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:
This 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 Ghosh — who 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.
Interview: “Learning Arabic Had a Huge Impact”
A brief excerpt of Kingdom of this Earth (2012):
English-language interviews with Barakat:
With Suneela Mubayi, in 2012 (specifically about Kingdom)
Watch an interview:
“The Teacher,” trans. Elliott Colla
“Tongue,” trans. Elliott Colla
From The Puppet, trans. William Hutchins
From Gold Dust, trans. Elliott Colla
From The Scarecrow, trans. William Hutchins
On translating Ibrahim al-Koni:
“Al-Koni’s Homes,” by Elliott Colla