International Prize for Arabic Fiction

Abdelouahab Aissaoui, Said Khatibi, and Youssef Ziedan are the three Africans on the shortlist for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2020 announced today, February 4, 2020.

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction, launched in 2007, is considered the most important literary prize in the Arab world today.  The prize, given to best novel written in Arabic that year, 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).

The panel of judges for 2020 was chaired by Muhsin al-Musawi, an Iraqi literary critic and Professor of Classical and Modern Arabic Literature, Comparative and Cultural Studies at Columbia University. He was joined by Pierre Abi Saab, a Lebanese critic, journalist and co-founder of the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper; Reem Magued, an Eqyptian 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.

A longlist of sixteen books in the running for the prize money and literary glory was announced on December 17, 2019; that list had nine writers from the African continent. Today, the shortlist of the prize has been unveiled with five writers from across northern Africa and the Middle East. The full list of those still in this competition, with the Africans bolded, is;

  • Abdelouahab Aissaoui, The Spartan Court, Algeria, Dar Mim
  • Khalil Alrez, The Russian Quarter, Syria, Difaf Publishing
  • Jabbour Douaihy, The King of India, Lebanon, Dar Al Saqi
  • Said Khatibi, Firewood of Sarajevo, Algeria, Al-Ikhtilef
  • Alia Mamdouh, The Tank, Iraq, Al-Mutawassit
  • Youssef Ziedan Fardeqan – The Detention of the Great Sheikh, Egypt, Dar al-Shorouk

Muhsin al-Musawi, Chair of the 2020 Judging Panel, said: “The novels we have chosen include a superior collection of texts varied in style and subject matter. They have escaped the grip of traditionalism which often accompanies the writing of fiction. Nearly all of them are occupied with the oppressive effect of history, past and present, but they do not merely retell this history or current reality. Rather, they confront it in all its harshness to inspire in the reader questions about the destiny of the Arabic individual.”

Professor Yasir Suleiman CBE, Chair of the Board of Trustees, said, “The shortlisted works for this year grapple with what seem like the perennial concerns of Arab societies in modern times. War in all its forms is an overriding theme in pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial times. Some of the novels follow well-worn narratives, but they do so with verve and singular success. Others are more experimental, opting for narrative fragmentation as if to symbolically refract the shattered state of modern Arab life. The variety will certainly appeal to wide audience.”

The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi on 14 April 2020, on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

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