The Last I’ll Say about Arabic Booker Conspiracies (for a While, I Hope)

We humans love a good mystery.

Why did the judges choose Abdo Khal’s She Throws Sparks (or, as it’s now unfortunately translated, Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles) as the International Prize for Arabic Fiction’s 2010 winner? Why didn’t Alawiyya Sobh’s Its Name Is Love make the shortlist?

Unfortunately for us answer-seeking mammals, it’s not likely there is a clear-cut, single-voiced answer—although there are some interesting (conspiracy) theories.

The IPAF (or Arabic Booker) has swirled with such theories this year. Surely all literary prizes have some back-room politics and attendant front-room conspiracy theorizing, but the speculation about the whys and wherefores of Arabic Booker choices has been particularly heated.

Journalist/poet Youssef Rakha seems to have enjoyed the post-prize awards ceremony and press conference as much as anything else at the Abu Dhabi literary festival. He asks, as he has before: What is the agenda behind the prize?

Many had contended that the exclusion of important contributions from the long and (more controversially) the short list was intended to facilitate the emergence as the final winner of a book from the Gulf; and subsequent statements by the head of the jury, the Kuwaiti novelist Talib Al-Rifa’i, to the effect that it was time that novels from the Gulf should be introduced to the Western world seemed to give credence to this theory.

But Arabic Booker shortlistee Mansoura Ez Eldin, who was interviewed on the Beirut39 blog, declared herself “not a fan” of all these theories.

I believe that it must be noted of “Arabic Booker” prize its ability to have introduced good Arabic writers from outside the traditional “consecration” [consecrated?] circles.

In general, priority must be given to the artistic value. While keeping into consideration that all of this ultimately depends on the taste of the jury that reviews the works, which changes each year. In the three cycles of the Arabic Booker prize, 18 novels were shortlisted and which varied between one another and in its writer’s perspectives on writing. This makes it hard to classify all of those books under one category. However, the problem is that the conspiracy theory dominates the beliefs of many.