MAY 21, 2023 — At a ceremony held in Abu Dhabi at the eve of the city’s annual book fair, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction’s 2023 chair of judges, Mohammed Achaari, announced the winner of this year’s prize: The Water Diviner, by Oman author Zahran Alqasmi.
In his statement, Achaari said of the novel:
The Water Diviner by Zahran Alqasmi explores a new subject in modern fiction: water and its impact on the natural environment and the lives of human beings in hostile regions. Blurring the boundaries of reality and myth, the novel’s precise structure and sensitive poetic language are the conduit for compelling characters like the water diviner, who plays an essential role in people’s lives, yet simultaneously inspires their fear and revulsion. The Water Diviner transports us to the world, little known in the Arabic novel, of the riverbeds and the aflaj (water channels) of Oman, showing how natural forces influence the relationship between individuals, environment and culture.
At the 2023 ceremony, attendees in person and online watched short films about each novel by Kheridine Mabrouk before the announcement was made. Each of the short films explored the landscape of the novel, charted a brief conversation with the author, and featured a reading from the book.
There is an excerpt from the novel, in Nashwa Nasreldin’s translation, on the ArabLit website. It opens:
“A drowning, a drowning!”
The messenger’s voice bellowed through the village of Misfa as he rapped on doors, yelling so that everyone could hear:
“A drowning! A drowning! Someone’s drowned in al-Khatm well!”
The women heard the village messenger’s calls, so they searched for their children, combing their homes and courtyards. In an alley, a woman screamed and howled because her ten-year-old son was nowhere to be found. And an argument broke out along a path between the houses, because a woman’s boy had been out since early morning with the other woman’s son, and they still weren’t back.
Alqasmi was born in Oman’s Dima Wattayeen. This is his fourth novel. His previous novels were Mountain of the Horseradish Tree (2013), The Sniper (2014), and Hunger for Honey (2017), and he has also published collections of poetry, short stories, and nonfiction.
The prize brings with it $50,000 and a subsidy for translation; the shortlisted writers also are each granted $10,000. The shortlisted novels are Fatima Abdulhamid’s The Highest Part of the Horizon, Al-Sadiq Haj Ahmed’s Drought, Najwa Binshatwan’s Concerto Qurina Eduardo, Azher Jirjees’s The Stone of Happiness, and Miral al-Tahawy’s Days of the Shining Sun.
Achaari was joined, on the panel of judges, by Reem Bassiouney, Fadhila El Farouk, Tetz Rooke, and Aziza al-Ta’i.