Egyptian novelist Mohammed Abdelnabi has won the 2019 Prix de la Littérature Arabe for his acclaimed novel La Chambre de l’araignée, as translated from Arabic to French by Gilles Gauthier:
The prize was announced yesterday at the Institut Arabe; Abdelnabi and his translator are set to receive a 10,000 euro prize.
Abdelnabi’s 2016 novel — launched in French translation this spring — was chosen from a shortlist of seven. The novel centers on a gay man, Hani Mahfouz, who is picked up during the infamous 2001 police raid on the Queen Boat in Cairo. The novel was shortlisted for the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) and was published in English last year as In the Spider’s Room, translated by Jonathan Wright. The novel was featured on the first-ever episode of the Bulaq podcast, in November 2017.
The much-laureled Abdelnabi also won ArabLit’s inaugural Story Prize, along with translator Robin Moger, for his short story, “Our Story.” Abdelnabi was also previously longlisted for the 2013 International Prize for Arabic Fiction The Return of the Sheikh (2011). In 2010, his short story collection, The Ghost of Anton Chekhov, won the Sawiris Literature Prize, and his latest collection, As the Flood Passes the Sleeping Village, won the prize for best short story collection at the 2015 Cairo Book Fair.
Surprisingly, the novel’s English translation has not yet drawn much critical attention.
When in Paris for the launch, Abdelnabi told Olivia Snaije about his memories of the Queen Boat incident: “I was in university in my third or fourth year, and I heard about the case like everyone else. It was a shock but because I was studying, I didn’t think about it much. Then, I kept hearing about it and reading about it and afterwards, years later, I imagined the real stories. But [the book] is not about the Queen Boat. It’s about Hani Mahfouz as a gay man in Egypt and his relationship with his mother and the character Abdel Aziz. I was thinking about the people and not the event.”
As in the past, the Prix de la Littérature Arabe jury was led by judging chair Pierre Leroy.
Since its inception in 2013, the Prix de la Littérature Arabe has gone to Jabbour Douaihy (2013), Mohamed al-Fakharany (2014), Mohammed Hasan Alwan (2015), Inaam Kachachi (2016), and Sinan Antoon (2017) for his novel The Pomegranate Alone, which was translated into English as The Corpse Washer. Last year’s prize went to Omar Robert Hamilton (2018) for his novel The City Always Wins, translated by Sarah Gurcel as La Ville gagne toujours.