2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction Longlist Showcases Region’s ‘Struggles and Defeats,’ ‘Hopes and Dreams’

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) announced its 2017 longlist this morning. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that women make up a majority of the judging panel, which is chaired by internationally acclaimed Palestinian novelist Sahar Khalifeh:

IPAFEight authors are returning to the IPAF list, with three — Mohamed Hasan Alwan, Sinan Antoon, and Amir Tag Elsir — having previously made the prize’s shortlist. Antoon’s previously shortlisted Ya Mariam, translated as Baghdad Eucharist by Maia Tabet, is forthcoming in English this April from Hoopoe Fiction.

The longlist also sees the return of Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury, with Children of the Ghetto – My Name is Adam, a novel in which literary characters of the novels of Ghassan Kanafani, Amos Oz and Khoury himself become real. Khoury was previously shortlisted with Sinalcol, which was translated by Humphrey Davies. That book, however, surprisingly didn’t move off the longlist.

Other big books on the longlist include Egyptian novelist Mohamed Abdelnaby’s moving novel In the Spider’s Room, about the Queen Boat arrests, and debut Moroccan author Yasin Adnan’s Hot Maroc. Award-winning Moroccan short-story writer Anis Arrafai chose the book for his best of 2016 list, saying that “it recalls and reconstructs an important social and political era in Morocco using dark comedy that mixes animal carnalism with the virtual worlds of the Internet.” 

Big novels published in 2017 that didn’t make the list include twice-shortlisted Khaled Khalifa’s Death is Hard Work. This year finds only one Syrian novel on the longlist, The Slaughter of the Philosophers by Tayseer Khalf. Perhaps unsurprisingly, acclaimed experimental Syrian novelist Salim Barakat did not make the IPAF longlist again this year. However, Egyptian novelist Youssef Rakha — whose Sultan’s Seal was surprisingly overlooked in 2012 — finally makes the list for his novel Paolo, which is being translated by Robin Moger. According to Moger, “The sequel to The Crocodiles, Paulo is a murder-mystery and brutal meditation on revolution and conviction set in the run-up to the 2012 Egyptian presidential elections.”

The prize’s tenth-anniversary longlist was chosen by its judges from an immense number of entries: 186, coming from 19 countries. The judging panel, chaired Khalifeh, also includes Palestinian translator Saleh Almani, Libyan writer Fatima al-Haji, Egyptian novelist Sahar ElMougy, and Greek translator Sophia Vasalou. This is the first year the judging panel has been announced so early, and the first year for it to be dominated by women.

Organizers further note that three of the writers on the list — Ali Ghadeer, Mohamed Hasan Alwan, and Sultan Al Ameemi — have previously attended IPAF “nadwas,” or writing retreats. Al Ameemi began writing his longlisted book, One Room Is Not Enough, at the organization’s 2014 nadwa.

There is only one title that overlaps with the 2017 Sheikh Zayed Book Award longlist, set to announce its winner around the same time: Amir Tag Elsir’s The Witch’s Resort.

The full 2017 longlist, as provided in alphabetical order, by prize organizers:

Author Title Country of origin Publisher
Yassin Adnan Hot Maroc Morocco Dar al-Ain
Sultan Al Ameemi One Room Is Not Enough UAE Difaf Publishing
Mohammed Hasan Alwan A Small Death Saudi Arabia Dar Al Saqi
Sinan Antoon Index Iraq Al-Jamal
Najwa Binshatwan The Slaves’ Pens Libya Dar Al Saqi
Amir Tag Elsir The Witch’s Resort Sudan Dar Al Saqi
Ali Ghadeer Swastika Iraq Dar wa Maktabat Sutur


Renée Hayek The Year of the Radio Lebanon Dar Tanweer, Lebanon
Zuheir al-Hiti Days of Dust Iraq Dar Tanweer, Tunis
Ismail Fahd Ismail Al-Sabiliat Kuwait Nova
Abdul-Kareem Jouaity The North Africans Morocco Al-Markez al-Thaqafi al-Arabi
Tayseer Khalf The Slaughter of the Philosophers Syria Arabic Scientific Institute for Research and Publishing
Elias Khoury Children of the Ghetto – My Name is Adam Lebanon Dar al-Adab
Mohammed Abdel Nabi In the Spider’s Chamber Egypt Dar al-Ain
Saad Mohammed Rahim The Bookseller’s Murder Iraq Dar wa Maktabat Sutur


Youssef Rakha Paolo Egypt Dar Tanweer, Egypt

Sahar Khalifeh said of the longlist, in the prepared release that the novels on it “are hugely varied in their subject matter and imagined worlds, embracing history, political and social themes and fantasy. As a whole they express the interactions, struggles and defeats, as well as the hopes and dreams, of the Arab world today,” with Yasir Suleiman, chair of the IPAF Board of Trustees, adding that: “The longlist novels for this year speak to the pressing concerns of the Arab World, doing so in different voices and styles that give texture and nuance to their narrative material.”

Suleiman also mentions the geographical range of the prize: there are longlisted authors from ten countries this year. In past years, the prize’s geographic diversity has been both an asset and a point of critique, with some arguing that the lists seem to focus too much on geographical “balance.”

This year’s shortlist is set to be announced at the Palace of Culture in Algiers in Algeria on Feb. 16 of this year, with the winner being announced at a ceremony just before the opening of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, on April 25, 2017. The six shortlisted finalists will receive $10,000, with a further $50,000 going to the winner.

Last year’s winner of the Prize was Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba by Rabai al-Madhoun. Other previous winners include Shukri Mabkout’s The Italian (2015); Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad (2014), forthcoming in translation by Jonathan Wright in 2018; Saud Alsanousi’s The Bamboo Stalk (2013), translated into English by Jonathan Wright; Rabee Jaber’s The Druze of Belgrade (2012); Mohammed Achaari’s The Arch and the Butterfly and Raja Alem’s The Dove’s Necklace, co-winners, both in English translation (2011); Abdo Khal’s Throwing Sparks (2010), translated into English by Maia Tabet and Michael Scott; Youssef Ziedan’s Azazeel (2009), translated into English by Jonathan Wright; and Bahaa Taher’s Sunset Oasis (2008), translated into English by Humphrey Davies.

The IPAF does provide funding for English translation for its winners.