Shahad al-Rawi’s ‘The Baghdad Clock’ Wins Edinburgh Award

This Thursday, Edinburgh International Book Festival announced Shahad al-Rawi’s The Baghdad Clock had won the festival’s “First Book Award”:

The novel, a controversial shortlistee of the 2018 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), was translated by Luke Leafgren and published by OneWorld this spring. The book was chosen — by popular vote — from among the 49 debut novels and short-story collections eligible for the 2018 Edinburgh prize. Other eligible novels included Nayrouz Qarmout’s The Sea Cloak, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s celebrated (and much stronger) Kintu, and Guy Gunaratne’s Booker-longlisted In Our Mad And Furious City.

According to prize organizers, “Every debut novelist and every overseas writer whose words are published in English for the first time [and who is participating in the festival] is included in the award, along with a selection of young adult fiction.”

Previous winners of the Edinburgh “First Book” prize include Mai al-Nakib’s short-story collection The Hidden Light of Objects.

Director of the Book Festival, Nick Barley, said of the 2018 prize:

To tell stories is a fundamental part of the human condition. Even in extreme situations like the one portrayed in Shahad’s novel, it’s stories that keep people going. Maybe that’s why her novel is so affecting and so powerful. The Baghdad Clock is not just a popular winner with Edinburgh International Book Festival readers this year: it’s also a brilliant winner that will live long in the memory – and it establishes Shahad Al Rawi as a force to be reckoned with, in Arabic and English alike.

The Baghdad Clock roused passions when it was shortlisted for the IPAF. Comments on ArabLit at the time give some idea of the argument. One, JP, calls The Baghdad Clock “a sentimental load of YA junk” with another, Nada, arguing, “The existence of The Baghdad Clock” in the short list has given the prize a high credibility as it offers modern literature as well as traditional methods of Arabic narrative.”

The Arabic original of The Baghdad Clock was a best-seller in Iraq and the UAE, where al-Rawi now lives.