Get to Know the Arab Authors on 2015 Man Booker International ‘Finalists List’

The 2015 Man Booker International announced its ten-strong “finalists list” today, and — unsurprisingly, since the judging committee is chaired by Marina Warner and includes Arabist Wen-chin Ouyang — it includes two very worthy authors who write in Arabic:

Finalists - web images2This year will mark the sixth Man Booker International Prize, which is granted in odd years, and awards an author from anywhere in the world £60,000 for his or her achievements in fiction — although the author’s work must be available in English.

Celebrated Lebanese writer Hoda Barakat and much-awarded Libyan novelist Ibrahim al-Koni are the second and third Arabic-writing novelists to make the MBI “finalists list,” after Naguib Mahfouz (who had already won the Nobel Prize) in the prize’s inaugural year, 2005.

Also on the finalists list this year is prominent Anglophone Indian writer Amitav Ghoshwho has said, “I’d say I’m one of the few non-Arab writers who’s read a lot of Arab literature and it reflects in my work.” His River of Smoke, he said, “is heavily inspired by a famous Egyptian novel, Zayni Barakat by Gamal al-Ghitani.”

In all, it makes a wonderfully diverse and international list. The remaining finalists are: Argentinian writer César Aira, Guadeloupian author Maryse Condé, French-Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou, Mozambiquan writer Mia Couto, Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai, US poet and writer Fanny Howe, and South African Marlene van Niekerk.

The “international” prize has previously gone to North American writers three successive times: American short-story writer Lydia Davis in 2013, (controversially, following judge Carmen Callil’s resignation) Philip Roth in 2011, and Canadian short story writer Alice Munro in 2009. After that, Munro went on to be awarded the Nobel Prize.

This year, the makeup of the prize judges favored a more international list. In a 2013 interview, Ouyang talked about her favorite Arabophone authors, a list that included Hoda Barakat.

Hoda Barakat, who is not as well-known in English as she should be, has several novels in excellent translation: Stone of Laughter, trans. Sophie Bennett, Tiller of Waters, trans. Marilyn Booth, and Disciples of Passion, also trans. Marilyn Booth. Her most recent novel Kingdom of this Earth, was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2013 and, surprisingly, didn’t make the shortlist.

Ibrahim al-Koni is the first Libyan author to make the list and has been widely laureled in Arabic and translated into English, including his wonderful Bleeding of the Stone translated by May Jayyusi and Christopher Tingley, and Gold Dust, trans. Elliott Colla.

The winner of the 2015 Man Booker International will be announced on May 19. Also, if a non-Anglophone writer takes the prize, the winner can choose a translator of their work into English to receive an additional award of £15,000.

Amitav Ghosh

Interview: “Learning Arabic Had a Huge Impact”

Hoda Barakat

A brief excerpt of Kingdom of this Earth (2012):

Trans. Ghada Mourad

English-language interviews with Barakat:

With Youssef Rakha, 1999

With Elisabeth Marie, in 2002

With Olivia Snaije, in 2003

With Brian Whitaker, in 2004

With Finnegan’s List, in 2012 

With Suneela Mubayi, in 2012 (specifically about Kingdom)


Barakat on receiving the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature

Ibrahim al-Koni

Watch an interview:

On The Louisiana Channel

Read al-Koni:

The Teacher,” trans. Elliott Colla

“Tongue,” trans. Elliott Colla

From The Tumourtrans. Elliott Colla

From The Puppet, trans. William Hutchins

From Gold Dusttrans. Elliott Colla

From Anubistrans. William Hutchins

From The Scarecrow, trans. William Hutchins

On translating Ibrahim al-Koni:

By Elliott Colla


Al-Koni’s Homes,” by Elliott Colla



  1. Looks like a great list, and I’m glad to see a more diverse group! And especially Amitav Ghosh, one of my favorite authors.

    1. Yes, me too, I am a big Amitav-booster.

  2. Thank you mlynxqualey for your continued and relentless pursuit of literature from our Arab friends. The Bleeding of the Stone is one of my all time favourites. I can’t wait to go through the list!

    1. Yes, me too, it’s an incredible book. I strongly recommend it to anyone who visits this page!

  3. Reblogged this on Misanthrope-ster and commented:
    I went out to my library after the Man Booker finalists were announced with the intention of getting the two most recent books by each. I realized in my days of editing Gently Read Literature that I had already read some Hoda Barakat (even though I failed to generate enough reviews of her work).

    I was only able to get Amitav Gosh’s Sea of Poppies and The Hunger Tide. So here is perhaps the best English language Arabic Literature blog out there providing some much needed info.

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