March 20, 2018
The International Prize for Arabic Fiction shortlist is out!
by Michael Barron
The judges behind the International Prize for Arabic Fiction have announced their shortlist for this year’s award. Informally referred to as the “Arabic Booker”—and in fact modeled on the Man Booker Prize—the award, which bills itself as “the most prestigious and important literary prize in the Arab world,” is funded by the Abu Dhabi Department of Tourism and Culture, and is open to any work of fiction originally written in Arabic.
The list is evidence of the enduring vitality of Arabic literature. Flowers in Flames, by the Sudanese novelist Amir Tag Elsir, concerns a cosmopolitan young woman who gets caught up in the invasion and takeover of her city by religious extremists. Saudi writer Aziz Mohammed conjures up a Kafkaesque narrative of macabre literary inspiration in The Critical Case of “K.” Religious fundamentalism takes a sci-fi turn in Palestinian-Jordanian writer Ibrahim Nasrallah’s The Second War of the Dog, while a history of Baghdad is told through the lifelong friendship of three young women in Iraqi author Shahad Al Rawi’s The Baghdad Clock. A man’s loss of home is an allegory for the the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in Heir of the Tombstones by Palenstinian writer Walid Shurafa, and a woman’s unusual means of recollecting her traumatic departure from war-torn Syria is at the center of The Frightened by Syrian novelist Dima Wannous.
“The six novels on the shortlist delighted the judges with their fresh exploration of social, political and existentialist themes,” writes Ibrahim Al Saafin, chair of the five-member panel of judges. “Narrative techniques were varied, from the form of diary entries and a novel within a novel, to several authors taking inspiration from the fantasy genre. They allude to the challenging new realities of the Arab world, from Syria to Sudan, but transcend the factual and prosaic.”
This sentiment was echoed in another statement made by Yasir Suleiman, chairman of the prize’s board of trustees: “The Arab novel continues to reflect, and reflect upon, its social and political milieu using the cataclysmic events of the present as its substance or backdrop.”
The winner will be announced in a ceremony in the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi on April 24th, the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. The six shortlisted finalists will receive $10,000, with a further $50,000 going to the winner.
Michael Barron is an editor at Melville House.