Last week, there was quite a flap in the Egyptian literary world as the country’s State Incentive Award went to Tareq Imam’s The Serenity of Killers (Dar Merit)—but then was snatched back on the pretext that Imam had already won a (Sawiris, second-place) award for the book.
The State Incentive Award is apparently only available to books that have not won previous awards.
Al Akhbar has written a defense of Imam, explaining why he didn’t break the rules of the prize intentionally (he submitted before he’d won the other prize), but good grief. The rule is wrong-headed.
I’m not sure how many prize administrators want only “virgin” works, although I did see it in the rules for submitting to the giant (1 million dirham) Etisalat Prize for Children’s Literature. So now authors must count among their worries the fear of winning small awards.
In response to the award-revoking inanity, we might as well take a moment to appreciate young Egyptian author Tareq Imam (pictured above, courtesy of Al Masry Al Youm).
Amany Sharkawy, of Al Masry Al Youm, didn’t fully enjoy Imam’s latest collection of short stories, A Tale of an Old Man Who Dies in the Cities He Visits in His Dreams (and Other Stories) , but blogger/author Ahmed Khalifa is a big fan of Imam’s, and chose The Serenity of Killers as one of the best books of 2009.
Khalifa on the award-winning (or not-award-winning) book:
The book, which is mostly told in the first person by a sociopathic, schizophrenic serial killer who thinks he might be evil incarnate, is a near-extinct creature in the world of Arabic books, in that it is compelling. Even if it is light on plot and its ending a bit of a letdown, it still packs a punch, and is sure to haunt you for days after finishing it. And to top it off, Imam has something to say here about living in modern Cairo, about its isolation, its underlying darkness. Unmissable.
Khalifa also enjoyed the short story collection that Sharkawy found a little too obtuse. He called it “reminiscent of some of the best works of Poe and Bradbury,” and sings the praises of Imam’s third novel, The Widow Writes Letters in Secret (Dar al Ain), which he calls Imam’s “most accomplished piece of long fiction.”
Although the ambiguous, circular ending is a bit disappointing, this is an original, stylish, memorable piece of work, and another brilliant piece of storytelling by Tareq Imam, one of Egypt’s most accomplished contemporary writers. Unmissable.
I hope and assume we will see Tareq Imam in English soon. (Now, if he were female and in a minidress, I’d say tomorrow!)