Gamal al-Ghitani to Arabic Booker Nomination: No, Thank You

August Egyptian author Gamal al-Ghitani (Zayni Barakat, The Zafarani Files) announced last week that he’s rejected a nomination for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, or the “Arabic Booker.”

I don’t exactly follow his arguments, also discussed in the Facebook group MLA Division on Arabic Literature and Culture, but he seems to argue that: 1) the award doesn’t have a philosophy, 2) he doesn’t want to compete against young writers (he doesn’t like that the Booker refuses weigh the author’s reputation and experience?), 3) he doesn’t like that the Arabic Booker organizers pay for the winning novel to be translated.

MLA sympathizes with the last point: “The question is for me: if we pay for the best novel written in Arabic to be translated (which is the tradition that the Booker is establishing), what do we do about the rest of the novels that are produced each year?”

I guess I’m not really concerned about that. (Nor am I concerned about whether al-Ghitani wants to compete against younger writers.) Indeed, many countries spend money on translation subsidies, and otherwise strive to spread the range of their literary art, and I don’t see how it hurts their nations’ literatures. I don’t think publishers will expect a handout for publishing Arabic books: I imagine they’ll still decide based on whether they think the book is excellent, or is the next Yacoubian Building.

I worry more  how the Booker selection process works, although I suppose all of these prizes are flawed, if not equally so.