Taleb Alrefai’s ‘Here’ Withdrawn from International Prize for Arabic Fiction Longlist

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) issued a statement yesterday announcing that they had withdrawn prominent Kuwaiti writer Taleb Alrefai’s Here from the 2016 longlist:

hereUPDATE: Alrefai has responded to the withdrawal. He asserts that the novel was not issued in July 2014 and thus should be eligible.

The reason that Alrefai’s book is being excluded, organizers say, is that it was issued in an earlier edition, outside the eligibility dates — apparently by Egyptian publishing house Dar Al Shorouk. According to the statement:

It has come to light that one of the 2016 longlisted novels – Here, written by Taleb Alrefai and published by Platinum Books –is not eligible for the 2016 Prize because an earlier edition was published outside this year’s eligibility dates (July 2014 – June 2015). As a result, the book will not go forward for shortlist consideration.

Alrefai (@talrefai1), who was previously chair of judges for the 2010 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, has also recently launched a short-story prize, Almultaqa, in Kuwait.

The January 17 statement from the IPAF — commonly known as the “Arabic Booker” — continued:

Books submitted to the prize are accepted in good faith on the basis that they abide by the prize’s submission rules. Should it emerge that an entry does not meet these criteria, for whatever reason, it is the duty of the Board of Trustees to take action to ensure the Prize’s integrity.

Here has been described as “an unflinching portrayal of the suffering endured by a young, single Shiite woman from Kuwait who falls in love with a married Sunni man with children. The title of the novel alludes to the significance of the many places in the story. ‘Here’ is the office where the narrator works and the flat where the heroine, Kawthar, chooses to live alone. It is the home of her Shiite family, who refuse to let their daughter marry a Sunni man, and it is also Kuwait, a country still clinging to its traditions.”

The book has already been released in French translation as Ici même.

A report in Okaz asserted that this issue has led to problems within the jury. However, IPAF organizers said over email: “Judges are selected by the Board of Trustees, which looks to achieve a balance of different experiences and backgrounds. There has been no change in the 2016 panel of judges since its formal appointment.

“The names of the 2016 panel will be announced, along with the shortlist, on Tuesday 9 February in Muscat.”