Mohamed Alnaas was declared the winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2022 on Sunday, May 22, 2022.
The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is the most prestigious literary prize in the Arab world. Its aim is to reward excellence in contemporary Arabic creative writing and to encourage the readership of high-quality Arabic literature internationally through the translation and publication of winning and shortlisted novels in other major languages. 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).
The panel of judges for 2022 was chaired by Tunisian novelist, academic and previous winner Shukri Mabkhout. Joining him on the judging panel are Libyan doctor, poet and translator Ashur Etwebi, Lebanese writer and PEN International board member Iman Humaydan, Kuwaiti poet and critic Saadiah Mufarreh and Bulgarian academic and translator Baian Rayhanova.
The longlist for the prize was announced on January 26 before the shortlist was revealed on March 22. The winner this year is Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table written by Libyan debut novelist Mohamed Alnaas and published by Rashm.
Shukri Mabkhout, Chair of the 2022 Judges, said: The winning novel is written in the form of confessions of personal experience. Its plethora of detail is deftly unified by a gripping narrative. This offers a deep and meticulous critique of prevailing concepts of masculinity and femininity and the division of work between men and women, and the effect of these on both a psychological and social level. It falls into the category of novels which question cultural norms about gender. However, it is embedded in its local Arab context and steers away from any ideological treatment of the issues, as such a treatment would be contrary to the way in which fiction can present multiple points of view.
Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table is a unique story based in Libya. In the closed society of his village, Milad strives to live up to the definition of ideal masculinity, as his society views it. However, after all his best efforts, he fails to be ‘a man’, and after meeting his sweetheart and wife-to-be, Zeinab, decides to forget about this definition and be himself. Living at home, he performs the tasks which his society reserves for women, while Zeinab works and supports the family. Milad is unaware of how he is mocked in the village until his nephew breaks it to him. Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table questions static ideas of gender and champions the individual in the face of destructive ideas adopted by the majority.
Professor Yasir Suleiman, Chair of the Board of Trustees, said:
“Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table is the captivating story of one man, Milad, who ponders his life as it unfolds in an outwardly fractured but seamlessly braided continuum at the subterranean level. The narrative carries the reader effortlessly through Milad’s journey, with its many twists and turns, revealing his alienation from the norms of a society that values a manly interpretation of masculinity. Never affected, the language of the novel is an excellent testimony to the malleability of the high register of the Arabic language and its ability to deal with intimate matters of the body and soul with naturalness and ease. Sometimes wistful, but always lyrical the narrative succeeds in evoking a conflicted cultural fabric that fuses time with place in a Libyan milieu that speaks to and for Arabs everywhere.”
In addition to being awarded USD $50,000, funding will be provided for the English translation of Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table, and Mohamed Alnaas can expect to see an increase in book sales and international recognition.
Read an interview with the prize winner by clicking here.