Palestinian-Jordanian novelist and poet Ibrahim Nasrallah has won the eleventh edition of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. It was announced, as is tradition, on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair:
Nasrallah took the 2018 prize with his future fiction حرب الكلب الثانية, which prize organizers have been translating as The Second War of the Dog.
Nasrallah’s futuristic The Second War of the Dog or Dog War II is set against the backdrop of a Daesh-like group that has risen to power in an unnamed country. It’s Nasrallah’s first book set in the future, and takes the reader in a markedly different direction from his previous, largely historical, novels.
Nasrallah — born in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan — is no stranger to the IPAF, having been on four of the prize’s 11 longlists. His Ottoman-era historical novel Time of White Horses made the 2009 shortlist, and has since been translated by Nancy Roberts. Nasrallah’s longlisted The Lanterns of the King of Galilee was also translated by Roberts.
This was the first time for Nasrallah to win the prize.
In a prepared statement, the judging chair Ibrahim Al Saafin said:
The Second War of the Dog is a masterful vision of a dystopian future in a nameless country, using fantasy and science fiction techniques. With humour and insight, it exposes the tendency towards brutality inherent in society, imagining a time where human and moral values have been discarded and anything is permissible, even the buying and selling of human souls.
The novel focuses on the corrupt main character, Rashid, who changes from an opponent of the regime to a materialistic and unscrupulous extremist. Nasrallah reveals the intrinsic savagery in human beings, as he describes a futuristic world where greed intensifies and human values and ethics are ignored.
Chair of the IPAF trustees Yasir Suleiman added:
Ibrahim Nasrallah’s novel paints a chilling picture of humanity in all its destructive potential. Without a moral compass, the protagonist lets go of the normal bounds that constrain human behaviour. Nasrallah expertly draws the reader into this world from different vantage points, using crisp language in which humour makes the moral burden of relating to the main character “bearable,” or just so. His win is an accolade well-deserved.
Other books by Nasrallah that have been translated into English include Gaza Weddings (2017), translated by Roberts; Prairies of Fever (1998), translated by May Jayyusi; Inside the Night (2007), translated by Bakr Abbas; and Rain Inside (2009), translated by Omnia Amin and Rick London.
Nasrallah is perhaps best-known for his “Palestinian Comedy” project, a wide-ranging series of novels in the spirit of Balzac’s “La Comédie Humaine.” Nasrallah is also a poet, artist, photographer, and social activist.
Each year, film interviews are made with each of the IPAF-shortlisted writers. In his interview, available online, Nasrallah said that he’d written the winning novel to “provoke” and “worry” the reader. He added, in a subtitled translation provided by IPAF organizers, that “The Second War of the Dog is, in my opinion, a warning of what we could become in the future.” And: “The novel suggests that if we continue on our current path, we will reach a future where we would become mostly annihilistic.”
In addition to judging chair Ibrahim Al Saafin, the winner was chosen by four other judges: Algerian academic and translator Inam Bioud, Sudanese-British novelist Jamal Mahjoub, Palestinian author Mahmoud Shukair, and Slovenian writer-translator Barbara Skubic.
Each of the other shortlisted novelists receive $10,000. The others on the shortlist were Sudanese author Amir Tag Elsir’s Flowers in Flames; Saudi novelist Aziz Mohammed’s The Critical Case of “K”; Iraqi author Shahad al-Rawi’s Baghdad Clock; Palestinian writer Walid Shurafa’s Heir of the Tombstones; and Syrian writer Dima Wannous’s The Frightened Ones.
Al-Rawi’s Baghdad Clock will be published in Luke Leafgren’s English translation next month, and Wannous’s The Frightened Ones will be published in Elisabeth Jaquette’s translation in 2019.
In addition to the $50,000 prize, Nasrallah’s novel also will be granted a translation subsidy by IPAF organizers. World translation rights are still available for the book; Nasrallah is represented by the Beirut-based Raya Agency.
Five reads online:
The poem “Survivors,” translator not mentioned.
“Taste,” a poem translated by Omnia Amin and Rick London
Interviews and talks:
The Guardian: Writing of Jordan, Dreaming of Palestine