20 Books You Might See on 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction Longlist, To Be Announced Today

Today, International Prize for Arabic Fiction organizers are scheduled to release the award’s 16-title longlist for 2017, as well as the panel of 2017 judges, who have traditionally been announced with the prize’s shortlist:

IPAFAccording to organizers, we can look for the longlist and names of the five judges around 9 a.m. GMT.

What might make the list?

You would be forgiven for expecting Jabbour Douaihy’s Printed in Beirut to be one of the shoo-in titles for the 2017 longlist. But you shouldn’t, as Douaihy says his satirical-lyrical book — which made several “best-of” lists last month — was not submitted for the competition. Douaihy has been shortlisted twice for the award (The Vagrant, 2012 and The American Neighborhood, 2015), but confessed to being “fed up somewhere.”

Note: Novelist Mansoura Ezz Eldin writes in that this novel would’ve just missed the submission cutoff for the prize.

Other previously shortlisted authors we might expect on the 2017 longlist: Syrian writer Khaled Khalifa, for his gripping Death is Hard Work; Iraqi poet and novelist Sinan Antoon, for his Fihris (Index), which also made Neel wa furat’s list of 2016 bestsellers; and Saudi novelist Mohamed Hassan Alwan’s A Small Death. Hassan Alwan, who was previously shortlisted for The Beaver, also found his new novel on Neel wa furat’s 2016 bestseller list.

Among previously longlisted authors who have new novels out: We’d hope to see Syrian writer Maha Hassan, for her Metro Aleppo, excerpted in English translation in the new Banipal 57; Egyptian novelist Mohamed Abdelnaby, for his moving novel In the Spider’s Room, about the Queen Boat arrests; and internationally renowned novelist Elias Khoury, for Children of the Ghetto – My Name is Adam. Khoury was previously longlisted for his Sinalcol, although, a bit shockingly, Khoury’s novel didn’t advance from the longlist.

Certainly, an author’s acclaim or previous shortlisting is no guarantee their new novel will make the year’s longlist. Although Saud Alsanoussi’s The Bamboo Stalk won the prize in 2013, his bestselling Mama Hissa’s Mice (2015) didn’t make the 2016 longlist.

Another 2016 top seller was Ahmed Mourad’s Land of God, which was chosen as the 2016 favorite in a poll conducted through Mona al-Shazly’s popular TV show. Mourad was previously shortlisted for the IPAF for his thriller The Blue Elephant, also turned into a popular film. In al-Shazly’s popularity contest, Mourad’s novel stood against two other IPAF laureates: shortlisted novelist Ibrahim Eissa, for his 2016 novel Journey of Blood; and 2008 IPAF winner Youssef Ziedan, for his 2016 novel Light. 

Among authors who previously haven’t made the short or longlist, it would be great to see Fellini’s Shoe, by Egyptian writer Wahid Tawileh. Also, two debut novels: All the Battles, by Jordanian author Ma’n Abu Taleb, and Moroccan novelist Yassin Adnan’s Hot Maroc.

There are a few acclaimed authors who never seem to make the IPAF longlists: Youssef Rakha’s novel Paulo was released in 2016, yet Rakha didn’t make previous IPAF longlists, either for his Crocodiles or for his groundbreaking, literature-on-its-head, authors’-favorite Sultan’s Seal. Also, the great Salim Barakat’s Captives of Sinjar was released in 2016, but no previous novel by the beloved, experimental Syrian writer has made the list.

Scholar and literature fan Jonathan Morén suggests — in a forthcoming interview with ArabLit — there is a reason books like Barakat’s, and Rakha’s Sultan’s Seal, haven’t made the IPAF lists:

Innovative and experimental writing simply doesn’t seem to end up there, for some reason. And with the IPAF nomination process being the way it is (only a very limited number of titles allowed from each publishing house), I guess his publishers are tactical enough not to nominate a highly idiosyncratic writer that will refuse to travel around promoting his works on book fairs. Salim might make the 15 minute train ride from his home to Stockholm once every two years, that’s about as much travelling as he can stand. But he’s travelling in his mind instead.

Scholar and critic Nadia Ghanem said, over email, that organizers told her a few Algerian novels had been sent in to the prize this year. But will they make the lists? “I’d say ‘no’ but they are holding the IPAF event in Algiers I was told, so an Algerian novel had better feature somewhere or the authorities will be seriously vexed.”

Other novels that made their way onto 2016 best-of lists, and might appear on the IPAF list, are: Dances of the Graves by Syrian novelist Mustafa Khalifa, whose The Shell appeared in English last month, trans Paul Starkey; Sudanese author Abdul Aziz Baraka Sakin’s Manifesto of a Nubian Rooster; and Emirati writer Maisoon Saqr’s Pearl in My Mouth. The latter novel made the Sheikh Zayed Book Award longlist for its 2016-17 cycle.

There isn’t usually overlap between the Sheikh Zayed Book Award and the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, although both are awarded at the annual Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. But it’s possible the IPAF will also longlist Saqr’s novel, or Tablets, by acclaimed and popular Lebanese author Rashid Al-Daif, or perhaps the previously longlisted Kuwaiti novelist Ismail Fahd Ismail, for his The Second Appearance of Ibn Laboun.

This is the last year of the IPAF’s old submissions rules, which state that all publishers are allowed the same number of entries. Next year will bring a new, tiered system. For 2018, publishers who have previously shortlisted or longlisted authors will get more submission opportunities, while publishers with no previously listed authors will get fewer.

If you have predictions, please make them in the comments before 9 a.m. GMT.

With the invaluable suggestions and input of the invaluable Mahmoud Hosny (@mahmoudhosny91), who has an essay forthcoming on why Salim Barakat must be in English.