Why Djamila Morani’s ‘The Djinn’s Apple’ Should Be on the IPAF Longlist, Not Amin Zaoui

Today, ArabLit brings you news from a parallel universe, where Algerian writer Djamila Morani’s The Djinn’s Apple made the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) longlist:

By Nadia Ghanem, extradimensional reporter

Photo of the author from a parallel dimension near you. Photo credit: Nadia Ghanem.

Today, the headlines of the parallel dimension from which I write are overflowing with the news that IPAF has longlisted Djamila Morani’s gripping novella Tuffa7 al-djinn (The Djinn’s Apple).

In the alternate reality I currently inhabit, IPAF and its team had decided months ago to break away from years of solely relying on the traditional submission route to instead actively seek out publishers and novels with little visibility in Algeria, a country still somewhat chaotic even on this side of the fantasy spectrum.

Judges took a step back from writers only IPAF believes to be household names, and swore to put a kind but firm distance between the prize and Algerian stories entirely focused on scrotum scratching[1], and sound-bite titles in which the only legs worth discussing are the readers’ being pulled[2].

It is by casting a wider net into Algeria’s publishing network that IPAF judges were able to pick up on Djamila Morani’s second work of fiction: the novella The Djinn’s Apple.

Part crime novel, part historical fiction, The Djinn’s Apple is a highly relevant reflection on pardon and vengeance in a society where the justice system is broken, and on the place of truth in a political environment whose key actors are bent on twisting it.

Set during the caliphate of Haroun al-Rashid and narrated in the first person by twelve-year old Nardeen, Morani’s novella places the education of women and the struggle between scientific minds and obscurantism at the forefront of her protagonist’s experience.

The novella opens as Nardeen is hiding from the men who have broken into her family home and are murdering her parents and siblings. As they progress inside the house, Nardeen realizes that they are searching for something in the library of her father, Hazeer, who is the official translator of medical manuscripts for the caliph.

Months later, Nardeen will unravel the events that led to the annihilation of her entire family and will have to decide whether to act on this knowledge or forget.

Nardeen’s flow of consciousness and key dialogues drive this fast-paced and dynamic story.

Morani’s precise prose and style are examples of a type of novels in Algeria, and perhaps more largely a type of prose in Arabic, that was never very keen on romantic (and highly adjectival) narrations. The Djinn’s Apple is sparse in its descriptions of surroundings, in a manner similar to but not as pronounced as Janoub al-mil7 by Miloud Yabrir (criticised for it by classicists).

The Djinn’s Apple was published in 2016 by the indie publisher El-Muthaqaf whose foresighted team have been supporting strong prose and new voices for years.  El-Muthaqaf are celebrating Morani’s nomination say “we are delighted yet not surprised that Morani is receiving the recognition she deserves. The Djinn’s Apple confirmed what we have known for years: Algerian writers produce fiction as strong and creative as their contemporaries across the region and beyond.”

The translation and this invented conversation are all mine. However, Djamila Morani and tuffa7 al-djinn exist in your dimension and mine. Maybe one day, they will cross IPAF’s course too.

[1] Le miel de la sieste by Amin Zaoui (Barzakh, 2014) is narrated by a man who intersperses his narration by the incessant massage of his testicles.

[2]   “الساق فوق الساق” by Amin Zaoui (El-Ikhtilef, 2016), longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in some other dimensions.

Nadia Ghanem is permanently upset with Algerian literature written in French between 2000 and 2017.