2 March 10 | Chad W. Post

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 . . .


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