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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]
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.
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 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.
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .
Jorge Eduardo Benavides’ novel La paz de los vencidos (The Peace of the Defeated) takes the form of a diary written by a nameless Peruvian thirty-something intellectual slumming it in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. Recently relocated. . .
Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of. . .
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .