Abdelouahab Aissaoui’s novel The Spartan Court won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2020 today, April 14, 2020.
The International Prize for Arabic Fiction, founded in 2007, is given to the best novel written in Arabic in the previous year. It is run with the support of the Booker Prize Foundation in London and sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism. Previous winners include Bahaa Taher (2008), Yusuf Zeydan (2009), Abdo Khal (2010), Mohammed Achaari (2011), Rabee Jaber (2012), Saud Alsanousi (2013), Ahmed Saadawi (2014), Shukri Mabkhout (2015), Rabai al-Madhoun (2016), Mohammed Hasan Alwan (2017), Ibrahim Nasrallah (2018), and Hoda Barakat (2019).
Muhsin al-Musawi, an Iraqi literary critic and Professor of Classical and Modern Arabic Literature, Comparative and Cultural Studies at Columbia University was the chair of this year’s panel of judges. He was joined by Pierre Abi Saab, a Lebanese critic, journalist and co-founder of the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper; Reem Magued, an Egyptian broadcaster, television journalist and trainer in journalism and media; Amin Zaoui, an Algerian novelist who writes in both Arabic and French, and Professor of Comparative Literature and Contemporary Thought at the Central University of Algiers; and Viktoria Zarytovskaya, a Russian academic, researcher and translator.
On December 17, 2019, a longlist of sixteen books was announced with nine writers from the African continent. The shortlist with five writers from across northern Africa and the Middle East was announced on February 4, 2020.
The winner announced earlier today is The Spartan Court written by Abdelouahab Aissaoui and published by Dar Mim. His first novel Jacob’s Cinema (2012won in the novel category of the President of the Republic Prize. He won the Assia Djebar Prize, widely regarded as the most important prize for the novel in Algeria, for his second novel, Mountain of Death (2015), which tells the story of Spanish communists imprisoned in North African camps after losing the Spanish Civil War. His third novel Circles and Doors (2017) won the 2017 Kuwaiti Suad al-Sabah Novel Prize, and also in 2017, he won the Katara Novel Prize in the unpublished novel category, for Testament of the Deeds of the Forgotten Ones.
Muhsin al-Musawi, Chair of the 2020 Judging Panel, says: “The Spartan Court stands out for its stylistic brilliance. It is polyphonic – with multiple voices telling the story. Readers gain a multi-layered insight into the historical occupation of Algeria and, from this, the conflicts of the entire Mediterranean region, with characters embodying different interests and intersecting visions. The novel invites the reader to gain a greater understanding of life under occupation and the different forms of resistance that grow against it. With its deep, historical narrative structure, the novel does not live in the past, but rather it challenges the reader to question present reality.”
Professor Yasir Suleiman CBE, Chair of the Board of Trustees, says: “The Spartan Court is a captivating tale, a tale of many voices, truths and falsehoods. It goes back in history to excavate the past and permeate the present with intertwined narratives that keep the reader glued to its enchanting characters and their tortuous fortunes. Its many bittersweet vignettes, and their rootedness in place and time draw the reader to worlds with myriad tones of colour, sound and smell. Abdelouahab Aissaoui has given us a work to celebrate and remember during these anguished times. For this we are grateful to him.”
The Algerian wins the US$50,000 prize money of and his novel will be translated into English.
You can read more about this win at our good friends at Arablit.org.