On Wednesday, Dar al-Saqi announced the winner of the 2021 Mai Ghoussoub Prize for Fiction: Iraqi author Ahmed Adnan Najm, for his debut novel The Children of Aunt Hajar.
The prize, which goes to a previously unpublished author, brings with it publication by Dar al-Saqi. The Beirut-based award is named for Mai Ghoussoub (1952-2007), a Lebanese writer and artist who co-founded Dar al-Saqi along with André Gaspard. This year’s judges were acclaimed Lebanese novelists Najwa Barakat and Hassan Daoud, and Dar al-Saqi editorial director Rania Moallem.
In a published statement, the committee wrote that, “The novel The Children of Aunt Hajar called for a second reading by the committee’s three members, not because of any hesitation about whether it should win, but rather to learn more about the its overlapping construction.” The novel, they wrote, “rarely depends on the common methods of narration, and does not hold its reader by the hand.” Further, the committee said, “what the novel’s writer accomplished was of special, even rare, importance.”
The novel, they write, takes place between Iraq and the United States, narrated by a man who calls himself the “ghost writer,” who deeply immerses himself in life in the U.S., revealing not only the clashes of the present, but also anticipating the future.
The judges added that “The Children of Aunt Hajar is a great work” and that its capable ambition “expresses itself in every line and every sentence.”
Although the publication of the winning novel was meant to be celebrated in Beirut, with author Ahmed Adnan Najm in attendance, concerns around the Covid-19 pandemic have prevented a live event. Dar al-Saqi expressed their hopes that the writer could soon be invited to Beirut to celebrate the publication of his first novel.
Thanks to Mishka M. Mourani for assisting with coverage.