The six novels to make the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) shortlist were named today:
They include the latest novel by Lebanese writer Elias Khoury, an author best known for his Gate of the Sun and sometimes mentioned as being in contention for the Nobel Prize for Literature; eminent and multi-prize-winning Kuwaiti writer Ismail Fahd Ismail’s Al-Sabiliat; the novel A Small Death by Saudi writer Mohamed Hassan Alwan, whose The Beaver was previously IPAF-shortlisted and winner of the Prix de la Littérature Arabe; Egyptian writer Mohamed Abdelnaby, also previously longlisted for the IPAF, for his much-discussed In the Spider’s Room; acclaimed Libyan writer Najwa Binshatwan for The Slaves’ Pens; and Iraqi writer Saad Mohammed Rahim for The Bookseller’s Murder.
They range from the historical to the very contemporary: A Small Death harks back the farthest, following 12th-century Sufi thinker Ibn Arabi; In The Spider’s Chamber is focused on the Queen Boat arrests of gay men in Egypt in 2001; Al-Sabiliat takes place during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s; Children of the Ghetto – My Name is Adam during the Palestinian nakba in 1948; The Slaves’ Pens tells the story of slavery in Libya, 200 years in the past; and The Bookseller’s Murder is set in post-Occupation Iraq.
Critic Mahmoud Hosny said that perhaps the biggest surprise was that Sinan Antoon’s Index, reviewed on ArabLit, didn’t advance to the shortlist. Antoon was previously shortlisted for his Ya Mariam, forthcoming in English translation by Maia Tabet under the title Baghdad Eucharist from Hoopoe Fiction this April. Hosny was also surprised not to see any of the titles from the prominent publisher Dar al-Tanweer, which had three titles on the longlist, as it did in 2016.
As he notes, just two writers are new to the IPAF: Binshatwan and Rahim. However, Binshatwan is not new to the international prize circuit, having been listed as one of the “Beirut39,” or the 39 top Arab writers under forty, in 2009. Hasan Alwan was also one of the “Beirut39.”
The 2017 judging panel is chaired by beloved Palestinian novelist Sahar Khalifeh. The other judges are Palestinian translator Saleh Almani, Libyan novelist Fatima al-Haji, Egyptian novelist Sahar ElMoughy, and Greek academic and translator Sophia Vasalou.
In a prepared statement, Khalifeh said:
The six novels chosen from the huge number (186) submitted to the International Prize for Arabic Fiction stand out for their brilliant artistic structure, development of characters and treatment of socially sensitive and daring subject matter. Some of them explore taboo areas, while others put their fingers on the pulse of critical situations in the complex Arab world of today and celebrate highlights of Arab heritage.
The winner will be announced, as every year, at a ceremony in Abu Dhabi on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, this year set for April 25. The six shortlisted finalists will receive $10,000, with an additional $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.