Rabai al-Madhoun’s ‘Destinies’ Wins 2016 International Prize for Arabic Fiction

Rabai al-Madhoun’s Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba has just won the 2016 International Prize for Arabic Fition (IPAF):

Screengrab from IPAF profile video of al-Madhoun.
Screengrab from IPAF profile video of al-Madhoun.

Al-Madhoun, whose 2010 novel The Lady of Tel Aviv was also shortlisted for the IPAF, builds on the themes and characters of that earlier novel with Destinies. The character Walid Dahman reappears, and his story of exile and rediscovery is woven into this new book’s “concerto in four movements”.

In al-Madhoun’s prize-winning novel, 7iber writes, “All characters (and even secondary ones) face down the issue of identity and grapple with it in their own way; they also face different binaries within novel’s four movements: migration and return, ’48 Palestinians and the Palestinian West Bank, the Palestinian-Israeli and Israeli, Arab and Jew, the victim and the victim.”

During a video featured at the IPAF awards ceremony, al-Madhoun said, “As a Palestinian novelist, I was born and raised during the ‘catastrophe’ that spanned the period since before 1948 until now. Consequently, I never lived a normal life in my homeland, and I moved between a number of Arab countries.”

The seventy-year-old novelist was born was born in the city of Ashkelon, raised in Gaza, and lived in both Beirut and Cyprus before settling in London.

Al-Madhoun said he aimed to have his book avoid giving answers: “I make a habit of leaving my stories open-ended, fundamentally due to the fact that reality has never provided answers or resolutions for our big questions the crisis continues, and the Palestinians are still fighting and struggling for their rights.”

Amina Thiban, judging chair for this year’s IPAF, said, in a prepared statement, that Destinies “invents a new fictional form in order to address the Palestinian issue, with questions of identity underpinned by a very human perspective on the struggle.”

The other 2016 judges were: Sayyed Mahmoud, an Egyptian journalist and poet; Mohammed Mechbal, a Moroccan academic and critic; Munir Mujić, a Bosnian academic, translator and researcher; and Abdo Wazen, a Lebanese poet and critic.

Although there was general satisfaction about al-Madhoun’s win, there has been steady criticism of the IPAF — also called the “Arabic Booker” — since the prize launched in 2008, and this year was no exception. Critics found a few of the shortlisted titles wanting, with particularly blunt reviews on the Jordanian magazine 7iber. A few critics were pulling for Mohamed Rabie’s Otared, which will be appearing soon in translation by Robin Moger from Hoopoe Fiction.

This year, al-Madhoun became the first Palestinian to win the prize, with many on social media delighted with this as a win for Palestinians. Thus far, the prize has gone — in addition to al-Madhoun — to one Tunisian, one Iraqi, one Kuwaiti, one Lebanese, one Moroccan, two Saudis, and two Egyptians.

As each year, all six finalists receive $10,000. The winner receives an additional $50,000 and a virtual guarantee of translation into several languages.

Read reviews in Mada and 7iber.

Read an excerpt from The Lady from Tel Aviv, translated by Elliott Colla.

Watch the video from the IPAF ceremony. Also a video where al-Madhoun discusses The Lady from Tel Aviv.

Read an interview about Raba’i Madhoun’s ‘Wonderful, Amazing, and Stunning’ ‘Bad Ideas’

Read the press release from IPAF organizers.

More as it comes.