International Prize for Arabic Fiction Longlist Profiles: ‘Under the Copenhagen Sky’

I haven’t seen a copy of Hawra al-Nadawi’s تحت سماء كوبنهاغن, although I must admit to a slight fear of books with leaping women on their covers. (Why do publishers favor this sort of cover?)

Anyhow, as Susannah Tarbush notes over at Tanjara, al-Nadawi is not just the only woman on this year’s longlist; she’s also the only youngster. Under the Copenhagen Sky is the 27-year-old al-Nadawi’s first novel.

The IPAF promotional material says:

Under the Copenhagen Sky tells the love story of Huda, a teenage girl born in Copenhagen to Iraqi parents, and Rafid, an older man forced to emigrate to Denmark by the political situation in Iraq. It begins when Rafid receives a letter from Huda, who he has never met before, asking him to translate her novel from Danish into Arabic. As their relationship grows, Huda begins to reveal that she knows more about him than he first thought. This novel weaves together chapters from Huda’s manuscript with Rafid’s own account of the romance that is developing between them through their email exchanges.

Al-Nadawi told Susannah Tarbush that she began working on the novel in 2005, when she was just 21. She says the novel is not autobiographical, but “The novel is based in Copenhagen: the main characters are of Iraqi descent and the novel focuses on the cultural differences with which the characters are dealing.”

Al-Nadawi was raised in Copenhagen, but spent her first six years in Iraq. Indeed, she spent her first two years in the prisons of Saddam Hussein. Both her parents were released in the general amnesty of 1986, but then—after her father was re-arrested in 1991—they decided to leave for Denmark.

Interestingly, al-Nadawi said that, although she used to write poetry in Danish, she chose to put her stake in Arabic because:

Arabic is a very rich and strong language and gives you more freedom when you choose to play with it, so I prefer it when writing.


Quotes from the novel (Arabic)

GoodReads page (Arabic), which also includes a review from our friend Lastoadri. From her review (“كانت قراءة خفيفة – it was a light read”) I am not expecting any women on the IPAF shortlist.

Longlist profiles:

Fadi Azzam’s Sarmada

Habib Selmi’s The Women’s Orchards

Ezzedine Choukri Fishere’s ‘Embrace at the Brooklyn Bridge’