‘Global’ Dublin Literary Award Overlooks Arabic Literature Again in 2016

The International Dublin Literary Award, previously called the IMPAC, yesterday released its world-spanning 160-title longlist which will culminate in a €100,000 award. However, as in past years, its “world” view was of a particular corner of the world:

IMPACTwo thirds of the longlisted titles — nominated by participating libraries — were written in English. This is to be expected, certainly, since the longlisted titles must be judged in English. Eligible titles must either be written in English or translated into the language.

The Irish Times suggests that “An impressive number of 53 titles in translation have been nominated, fittingly for an award which had done so much to champion the range, diversity and flair of international fiction in translation.”

However, as ArabLit and other sites have suggested in past years, the IMPAC’s vision of international fiction is still markedly narrow. While there is a wide range of international titles, after the English (107), these are largely European, from the: German (11), Spanish (6), Dutch (5), Portuguese (5), French (4), Italian (3), Serbian (3), Swedish (2), Norwegian (2),  Malay (2), Hebrew (2), Catalan (1), Japanese (1), Russian (1), Finnish (1).

Again, this is not a surprise, as the vast majority of nominating libraries for 2016 are in the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia. Just like Lichtenstein, vast countries with rich literary histories like China and India get only one. And both those countries nominated books written originally in English: The Capital Library of China nominated a novel by Sue Monk Kidd.

There is no nominating library from an Arab country; indeed, all of Africa is represented by the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Library & Information Services.

There are a handful of Arab-authored books on the list: Lebanese author Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman; Lebanese author Dominique Eddé’s Kamal Jann, tranlsated from the French by Ros Schwartz; and Moroccan novelist Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account. These are no doubt strong choices, but the list still reflects a particular list of literatures and literary traditions.

The IMPAC is an enjoyably populist prize, with books by Stephen King, Jodi Picoult, and other bestselling authors. And it’s also good that a 160-book longlist should have a decent number of translations. But it can hardly be said to be world-spanning.

You can read the full longlist online.