As predicted, this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction (“Arabic Booker”) longlist has more women than in previous years. This year’s longlist is nearly 50-50, with 7 women and 9 men.
Total entries this year were up slightly (123), with the most coming—as in past years—from populous and pen-filled Egypt.
Egyptians on the longlist include my friend Khaled al-Berry (yay, Khaled!), Naguib Mahfouz medal-winning Khairy Shalaby (whose Time Travels of the Man Who Sold Pickles and Sweets is just now out in English), and the excellent Miral al-Tahawy, who Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah once told me is “the next big thing.” (Or something like that. Don’t consider that a quote.)
Other notables on the list (yes, I admit I am prejudiced in favor of Egyptians) include Syrian Fawwaz Haddad, who was previously shortlisted for the Arabic Booker for his Unfaithful Translator and the brilliant Moroccan Bensalem Himmich, who M.A. Orthofer and I put on our Nobel lists, in large part because of his excellent The Polymath.
In addition to the three Egyptians on the list, there are three Syrians (Haddad, Maha Hassan, and Ibtisam Ibrahim Teresa), two Moroccans on the list (Himmich and Mohammad Achaari), two Lebanese (Renee Hayek, who was also on the 2009 longlist, and Fatin al-Murr), two Saudis (Raja Alem, who has co-authored two novels that are available in English, and Maqboul Mousa Al-Alawi) , as well as Algerian Waciny Laredj (who is better-known in French than in English), Libyan Razan Naim Al-Maghrabi, Yemeni Ali Al-Muqri (also previously longlisted, and profiled and interviewed here by The Yemen Times), and Sudanese Amir Taj Al-Sir.
The “Arabic Booker” judges all underline the larger number of women on the list.
The chair of the judges (whose name is still a secret, until the shortlist comes out Dec. 9), said: “This year’s novels were thematically varied, covering the issues of religious extremism, political and social conflict, and women’s struggle to liberate themselves from the obstacles standing in the way of their personal growth and empowerment. We are delighted with the very high percentage of women who reached the longlist compared with previous years.”
Not on the list: Radwa Ashour’s Tantoureya, which I had thought might be here; Sinan Antoon’s The Pomegranate Alone, which I believe was published in July (just before the cut-off) so should’ve been eligible; Ibrahim Aslan’s Two Rooms and a Hall. I’m also still waiting for Sonallah Ibrahim’s Stealth to be retroactively placed on the inaugural shortlist….
If I had to make a shortlist prediction: Miral al-Tahawy’s Brooklyn Heights. You?
Anyhow, the list:
|The Arch and the Butterfly||Mohammed Achaari||Al-Markaz al-Thaqafi al-Arabi (Arab Cultural Centre)||Moroccan|
|The Doves’ Necklace||RajaAlem||Al-Markaz al-Thaqafi al-Arabi (Arab Cultural Centre)||Saudi Arabian|
|Turmoil in Jeddah||Maqbul Moussa Al-Alawi||Al-Kawkab||Saudi Arabian|
|An Oriental Dance||Khalid Al-Bari||El-Ain Publishing||Egyptian|
|God’s Soldiers||Fawaz Haddad||Riad El-Rayyes Books||Syrian|
|Secret Rope||Maha Hassan||Al-Kawkab||Syrian|
|A Short Life||Renée Hayek||Al-Markaz al-Thaqafi al-Arabi (Arab Cultural Centre)||Lebanese|
|My Tormentor||Bensalem Himmich||Dar El Shorouk||Moroccan|
|The Andalucian House||Waciny Laredj||Jamal Publications||Algeria|
|Women of Wind||Razan Naim Al-Maghrabi||Thaqafa l-al-Nashr (Cultural Publications)||Libyan|
|The Handsome Jew||Ali Al-Muqri||Dar al-Saqi||Yemeni|
|Common Sins||Fatin Al-Murr||Dar An-Nahar||Lebanon|
|Istasia||Khairy Shalaby||Dar El Shorouk||Egyptian|
|The Hunter of the Chrysalises (or The Head Hunter)||Amir Taj Al-Sir||Thaqafa l-al-Nashr (Cultural Publications)||Sudanese|
|Brooklyn Heights||Miral Al-Tahawy||Dar Merit||Egyptian|
|The Eye of the Sun||Ibtisam Ibrahim Teresa||Arab Scientific Publishers||Syria|
And even more from “Arabic Booker” organizers about each of the novels:
Comments in italics are mine…
Mohammed Achaari is a poet and novelist from Morocco. He is the head of the Union of Moroccan Writers and was Minister of Culture from 1998 to 2007. He has published a number of works of fiction and poetry, some of which has been translated into French, Spanish, Russian and Dutch.
The Arch and the Butterfly
Tackling the themes of Islamic extremism and terrorism from a new angle, The Arch and the Butterfly explores the effect of terrorism on family life. It tells the story of a left-wing father who one day receives a letter from Al-Qaeda informing him that his son, who he believes is studying in Paris, has died a martyr in Afghanistan. The novel looks at the impact of this shocking news on the life of its hero and consequently on his relationship with his wife.
Raja Alem is a well-known Saudi novelist living in Mecca. She has published a number of novels and plays. Two of her works, written in collaboration with American novelist and cinematographer Tom McDonough, have been published in English: Fatma: A Novel of Arabia (2002) and My Thousand and One Nights (2007). In The Doves’ Necklace, she defends the old town of Mecca which is threatened with destruction in the name of modernisation.
The Doves’ Necklace
The sordid underbelly of the holy city of Mecca is revealed in this astonishing story. The world painted by heroine Aisha embraces everything from prostitution and religious extremism to the exploitation of foreign workers under a mafia of building contractors, who are destroying the historic areas of the city. This bleak scene is contrasted with the beauty of Aisha’s love letters to her German boyfriend.
MAQBUL MOUSSA AL-ALAWI
Maqbul Moussa Al-Alawi is a Saudi writer, whose stories and articles have been published in local newspapers. This is his first novel.
Turmoil in Jeddah
Set towards the end of 19th century, Turmoil in Jeddah is a story of Ottoman nationalism played out in the Arabian Gulf. When an Arab naval captain pulls down the British flag on his ship and raises the Ottoman flag in its place, he provokes outrage from the British Consul, the ship’s protector, and events spiral out of control, culminating in bloodshed and a popular uprising against the British.
KHALID AL-BARI (KHALED AL-BERRY)
Khalid Al-Bari [Khaled al-Berry] is an Egyptian writer with a degree in Medicine from Cairo University. He has lived in London for over 10 years. He has published two books, one of which is a biography [memoir, also available in English translation by Humphrey Davies, titled Life is More Beautiful than Paradise].
An Oriental Dance [A Middle Eastern Dance]
An Oriental Dance tells the story of a young Egyptian who, on marrying an older British woman, moves to England. Through his eyes, the reader is given a vivid account of the struggles and relationships of the Arab expatriate community living in the UK.
Khaled’s book has received only one review on GoodReads. If you’ve read it, go on and add your thoughts….
Fawaz Haddad is a Syrian novelist born in Damascus. A full-time writer, he has published several novels and a collection of short stories. He was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2009 for The Unfaithful Translator and was on the judging panel for the Hannah Meeena Novel contest in 2003 and the Almazraa Novel contest in 2004. A chapter from his novel Passing Scene was published in English in Banipal Magazine in 2008, translated by Paul Starkey.
Also, Max Weiss, history professor at Princeton and the translator of Iman Humaydan’s B as in Beirut, was recently working on a translation of Haddad’s A Solo Performance on Piano. I should check in with him about its status.
In an action-packed story set in modern-day Iraq, a father goes in search of his son who has joined Al-Qaeda, hoping to take him back to Syria. Despite the protection of the American and Syrian Secret Services, the father is kidnapped by his adversaries and, along the way, finds himself in an audience with the real-life character Abu Muses al-Zarqawi, once Iraq’s most notorious insurgent.
Maha Hassan is a Syrian novelist and journalist living in France, who has published her work in a number of Arabic newspapers and online. She is the author of two novels, but she has been banned from publishing in Syria since 2000. In 2008 she lived for a year in the former, renovated apartment of Anne Frank and her family at the Amsterdam Merwedeplein, at the invitation of Amsterdam Vluchtstad.
Secret Rope contrasts life in Syria and France through the story of a mother and daughter. After her marriage in Syria, the daughter finds she must return to France to pursue a life of freedom that she cannot achieve in her homeland.
Renée Hayek was born in southern Lebanon and studied philosophy at the Lebanese University, before embarking on a career in journalism and literary translation. She is the author of a collection of short stories called Portraits for Forgetfulness (1994) and one of the stories within the collection, The Phone Call, was translated into English and included in Hikayat: Short Stories by Lebanese Women. Her novel, Prayer for the Family, was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2009.
A Short Life
A Short Life gives an eye witness account from a woman living in Lebanon during the long years of Civil War. Writing in the present tense, the reader is given an insight into daily life in wartime, from the difficulties and dangers of travelling across the country to the war’s effect on social life, from family to relationships with friends who have remained and those who have sought a new life abroad.
Bensalem Himmich is a Moroccan novelist, poet and philosopher and the current Minister of Culture. He has published 26 books, both literary and scientific works, in Arabic and French, and has won numerous literary prizes including the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature (twice) and the Riad El Rayyes Prize. His novels The Theocrat (2005) and The Polymath (2004) have been translated into English by Roger Allen. His novel, The Man from Andalucia, was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2009.
In a gripping novel, whose narrative style is a blend of Kafka and One Thousand and One Nights, Himmich imagines an innocent man’s experience of extraordinary rendition in an American prison. During his captivity, the protagonist is subjected to interrogation and torture by both Arabs and foreigners and yet, against all odds, the author manages to find some hope in an otherwise desperate situation.
Waciny Laredj is a prolific Algerian author, well-known both in his own country and in France. His books are published in Arabic and French. He has won a number of prizes for his work, including the Sheikh Zayed Prize for Literature in 2007.
The Andalucian House
The Andalucian House relays the history of a house in Granada through the stories of the people who live there over the centuries. Amongst its many residents are two famous, real-life characters: the first, Dali Mami, a sixteenth-century pirate who fought for the Turks and was responsible, amongst other things, for Miguel de Cervantes’s period of captivity in Algeria and the second Emperor Napoleon III, whose wife Eugenie was born in Granada.
RAZAN NAIM AL-MAGHRABI
Razan Naim Al-Maghrabi is a Libyan writer who has published five collections of short stories and a novel called ‘Ala Madar Al-Hamal.
Women of Wind
Women of Wind is a moving story of female friendship and the secret lives of women. It tells the story of a Moroccan servant girl who requests the help of the women in her life to help raise enough money secure a passage on a smugglers’ ship. Before the heroine embarks on her harrowing voyage, the narrative weaves together the stories of the different women who help her, from the Iraqi woman who acts as a go-between between the heroine and the smugglers, to a female novelist and a little girl whose mother has abandoned her.
Ali Al-Muqri is a poet, journalist and novelist born in Yemen. Al-Muqri started writing at the age of 18. After the reunification of Yemen in 1990, he became a cultural editor for various publications. Since 1997, he has been editor of Al-Hikma, a literary publication of the Yemeni Writer’s Association. He also heads a literary journal called Ghaiman which was established in 2007. His novel, Black Taste, Black Odour, was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2009.
The Handsome Jew
This historical novel tells the story of two teenagers from opposing religious backgrounds who meet and fall in love against a backdrop of Yemeni culture. The story begins in a local village when the daughter of the Imam teaches a local Jewish boy to read and write Arabic. When they decide to run away to the capital in order to be together, neither foresees the long-lasting consequences of their decision.
Fatin Al-Murr is a teacher of French literature at the Lebanese University. She has published a novel and a short story collection.
A story of love and resistance set in Lebanon. Told from the perspective of a female narrator, Common Sins moves between southern Lebanon, Beirut and London and gives a perceptive view of the resistance in southern Lebanon.
Khairy Shalaby was born in Kafr al-Shaykh in Egypt’s Nile Delta in 1938. He has written over 70 books, including novels, short stories, historical tales, and critical studies. The Lodging House was awarded the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2003 and he won the State Prize for Literature in 2005. His books have been translated into several languages including English, French, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Urdu and Hebrew, and some adapted for film and television. The Lodging House (2006) and The Times Travels of the Pickle and Sweet Vendor (2010) have both been translated into English.
Istasia is a Coptic widow living in the Egyptian Delta, who becomes a local legend when she dedicates her life to revenging the death her son through prayer. Assistance comes in the unlikely form of the son of the village’s leading Muslim family, notorious for their ruthlessness and cruelty, a lawyer who decides to investigate the case and bring Istasia’s son’s unknown murderers to justice. The moral of the story is that not every Muslim is good or Christian evil and that, no matter the religion, God will answer the prayers of anyone who has been wronged.
AMIR TAJ AL-SIR
Amir Taj Al-Sir is a Sudanese writer. He has published nine novels, two biographies and one collection of poetry.
The Hunter of the Chrysalises (or The Head Hunter)
The Hunter of the Chrysalises is the story of a former secret service agent who, having been forced to retire due to an accident, decide to write a novel about his experiences. He starts to visit a café frequented by intellectuals, only to find himself the subject of police scrutiny.
Miral Al-Tahawy is an Egyptian writer currently living in New York. Her first novel, The Tent, was widely acclaimed when it was first published in Arabic and was published in English by the AUC Press in 2000. Her other works have also been translated into different languages, including English, French and Spanish. (You can also read her Blue Aubergine in English.)
Brooklyn Heights tells the story of the New York’s Arab immigrants and those who live among them through the eyes of the female narrator. By contrasting her experiences in her chosen home, America, and her homeland Egypt, she reveals the problematic relationship between East and West. It is a story of fundamentalism and tolerance, loss and hope in love. Simple yet full of rich detail, the novel evokes the atmosphere of America over the last decade.
Reviews of Brooklyn Heights from GoodReads users. Except for one dissenter, I believe all gave it five stars.
IBTISAM IBRAHIM TERESA
Ibtisam Ibrahim Teresa is a Syrian writer who has published four novels and two short story collections.
The Eye of the Sun
In The Eye of the Sun, protagonist Nasma returns to Syria after years in exile in Sweden and is forced to confront painful memories. Her story reveals a past filled with conflict: from domestic turmoil under a cruel and manipulative father, to political upheaval affecting both her family and the entire population of Aleppo. As well as relating the events that shaped her life up until the present, the novel explores the relationships she has with the men in her life, from her father and brother to her lovers, the man who tortures her and the man to whom she is now married.