Egyptian Mohamed Rabie and Morocco Tareq Bakari are the two Africans on the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2016 shortlist announced today.
For those just hearing about this prize, The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is an annual literary prize run with the support of the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by the TCA Abu Dhabi in the UAE. The prize with the unwieldy moniker IPAF has been referred to as the “Arabic Booker” just like the one we fight over so much has been referred to as the African Booker. Yes, I’m talking about the Caine Prize.
The other writers are Rabai al-Madhoun, Mahmoud Shukair, Shahla Ujayli and George Yaraq Their names were revealed by a judging panel chaired by Emirati poet and academic Amina Thiban at a press conference hosted by The Cultural Club in Muscat, Oman.
Tareq Bakari has been shortlisted for his novel Numedia which tells the life story of Murad, written by his former girlfriend Julia, a Frenchwoman. An orphan, Murad is cursed by the people of his village. Ostracised, insulted and beaten, he turns to love in an attempt to take revenge on fate: first with Khoula, who becomes pregnant; then Nidal, his classmate and fellow comrade in resistance; then Julia, seen as the French coloniser, and with his final love Numedia, the mute Berber. The rich story of Numedia unfolds against the backdrop of the real-life historical, political and religious landscape of Morocco.
Mohamed Rabie’s novel on the other hand Mercury is a dark fantasy which imagines “the counter revolution” in Egypt as a reality in a nightmarish future. The eponymous hero of this fantasy novel is an officer who witnessed the defeat of the police in Cairo on the 28 January 2011. Over a decade later, Egypt is occupied by a mysterious power and the remnants of the old police force are leading the popular resistance, fighting among the ruins of a shattered Cairo. It is a daily hell of arbitrary killing, an intensified version of the sporadic massacres witnessed since the famous revolution in January.
The prize which was founded in 2007 has previously been won by four Africans. Last year the winner was Tunisian Shukri Mabkhout for his book The Italian. Other previous African winners are Moroccan Mohammed Achaari in 2011 for The Arch and the Butterfly, Egyptian Youssef Ziedan in 2009 for Azazeel and Egyptian Bahaa Taher in 2008 for Sunset Oasis.
The winner of the prize will be announced in April 2016 in Abu Dhabi, to coincide with the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. He or she will go home with US$50,000 and the other shortlisted authors receive US$10,000 each.