Alawiya Sobh’s ‘Maryam: Keeper of Stories’ Makes Inaugural EBRD Literature Prize Shortlist

Alawiya Sobh’s Maryam: Keeper of Stories, translated by Nirvana Tanoukhi and published by Seagull Books has made the inaugural six-book shortlist for the EBRD Literature Prize, launched last year by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in partnership with the British Council and the London Book Fair:

The somewhat oddly conceived prize is set up to celebrate literature from the “almost 40 countries where the Bank invests, from Morocco to Mongolia, from Estonia to Egypt” — with the caveat that the translated titles must’ve been brought out by a UK publisher. For this reason, many of the 2017 titles written by Arab authors from the Bank countries seemed to be ineligible, as they had been brought out by AUC Press.

Although, confusingly, Seagull Books is an Indian publisher, based in Kolkata.

However, in any case! On Monday, the EBRD Lit Prize announced both their inaugural twelve-book longlist and their six-book shortlist. The longlist was dominated by books from Turkish (three), Russian (two), and Slovak (two), and the shortlist was also centered around Turkey and Eastern Europe.

The shortlist pits Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk against fellow Turkish prize-winner Burhan Sönmez and Nobel hopeful Ismail Kadare; against Russia’s great detective novelist Boris Akunin; against the fierce and poetic Daša Drndic, who writes about the atrocities of the recent past; against our very own Lebanese novelist Alawiya Sobh.

  • All the World’s a Stage by Boris Akunin (translated by Andrew Bromfield) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
    Language: Russian
  • Belladonna by Daša Drndic (translated by Celia Hawkesworth) (Maclehose/ Quercus)
    Language: Croatian
  • The Traitor’s Niche by Ismail Kadare (translated by John Hodgson) (Penguin)
    Language: Albanian
  • The Red-Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk (translated by Ekin Oklap) (Faber & Faber)
    Language: Turkish
  • Istanbul Istanbul by Burhan Sönmez (translated by Ümit Hussein) (Telegram Books)
    Language: Turkish
  • Maryam: Keeper of Stories by Alawiya Sobh (translated by Nirvana Tanoukhi) (Seagull Books)
    Language: Arabic
Goldsmith with fellow judges Lucy Hannah, Gabriel Gbadamosi and Peter Frankopan.

Rosie Goldsmith, Chair of the Judges, said in a prepared statement:

Already I can predict this prize is here to stay. It’s different and it’s important. Our entries came from Armenia to Albania, the Baltics to the Balkans and beyond. This prize has broadened my mind and also my definition of the novel. We’ve read a Turkish feminist road novel, a love story from Beirut, a memoir from Morocco, a black comedy from Albania and a rollicking Russian satire – just a few of our entries, from established writers to those who deserve to be: the standard of storytelling and of translation is excellent and our winners will blow you away.

It was unclear from the news release how many eligible submissions were received.

The first prize of €20,000 will, organizers say, be equally divided between the winning author and translator. Two runners-up and their translators will also receive a prize of €1,000 each. The three final finalists are set to be announced in early March 2018.

In a 2016 review, I wrote of the Maryam: Keeper of Stories, which I likened, in some ways, to Elena Ferrante’s tremendously popular Neapolitan novels:

“The war silenced me,” Lebanese novelist Alawiya Sobh said in 2010, of her country’s fifteen-year civil war. It took the novel Maryam al-Hakaya (Maryam: Keeper of Stories) to help Sobh recover her voice. Or rather, “I invented Maryam to tell the story for me.”

Sobh, born in 1955, had long been established as a journalist, poet, editor, and short-story writer. But she didn’t release her debut novel, Maryam: Keeper of Stories, until 2002, twelve years after the war’s end. It’s now been translated into English by Nirvana Tanoukhi.


The longer review of Maryam: Keeper of Stories

The news release from the ERBD Literature Prize.