The International Prize for Arabic Fiction today announced the six-book shortlist for their 2021 prize with a brief video available on Facebook:

The video was introduced by prize administrator Fleur Montanaro and featured 2021 judging chair Chawki Bazih. In the video, Bazih said that although there the novels submitted to the prize were fewer in number than in previous years, they were of a high quality, “rivaling the best books of the prize since its inception.”

Most of the authors on this year’s shortlist were being recognized by the prize for the first time. Only Habib Selmi was previously shortlisted, for his The Scents of Marie-Claire. Like the 2021 longlist, the year’s shortlist is dominated by Maghrebi authors. The shortlist is:

The Eye of Hammurabi, by Abdulatif Ould Abdullah (Algeria)

The Calamity of the Nobility, by Amira Ghenim (Tunisia)

The Bird Tattoo, by Dunya Mikhail (Iraq)

Notebooks of the Bookshop Keeper, by Jalal Bargas (Jordan)

Longing for the Woman Next Door, by Habib Selmi (Tunisia)

File 42, by Abdelmajid Sebbata (Morocco)

In his talk, Bazih praised the importance of the novel, which he said that — more than other art forms — was able to track neglected destinies and tell forgotten stories. “In this way,” he said, “novels resemble the black boxes of airplanes.”

He said that, while in the brief shortlist announcement, he didn’t have the luxury of a detailed description of each of the novels, he had to highlight one point about the quality of the novels, which he said rivaled the past years of the prize.

“This is not only because of the emergence of a new generation of novelists, who have appeared on the literary scene and added to their raw talent a tenageous grasp of narrative techniques and experimental ways of writing” Bazih said. It was also because the novels were written in a rare moment, when the crises of Arab-majority nations converged with lockdown.

It was not easy for the judging panel to arrive either at the longlist or the shortlist, Bazih said, as there were “roughly thirty novels that remained strongly in competition,” and they had challenging debates and deep discussions about the lists.”

Bazih went on to affirm that the results we reached were based on artistic and creative considerations and having nothing at all to do with the country of the author, or their age, or their gender, nationality, or their fame. 

The other judges on this year’s panel are Moroccan writer Mohammed Ait Hanna, Brazilian academic Safa Jubran, Yemeni writer Ali Al-Muqri, and Emirati writer and publisher Ayesha Sultan.

The winner is set to be announced on May 25. Each of the six shortlisted authors will receive $10,000, with the winner receiving an additional $50,000.

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