In an interesting and highly entertaining piece for The National, Beirut 39er Youssef Rakha reviews the controversies and conspiracy theories surrounding the International Prize for Arabic Fiction—the “Arabic Booker”—now in its third year.
Rakha generally does not find a conspiracy, just a flawed process led by (flawed, wouldn’t you know it?) human beings. Of course, if he were to posit a conspiracy, this is what it would be:
“If there is a common thread that connects the first two winners – each of which, it should be added, was chosen by a separate jury – it is that both stand as affirmations of a pluralistic and liberal value system, one that generally looks positively at the encounters between East and West: in Sunset Oasis, the equality of the races and the right to (national and personal) freedom despite the horrors of colonialism; in Azazeel, the importance of tolerance and understanding in the face of dogma and religious extremism.”
In keeping with said policy (which may well be the case—why not?), Rakha pinpoints this year’s likely winner as Rabie al Madhoun’s The Lady from Tel Aviv.
On the other hand, Rakha notes, maybe the smart money’s on Abdo Khal‘s She Throws Sparks.
“Khal is the most established and celebrated writer on the shortlist, and one might be forgiven for expecting the jury to embrace the least contentious choice after so much public acrimony.”
However, he notes:
“But Khal’s book is not without its own potential for controversy, and it has little to offer in the way of cross-cultural pieties or the tolerance afforded by such encounters.”
Although I probably should shake my head and bemoan all this manufactured controversy, in fact, I love it. To me, it shows how relevant and important these issues are. And hey, no guns or bombs involved. Let the controversy continue!