Six Novels from Six Countries Chosen for 2023 International Prize for Arabic Fiction

MARCH 1, 2023 — At a virtual press conference, chair of the 2023 International Prize for Arabic Fiction judging panel Mohammed Achaari announced this year’s six-book shortlist, which Achaari praised for its diversity of styles and quality of the writing, noting that the judges had reached their decision — narrowing the 16-book longlist to six — by cooperation and consensus.

“What characterizes the novels this year is the diversity of the content and the methods of narration,” Achaari said at the March 1 Zoom press conference. Judge Fadhila El Farouk noted that new topics are addressed in the novels this year, such as the climate, adding that they liked that there were three women and three men writers.

Screenshot from 2023 shortlist press conference

The six shortlisted novels were by authors from six different countries, three of whom had previously been shortlisted for the prize. They are:

Fatima AbdulhamidThe Highest Part of the HorizonSaudi ArabiaMasciliana – UAE
Al-Sadiq Haj AhmedDroughtAlgeriaDar Dwaya
Zahran AlqasmiThe Exile of the Water DivinerOmanRashm
Najwa BinshatwanConcerto Qurina EduardoLibyaTakween – Iraq
Azher JirjeesThe Stone of HappinessIraqDar Al-Rafidain – Lebanon
Miral al-TahawyDays of the Shining SunEgyptDar al-Ain

In a prepared statement, Mohammed Achaari, Chair of the 2023 Judges, commented:

The scope of the 2023 shortlisted novels is vibrant and varied. The Stone of Happiness shines a light on how children and the weak bear the burden of society disintegrating after war and sectarian struggles. The Exile of the Water Diviner focuses on water and its symbolism in the collective memory. Days of the Shining Sun explores migration and upheaval, through people trapped between the hardships of their places of origin and the violence of their places of exile. Concerto Qurina Eduardo is an intimate portrait of human struggle in the face of injustice and political despotism, where the hell of the present seems only to signal a hellish future. The Highest Part of the Heavens charts the terrors of death, and of love, and their constant intersections. Finally, Drought transports us to the world of the Sahara between southern Algeria and northern Mali, where drought, famine and tribalism mirror the brutal and fragile nature of the desert. The judges feel that through this multiplicity of voices and idiom, with contrasting styles, structure and narrative forms, the broad sweep which these stories comprise offers a dynamic snapshot of the contemporary Arabic novel. 

Two of the authors on the 2023 list have been shortlisted before: Najwa Binshatwan (in 2017 for The Slave Yards) and Miral al-Tahawy (in 2011 for Brooklyn Heights). Azher Jirjees was previously longlisted in 2020 for Sleeping in the Cherry Field. Fatima Abdulhamid, Al-Sadiq Haj Ahmed, and Zahran Alqasmi are recognised by the Prize for the first time.

Achaari was joined by four other judges: Egyptian novelist Reem Bassiouney, Algerian novelist Fadhila El Farouk, Swedish translator Tetz Rooke, and Omani writer Aziza al-Ta’l.

One of the most striking things about the 2023 press conference was the number of times judges noted that they had enjoyed reading the books. Although when asked in the press conference about why there are not more optimistic books, judge Fadhila El Farouk noted that “we are not in the era of happy endings.”

The winning novel — which will take a $50,000 prize — is set to be announced May 21, 2023.

Read an excerpt:

An Excerpt from Azher Jirjees’s IPAF-longlisted ‘The Stone of Happiness’