Syrian)
  • Maha Hassan, Secret Rope (Syrian)

Secret Rope contrasts life in Syria and France through the story of a mother and daughter. After her marriage in Syria, the daughter finds she must return to France to pursue a life of freedom that she cannot achieve in her homeland.

  • Renee Hayek, A Short Life (Lebanese)
  • Bensalem Himmich, My Tormentor (Moroccan)

In a gripping novel, whose narrative style is a blend of Kafka and One Thousand and One Nights, Himmich imagines an innocent man’s experience of extraordinary rendition in an American prison. During his captivity, the protagonist is subjected to interrogation and torture by both Arabs and foreigners and yet, against all odds, the author manages to find some hope in an otherwise desperate situation.

  • Waciny Laredj, The Andalucian House (Algeria)

The Andalucian House relays the history of a house in Granada through the stories of the people who live there over the centuries. Amongst its many residents are two famous, real-life characters: the first, Dali Mami, a sixteenth-century pirate who fought for the Turks and was responsible, amongst other things, for Miguel de Cervantes’s period of captivity in Algeria and the second Emperor Napoleon III, whose wife Eugenie was born in Granada.

  • Razan Naim Al-Maghrabi, Women of Wind (Libyan)
  • Ali Al-Muqri, The Handsome Jew (Yemeni)
  • Fatin Al-Murr, Common Sins (Lebanon)
  • Khairy Shalaby, Istasia (Egyptian)

Istasia is a Coptic widow living in the Egyptian Delta, who becomes a local legend when she dedicates her life to revenging the death her son through prayer. Assistance comes in the unlikely form of the son of the village’s leading Muslim family, notorious for their ruthlessness and cruelty, a lawyer who decides to investigate the case and bring Istasia’s son’s unknown murderers to justice. The moral of the story is that not every Muslim is good or Christian evil and that, no matter the religion, God will answer the prayers of anyone who has been wronged. [Ed. Note: “God will answer the prayers of anyone who has been wronged”??? Huh.]

  • Amir Taj Al-Sir, The Hunter of the Chrysalises (or The Head Hunter) (Sudanese)

The Hunter of the Chrysalises is the story of a former secret service agent who, having been forced to retire due to an accident, decide to write a novel about his experiences. He starts to visit a café frequented by intellectuals, only to find himself the subject of police scrutiny.

  • Miral Al-Tahawy, Brooklyn Heights (Egyptian)

Brooklyn Heights tells the story of the New York’s Arab immigrants and those who live among them through the eyes of the female narrator. By contrasting her experiences in her chosen home, America, and her homeland Egypt, she reveals the problematic relationship between East and West. It is a story of fundamentalism and tolerance, loss and hope in love. Simple yet full of rich detail, the novel evokes the atmosphere of America over the last decade.

  • Ibtisam Ibrahim Teresa, The Eye of the Sun (Syria)

In The Eye of the Sun, protagonist Nasma returns to Syria after years in exile in Sweden and is forced to confront painful memories. Her story reveals a past filled with conflict: from domestic turmoil under a cruel and manipulative father, to political upheaval affecting both her family and the entire population of Aleppo. As well as relating the events that shaped her life up until the present, the novel explores the relationships she has with the men in her life, from her father and brother to her lovers, the man who tortures her and the man to whom she is now married.

2 March 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [2]

I hate reposting Abu Dhabi blog entries while the fair is still going on (or, to be more accurate, just starting), since everyone should be visiting the official ADIBF blog for info about all the goings on. That said, since I will be attending the award ceremony for this year’s Arab Booker later tonight, and since with a little luck (re: not drinking till 4am) I’ll be able to write a post later with info about the winner, I thought it would be useful to make this available here as well.

Later tonight the winner of this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction (aka the Arab Booker) will be announced. The IPAF was launched in April 2007 and is probably the most prestigious and important literary prize in the Arab World. It “aims to reward excellence in contemporary Arabic creative writing and to encourage the readership of high quality Arabic literature internationally through the translation and publication of winning and shortlisted novels in other major languages.”

To help promote awareness of the award and the finalists, the IPAF puts out the annual “Best of New Arabic Fiction” anthology with excerpts from each of the six shortlisted titles. So, in advance of tonight’s announcement, I thought it would be interesting to post short bits from the book about the titles in contention:

“Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles” by Abdo Khal (Saudi Arabia, Al-Jamal Publications). Totally dig this title. Sounds like something I’d write late at night . . . too late at night. Here’s the description: “A painfully satirical novel, “Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles” depicts the destructive impact that power and limitless wealth have on life and the environment. It captures the seductive powers of the palace and tells the agonizing story of those who have become enslaved by it, drawn by its promise of glamour.”

“When the Wolves Grow Old” by Jamal Naji (Jordan, Ministry of Culture Publications, Amman). Another nice title. And a solid opening: “Azmi al-Wajih has humiliated me three times. The first was in the house of his father, who had fallen in love with me and married me. The second was on the day he caught me in the inner room of the house of Sheikh Abd al-Hamid al-Jinzir. And the third was thirteen years later, when I was thirty-eight years old.”

“Beyond Paradise” by Mansoura Ez Eldin (Egypt, El-Ain Publishing). If I remember right, both of the first two Arab Bookers went to Egyptian writers, so perhaps Mansoura can be considered one of the favorites . . . She’s quite young—younger than I am, actually—and in addition to this book, she is the author of a collection of short stories (“Shaken Light”) and the novel “Maryam’s Maze,” which is forthcoming in English from American University in Cairo Press. She was also selected for the Beirut39, as one of the 39 best Arab authors below the age of 40. “Beyond Paradise” is about an editor of a literary magazine who “is trying to dispose of her negative self-image by liberating herself from a past loaded with painful memories.”

“A Cloudy Day on the West Side” by Mohamed Mansi Qandil (Egypt, Dar El Shorouk). According to the description, this novel “evokes the period of great archeological discovery and nationalist struggle in Egypt.” It’s about a translator, a young woman who is abandoned after her mother is forced to flee her abusive husband. As she grows up, her life intersects with a number of historical figures, including Howard Carter, Lord Cromer, and Abdulrahman al-Rifa’i. “This thrilling tale is brought to life by the author’s detailed and vivid descriptions of real historical events and places.”

“The Lady from Tel Aviv” by Rabai Al-Madhoun (Palestine, Arab Institute for Research and Publishing). Focused on the Palestinian-Israeli issue, this novel also has a pretty good opening: “The question surprises me. From the moment I sat down in my seat until the moment she asks the question, it bothers me. From scenes of war, the question pulls me right up to the edge an answer. At first I am nervous, too unsettled to choose an answer. I might have picked any other nationality—anything but Palestinian—in my fear that someone might overhear us and shout out to all the other passengers: ‘Palestinian! This man’s a Palestinian!’ It’s possible. What if one of them got up and made the announcement? ‘Ladies and gentlemen: there’s a Palestinian on board this airplane!’”

“America” by Rabee Jaber (Lebanon, Al-Markaz al-Thaqafi al-Arabi). This is the book that I think is going to win. The whole East-West theme. America. And a compelling story: “‘America’ evokes the story of the Syrians who left their homeland in the early twentieth century to try their luck in the young America. Spurred on by a sense of adventure and the desire to escape poverty, they made the epic journey. Leaving their homeland with only a few belongings, their journel takes in everything from their travels across mountains and plains, to their gradual integration into American society, later becoming citizens of America and fighting its wars. In particular, the novel focuses on the character of Martha, who travels alone to New York in search of her husband, with whom she has lost contact. America is a tribute to those who left Syria in search of a new life from those who remained behind.”

I’ll post about the winner as soon as possible . . .

17 December 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Ed Nawotka’s piece in Publishing Perspectives is the first mention I’ve seen of this, but on Tuesday, the six finalists for the 2010 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (aka, the “Arabic Booker”) were announced. Each finalist received $10,000 and the winner gets an additional $50,000.

Here is the shortlist with the author’s country in parenthesis:

A Cloudy Day on the West Side by Muhammad Al-Mansi Qindeel (Egypt)

Beyond Paradise by Mansoura Ez Eldin (Egypt)

America by Rabee Jabir (Lebanon)

She Throws Sparks by Abdo Khal (Saudi Arabia)

The Lady from Tel Aviv by Raba’i Madhoun (Palestine)

When the Wolves Grow Old by Jamal Naji (Jordan)

Hopefully someone will put up sample translations from all of these in the not-too-distant future. If/when somebody does, I’ll be sure to link . . .

The winner will be announced in early March, at the same time as the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

16 March 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments


It isn’t up on their site yet, but our man on the inside tells us that the winner of the 2008/2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction is Yusuf Ziedan for BEELZEBUB.

I don’t know much about the book I’m afraid, but here’s the description from the IPAF site:

Set in fifth century Upper Egypt, Alexandria and northern Syria, Egyptian author Yussef Zeydan’s story unfolds during a critical point in Christian history. Focusing on the period following the Roman Empire’s adoption of the ‘new’ religion, the novel highlights the subsequent internal doctrinal conflicts rising amongst the fathers of the Church on the one hand, and between the ‘new’ believers and receding paganism on the other.

Congrats to Mr. Ziedan, and to the prize as well. We hope some good publicity, and some translations, come out of it.

12 November 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Over at the World Literature Forum, Stewart points out that the longlist for the 2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction has been announced.

The longlist of 16 books was chosen from 121 eligible entries and are as follows (in alphabetical order);

  • The Bottle and the Genie, Mohammad Abu Maatouk
  • The Tobacco Guard, Ali Badr
  • Hunger, Mohammad Al Bsati,
  • The Unfaithful Translator, Fawaz Haddad
  • The Man From Andalucia, Salem Hameesh
  • Prayer For The Family, Renée Hayek
  • Confessions, Rabih Jaber
  • Platoon Of Ruin, Abdel Kareem Jouaitly,
  • The American Granddaughter, Inaam Kachachi
  • The Tumour, Ibrahim Al Koni,
  • Black Taste, Black Odour, Ali Al Muqri
  • Time Of White Horses, Ibrahim Nasrallah
  • The Scents Of Marie-Claire, Al Habib Salmi
  • Intensive Care, Izzedin Shukri
  • Ma’ Al Sama’, Yehya Yekhlef
  • Beelzebub, Yussef Zeydan

The longlist has been selected by a panel of five judges from Europe and the Arab World. As is customary with the prize, the 2009 judges will be announced at the same time as the shortlist, on 10 December 2008.

They’ll announce the winner on March 6th, 2009, the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

12 March 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Although the official announcement isn’t available at the IPAF website (which is surprising and disappointing), it’s being reported elsewhere that Egyptian novelist Baha Taher has received the first International Prize for Arabic Fiction for the novel Sunset Oasis.

At least there’s a bit of info about the author and book available on the official website. (Really, just a bit of info. I’m not even going to repeat my desire for 5 page samples . . . if they can’t even get the announcement of the winner online, odds are pretty solid that there’s not going to be any excerpts.):

Bahaa Taher was born in Giza (Greater Cairo) in 1935, to Upper Egyptian parents from the village of Karnak, Luxor. He holds postgraduate diplomas in History and Mass Media from Cairo University. He has published 14 books (6 novels, 4 short story collections, and 4 non-fiction works), as well as numerous translations from English and French.

Sunset Oasis (Publisher: Al Shorooq, Cairo, 2007)

Baha Taher delivers in this book a high quality fiction work, at both the aesthetic and value levels. And depending on the metaphor of the journey that crystallizes the existential crisis of a defeated man, he deals with many broad human questions.

All of the authors on the shortlist received $10,000 and Taher receives an additional $50,000 as the prize winner.

I think it would be fantastic if something like this led to greater exposure for Arabic literature, and, as can be seen from this quote in Lebanon’s Daily Star, the people involved have big hopes for the award:

“We are certain that this new prize will soon achieve the reputation and success of the Booker Prize itself,” remarked Jonathan Taylor, chair of the IPAF board of trustees and chair the Booker Prize Foundation. “We shall hope to carry the influence of new Arabic literature all over the world, in Arabic as well as in translation.”

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