15 November 10 | Chad W. Post

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.


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