‘Premonitions’ of Revolution in Shortlist for ‘Arabic Booker’

From my piece in the Egypt Independent:

A moment of silence in memory of Ibrahim Aslan opened the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) press conference on Wednesday morning, before this year’s judges — hitherto kept secret — introduced the prize’s shortlist of six.

The shortlisted novels were by Egyptians Ezzedine Choukri Fishere (“Embrace at the Brooklyn Bridge”) and Nasser Iraq (“The Unemployed”), Lebanese writers Jabbour Douaihy (“The Vagrant”) and Rabee Jaber (“The Druze of Belgrade”), Algerian Bashir Mufti (“Toy of Fire”) and Tunisian Habib Selmi (“The Women of al-Basatin”). Three of the authors — Douaihy, Jaber, and Selmi — had been previously shortlisted for the prize, while Choukri Fishere had been longlisted for his 2008 novel “Intensive Care.”

Thirteen novels had made the IPAF’s 2012 longlist. The five judges met in Cairo this week to narrow the list to six.

Judge Dr. Gonzalo Fernandez Parrilla, a Spanish academic and translator, said that the judges had agreed quickly and easily on 90 percent of the shortlist. Judge Maudie Bitar, a Lebanese journalist and literary critic, said that “one or two” of her favored novels didn’t make the shortlist, but “that’s the democratic system.”

Chair of the judges, the esteemed Syrian author Georges Tarabichi, addressed in his talk the issue of gender and regional disparities. He added that the IPAF has no gender, ideological, or regional quotas, and that all the novels “could be from Egypt or all from Lebanon or all from Algeria.”

None of the shortlisted six had subject matter directly addressing the popular uprisings that began in Tunisia in December of 2010, but Selmi’s novel, set in Tunis, was particularly noted as foreshadowing events to come. Many of the novels, Tarabichi said, gave “premonitions of the current people’s movements, displayed by the concentration on corruption and tyranny.” Go on; keep reading.