By ArabLit staff
Judging chair for the 2022 International Prize of Arabic Fiction, Choukri al-Mabkhout, today announced the prize’s six shortlisted novels for the year. For the first time, the shortlist included novels written by authors from the UAE and Oman.
All the authors on the 2022 shortlist — the prize’s fifteenth — have been shortlisted for the prize for the first time, although they have won a number of other prestigious Arabic and international literary prizes.
The full shortlist was made up of: Egyptian novelist Tareq Imam’s Cairo Maquette; Emirati author Reem al-Kamali’s Rose’s Diary; Omani novelist Bushra Khalfan’s Dilshad; Moroccan author Mohsine Loukili’s The Prisoner of the Portuguese; Kuwaiti author Khaled Nasrallah’s The White Line of Night; and Libyan author Mohamed Alnaas’s Bread on the Table of Uncle Milad.
Choukri al-Mabkhout: screenshot from the announcement.
The shortlist was chosen from the 16-book longlist, announced in January, which was in turn chosen from among 122 submissions from 18 countries.
Some of Tareq Imam’s short stories — and excerpts from his novels — are available in English translation, although no full-length work has yet been published in English translation. Bushra Khalfan’s first novel, The Garden, is forthcoming in Luke Leafgren’s English translation.
In his recorded statement announcing the shortlist, al-Mabkhout emphasized the judges’ freedom at all stages of the process. And while he noted that the judges read “many great works and choosing was difficult,” he also echoed 2015 judging chair Mourid Barghouti’s comment that a greater effort needs to be made in “literary editing and copyediting” of Arabic novels.
The majority of the shortlisted works are historical novels, most of which, al-Mabkhout said, circled around issues of “identity and freedom.” He added that “there is a trend that focuses on shared identity and one that focuses on individual identity.”
He said, in the announcement:
Using their own narrative techniques, the six selected novelists endeavoured to construct imaginary worlds, some of which broke the logical sequence of events and deconstructed time, while others offered a tightly knit narrative and plot. However, the novels all shared the same narrative approach, offering several perspectives of multiple narrators. This was the case even when the novel had a first person narrator. The result was a variety of languages, voices, perceptions and ideologies and the dethronement of absolute meaning, reconfirming that relativity is at the heart of fiction.
Both al-Mabkhout and prize administrator Fleur Montanaro emphasized the importance of translation to the prize. Of the 211 novels longlisted to date, 80 have been translated into one of more than two dozen languages. Al-Mabkhout further said, during the press conference, that “the role of the panel is to be a cultural, literary link between a group of readers — the panel — and an audience of Arab readers. We are interested in the progression of the Arab novel and for it to achieve a global reach, which is the value of the IPAF. The translation is not simply to transport a text from Arabic to English, Chinese or Italian. No, it is for us to test the ability of the Arab novel, with all the questions it poses through the artistic efforts, to compete with the novel in the global market.”
The other four judges were Libyan author Ashur Etwebi, Lebanese writer Iman Humaydan, Kuwaiti poet Saadiah Mufarreh, and Bulgarian academic and translator Baian Rayhanova. They were not present at the shortlist announcement.
When asked in the press conference following the announcement about why there were no novels, for instance, from Lebanon or Palestine, al-Mabkhout said, “It’s not within the parameters of the prize, or the judging panel, to focus on the geographic distribution of Arabic literature. We are all part of a large river named the Arabic novel. Luckily it has many tributaries: Iraqi, Palestinian, Syrian, Tunisian, Sudanese, and so on. If we chose by this geographic distribution, then we would need to represent every Arab country, but we don’t think in this way. We left the … the choice focused on the works not the countries and also not to the names of the authors, no matter how famous. I am a Tunisian, and there are no Tunisian authors [on the list]. We didn’t think this way, for we belong to a shared language, that is Arabic, and belong to a nation in creativity, which is the Arab novel.”
As for the selection process, all six novels were selected unanimously, al-Mabkhout said. “We did not encounter disagreements that would have forced us to take a vote.”
The winner is set to be announced May 22, 2022, although al-Mabkhout noted that he considered all novels on the shortlist winners, noting at each will receive $10,000, with an additional $50,000 for the winner.
“Through Sightless Eyes,” translated by Katherine Van de Vate