9 December 10 | Chad W. Post

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!


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