The International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) has today, Monday 16 January 2017, revealed the longlist of 16 novels in contention for the 2017 prize. The novels selected were chosen from 186 entries from 19 countries, all published within the last 12 months. The longlist was chosen by a panel of five judges chaired by Palestinian novelist Sahar Khalifa.
Of the 16 authors chosen, many are recognisable names with three having been shortlisted for the Prize previously – Mohammed Hasan Alwan, Sinan Antoon and Amir Tag Elsir¬ – and a further five previously longlisted – Renée Hayek, Ismail Fahd Ismail, Abdul-Kareem Jouaity, Elias Khoury and Mohammed Abdel Nabi. Their repeated recognition by the Prize demonstrates the enduring quality of their writing.
Yassin Adnan, although a well-known poet, makes his first appearance on the list with his debut novel, Hot Maroc. Meanwhile, Sultan Al Ameemi began writing his longlisted book, One Room Is Not Enough, at the 2014 Nadwa – an annual writing workshop for talented, emerging writers that is supported by the Prize. Other Nadwa attendees on the list include Ali Ghadeer and Mohammed Hasan Alwan, who is the youngest writer to be selected. This year’s successful authors represent 10 countries across the Arab world and range in age from 37 to 76.
The full 2017 longlist, with author names in alphabetical order, is as follows:
Yassin Adnan Hot Maroc Morocco Dar al-Ain
Sultan Al Ameemi One Room Is Not Enough UAE Difaf Publishing
Mohammed Hasan Alwan A Small Death Saudi Arabia Dar Al Saqi
Sinan Antoon Index Iraq Al-Jamal
Najwa Binshatwan The Slaves’ Pens Libya Dar Al Saqi
Amir Tag Elsir The Resort of the Enchantress Sudan Dar Al Saqi
Ali Ghadeer Swastika Iraq Dar wa Maktabat Sutur
Renée Hayek The Year of the Radio Lebanon Dar Tanweer, Lebanon
Zuheir al-Hiti Days of Dust Iraq Dar Tanweer, Tunis
Ismail Fahd Ismail Al-Sabiliat Kuwait Nova
Abdul-Kareem Jouaity The North Africans Morocco Al-Markez al-Thaqafi al-Arabi
Tayseer Khalf The Slaughter of the PhilosophersSyria Arabic Scientific Institute for Research and Publishing
Elias Khoury Children of the Ghetto – My Name is Adam Lebanon Dar al-Adab
Mohammed Abdel Nabi In the Spider’s Chamber Egypt Dar al-Ain
Saad Mohammed Rahim The Bookseller’s Murder Iraq Dar wa Maktabat Sutur
Youssef Rakha Paolo Egypt Dar Tanweer, Egypt
The 2017 judges are: Sahar Khalifa (Chair), a Palestinian novelist; Saleh Almani, a Palestinian translator; Fatima al-Haji, a Libyan academic, novelist and broadcaster; Sahar ElMougy, an Egyptian novelist and academic; and Sophia Vasalou, a Greek academic and translator.
The 2017 Chair of Judges Sahar Khalifa comments on the longlist:
‘We chose the longlist of 16 from 186 novels submitted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. The longlist novels are hugely varied in their subject matter and imagined worlds, embracing history, political and social themes and fantasy. As a whole they express the interactions, struggles and defeats, as well as the hopes and dreams, of the Arab world today.’
This is the tenth year of the Prize, which is recognised as the leading prize for literary fiction in the Arab world.
Professor Yasir Suleiman CBE, Chair of the Board of Trustees, comments:
‘This tenth anniversary longlist presents new writers and established ones who have reached the longlist before. This combination is testimony to the Prize in its search for creative voices whose provenance extends from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Gulf. The longlist novels for this year speak to the pressing concerns of the Arab World, doing so in different voices and styles that give texture and nuance to their narrative material.’
The 2017 IPAF shortlist will be announced at the Palace of Culture in Algiers, Algeria on Thursday 16 February 2017. The winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2017 will be announced at an awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday 25 April 2017, the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. The six shortlisted finalists will receive $10,000, with a further $50,000 going to the winner.
Last year’s winner of the Prize was Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba by Rabai al-Madhoun.
Fulfilling its ambition to increase the international reach of Arabic fiction, the Prize provides funding for English translation for its winners.
Baha Taher’s Sunset Oasis was published in English by Sceptre (an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton) in 2009 and has gone on to be translated into ten languages worldwide. Youssef Ziedan’s Azazeel was published in the UK by Atlantic Books in April 2012. English translations of Abdo Khal’s Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles and Mohammed Achaari’s The Arch and the Butterfly were published in 2014 by the Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation. Saud Alsanousi’s The Bamboo Stalk (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing) was published in 2015 and Raja Alem’s novel, The Dove’s Necklace (Duckworth) in 2016. 2014 IPAF winner Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi has also secured English publication with Oneworld in the UK and Penguin Books in the US (due for release in early 2018).
The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is an annual literary prize for prose fiction in Arabic. It is run with the support of the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) in the UAE.
IPAF Longlist 2017 – biographies and synopses
Yassin Adnan is a Moroccan writer and broadcaster, born in Safi, Morocco, in 1970. Since his early childhood he has lived in Marrakech and for more than two decades has worked in cultural journalism. In 1991, he published the Contemporary Voices magazine and then Poetry Raid, which embodied the new poetic sensibility prevalent in Morocco in the early 1990s. Since 2006, he has researched and presented the weekly cultural television programme “Masharif”. He is the author of four books of poetry, three short story collections, a book (with Saad Sarhan) about Marrakech, Marrakech: Open Secrets (2008) and The Moroccan Sheherazade: Testimonies and Studies of Fatima Mernissi (2016). Hot Maroc (2016) is his first novel.
Hot Maroc is a novel about the changing face of Morocco: about Marrakech and the effects of ruralisation and deforestation, the university and its student movement, internet cafés and hackers, politics and journalism. It is about the coward who becomes a hero in both dreams and online but Hot Maroc is bigger than any online space and hotter than any title might suggest.
Sultan Al Ameemi is an Emirati writer born in Al Dhaid, the UAE, in 1974. He has published 19 books: 14 studies of popular culture in the UAE, three collections of short stories and two novels: P.O. Box 1003 (2014) and One Room Is Not Enough (2016). For the past seven seasons, he has been a judge of the Million’s Poet contest. In 2014, he took part in the Nadwa workshop for talented young writers run by the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, where he began work on One Room Is Not Enough. He is currently director of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Poetry Academy and writes a weekly column on cultural matters in the Al-Emarat Al-Youm newspaper.
One Room Is Not Enough sees the hero of the novel wake alone in a strange room. He doesn’t know how he got there and there is no way out. Through the keyhole of the door, he discovers someone else is living a normal life in the adjoining room. This person looks like him, behaves like him and has the same hobbies, but he is unable to communicate with him. In the room he finds a book entitled Sole Choices, with his name on the cover as the author. It contains a strange introduction, but the remaining pages are blank. In an attempt to escape his isolation, he fills the blank pages with the peculiar history of his family, followed by the account of his experiences in the room and what he sees as he spies upon his neighbour through the keyhole.
Mohammed Hasan Alwan is a Saudi Arabian novelist, born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1979. He graduated with a doctorate in International Marketing from the University of Carleton, Canada. Alwan has published five novels to date: The Ceiling of Sufficiency (2002), Sophia (2004), The Collar of Purity (2007), The Beaver (2011), and A Small Death (2016), as well as a non-fiction work, Migration: Theories and Key Factors (2014). His work has appeared in translation in Banipal magazine (Blonde Grass and Statistics, translated by Ali Azeriah), in The Guardian (Oil Field, translated by Peter Clark), and in Words Without Borders (Mukhtar translated by William M. Hutchins). In 2009-10, Alwan was chosen as one of the 39 best Arab authors under the age of 40 by the Beirut39 project and his work was published in the Beirut39 anthology. He was also a participant in the first IPAF Nadwa in 2009 and a mentor on the Nadwa in 2016. In 2013, The Beaver was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction and in 2015, its French edition (translated by Stéphanie Dujols) won the Prix de la Littérature Arabe awarded in Paris for the best Arabic novel translated into French for that year.
A Small Death is the fictionalised account of the life of a Sufi saint, Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi, from his birth in Muslim Spain in the 12th century until his death in Damascus. It follows his mystic Sufi experience and heroic travels from Andalusia to Azerbaijan, via Morocco, Egypt, the Hijaz, Syria, Iraq and Turkey. Of a sensitive and anxious nature, Muhyiddin struggles with inner turmoil throughout the course of his travels. Witnessing fictitious events including savage military conflicts, he attempts to fulfil his mission against a backdrop of states and numerous cities where he meets countless people.
Sinan Antoon is a poet, novelist and translator born in Iraq in 1967. He has published four novels, I`jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody (2004), The Pomegranate Alone (2010), Hail Mary (2012) and Index (2016), as well as a volume of poetry entitled A Night in Every Town (2007, published in English as The Baghdad Blues). His writings have been translated into eight languages. In 2003, he returned to Iraq to direct a documentary film called About Baghdad (2004), which dealt with Baghdad after dictatorship and occupation. He has translated the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, Sargon Boulos, Saadi Youssef and others into English, and his English translation of his novel The Pomegranate Alone (published in English as The Corpse Washer in 2013) was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2014. Hail Mary was shortlisted for the 2013 International Prize for Arabic Fiction and published in Spanish as Fragmentos de Bagdad (2014). Antoon has taught Arabic literature at the University of New York since 2005.
Index tells the story of Namir, who meets Wadoud, an eccentric bookseller in Al-Mutanabbi Street during a brief visit to Baghdad after the 2003 occupation. Wadoud is working on a vast project, an index detailing the minute by minute history of the war from the perspective of rocks, trees and animals as well as humans themselves. Taken with the bookseller and his index, Namir tries to contact him to find out more, with the aim of writing a novel about him after his return to the US. Influenced by Wadoud’s ideas, Namir begins to observe his own nation as it fragments, collecting newspaper clippings, images and everything relating to Iraq. Meanwhile, Wadoud is on the edge of insanity and trying to gather the broken splinters, sounds and ghosts of his surroundings. Will he succeed in rescuing them from oblivion?
Najwa Binshatwan is a Libyan academic and novelist, born in 1970. She is the author of two novels: The Horses’ Hair (2007) and Orange Content (2008), three collections of short stories and a play. In 2005, The Horses’ Hair won the inaugural Sudanese al-Begrawiya Festival prize, in the same year that Sudan was Capital of Arab Culture. She was chosen as one of the 39 best Arab authors under the age of 40 by the Beirut39 project and her story The Pool and the Piano was included in the Beirut39 anthology.
The Slaves’ Pens lifts the lid on the dark, untold history of slavery in Libya, of which the effects can still be felt today. Slave owner Mohammed and his slave Ta’awidha have fallen in love, but their relationship is considered taboo. Living in a community where masters take female slaves as lovers as they please, Mohammed’s father sends him on a trading mission in an attempt to distance him from Ta’awidha. During his absence, his mother forces her to miscarry by serving her a spiked drink, and she is married off to another slave. On his return from his trip, Mohammed learns of his family’s activities and he begins searching for his beloved.
Amir Tag Elsir is a Sudanese writer, born in Sudan in 1960, who now works as a doctor in Qatar. At an early age he wrote poetry and in the 1980s began to write novels. He has published 23 books, including novels, biographies and poetry. His most important works are: The Dowry of Cries, The Copt’s Worries and The French Perfume (all 2009) and The Crawling of the Ants (2010). His novel The Grub Hunter (2010) was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2011 before being translated into English and Italian, and his novel 366 (2013) was longlisted for the prize in 2014 and was among the winners of the 2015 Katara Prize for the Arabic Novel.
The Resort of the Enchantress follows Ababa Tsfay, who gets off a bus coming from the Eritrean border, fleeing war in her country. She is a striking beauty who has ended up in the wrong place, friendless and penniless, without a place of refuge. Abdel Quyum Dalil Jum’a is a practised thief who lives on the streets. After noticing her, he elects himself as her protector and his love for her changes his life. However, fate has other plans in store for them.
Ali Ghadeer is a writer and journalist, born in Kirkuk province, Iraq in 1971. He obtained a BA in military science from Baghdad in 1993 and taught at the College of Fine Arts in Baghdad. Since 2003, he has worked as a journalist and founded several newspapers and magazines. He has published two collections of short stories, a prose volume, a collection of poetry and two novels. He has won a number of prizes, including the 2008 Najla Muharram Short Story Award (3rd place) for his story Don’t Press the Button, the 2013 Egyptian Short Story Club Prize (2nd place) for his story Woman in a Cup, and the 2016 Baghdad Prize for the Arabic Novel for his novel Swastika (2016). Ali Ghadeer took part in the Nadwa workshop for talented young writers run by the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2011.
Swastika is a novel about Hawas, who is born poor but dreams of visiting a prostitute in Baghdad after hearing about her, and the cost of a night in her company, from the son of the village Sheikh. After stealing his mother’s golden ankle bracelet, he boards a train to the capital city and his adventure begins. On his train journey he is joined by a strange character who shares not only his delicious food but also his theory of good luck and the means of attracting it. ‘Swastika’ is a Sanskrit word meaning “leading to luxury” and an ancient symbol of prosperity and regarded as good luck by Iraqis, the red Indians of America and Hindus. Denying the common belief that man is born either happy or unfortunate, ‘Swastika’ affirms a person’s capacity to make their own good fortune.
Renée Hayek is a Lebanese novelist, born in southern Lebanon in 1959. She studied Philosophy at the Lebanese University before embarking on a career in journalism, literary translation and teaching. She has published two collections of short stories and ten novels including: The Well and the Sky (1997), The Land of the Snows (2001), Days of Paris (2004), Prayer for the Family (2007), longlisted for the 2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and A Short Life (2010), longlisted for the 2011 Prize.
The Year of the Radio is set in contemporary Beirut and is the story of a young female speech therapist working in a school on a short term contract. At the end of the school year, this contract is terminated and she tries different things before finding a job for a year at a radio station. Here she works as a psychologist, presenting live programmes in which she offers advice to the parents of children with speech and psychological problems. Over the course of a year, we follow her experiences of love, loss, work, illness and unemployment.
Zuheir al-Hiti is an Iraqi writer and journalist, born in 1957 and currently living in Germany. He has published three novels: My Distant Day (2002), American Dust (2009) and Days of Dust (2016) as well as an academic study, The Image of the Iraqi in the Arabic Novel (2006).
Days of Dust is set after the fall of Saddam Hussein and the invasion of American occupying forces, when Iraq descended into chaos. With acts of murder committed in an attempt to purify the country of its former regime, mobs sow fear in the hearts of people across Iraqi society, most notably within the Christian community. Ghusn al-Ban’s family had built its fortune and reputation in the days of the monarchy. Using her relationships with various Christians and the great art collection of her grandfather, Ghusn al-Ban follows the transformation of Iraqi society in this novel.
Ismail Fahd Ismail is a Kuwaiti writer and novelist. Born in 1940, he has worked as a full-time writer since 1985. He graduated with a BA in Literature and Criticism from the Higher Institute for Dramatic Arts, Kuwait, and has worked as both a teacher and in the administration of educational resources. He also managed an artistic production company. Ismail is regarded as the founder of the art of the novel in Kuwait. Since the appearance of his first novel, The Sky Was Blue, in 1970, he has published 27 novels as well as three short story collections, two plays and several critical studies. His novel The Phoenix and the Faithful Friend (2012) was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2014. His support for a large number of short story writers and novelists and his encouragement of new creative talent had a significant impact on the Kuwaiti and Arab literary scene.
Al-Sabiliat explores the reason behind the existence of a green artery in the midst of a vast wasteland in Iraq following the longest war of the 20th century, between Iraq and Iran. Iraqi forces blocked the entry points of the tributary rivers and streams of the Shatt al-Arab river. This prevented water flowing to the forests of palm trees situated on the western side. Years passed and the palms dried up, no longer bearing fruit. Eventually, all the trees, vegetation and fruit died apart from one green strip of land stretching from the Shatt to the edge of the desert to the west, in an area called “Al-Sabiliat”. One old woman is responsible for this green lifeline, which supplies the village and the soldiers living in it.
Abdul-Kareem Jouaity was born in Beni Mellal, capital of the Tadla-Azilal province of Morocco, in 1962 and currently works as director of the Ministry of Culture for this region. He is the author of six novels: Night of the Sun (1992) winner of the Moroccan Writers’ Union Prize for Young Authors, Pomegranate of the Insane (1998), City of Brass (2004), Celebrations of Death (1996) translated into French, Yellow Morella (2002) and Platoon of Ruin (2007), IPAF-longlisted in 2009. He has also published other books and translations.
The North Africans follows the central character, Mohammed al-Ghafaqi and his relationships with his grandfather, the Pasha, his military brother and the neighbours’ servant girl whom he loves. It tells of how he is struck by blindness and of the broker who betrays him and steals his wife. Interwoven with this central narrative are the stories of the grandfather, the graveyard of skulls and other tales interlinked with political and social resonance.
Tayseer Khalf is a Syrian writer, researcher and novelist born in 1967. He is the author of more than 30 books of literary criticism, historical research, and travel writing. His novels include: Moviola (2013) and The Slaughter of the Philosophers (2016).
The Slaughter of the Philosophers follows the final years of the city of Palmyra, which had become the capital of Eastern Europe under the rule of its king, Odaenathus. Narrated by Palmyra’s Grand Priest during the reign of Queen Zenobia, the novel sheds light on obscure parts of the city’s history, including Zenobia’s plans to turn it into a Utopian city. This was a vision that went unrealised. Attacked by the Roman Emperor Aurelianus’ forces who were aided by some of the Arab tribes, Zenobia’s reign was brought to an end in the year 275. The Queen and her council of wise philosophers were escorted to Homs where a court condemned the philosophers to death and sentenced the Queen to imprisonment in Hadrian’s Villa near Rome.
Elias Khoury was born in Beirut in 1948. He worked as an assistant editor on Palestinian Affairs magazine (1975-1997) and was editor of the cultural section of Al-Safir newspaper (1981-1991), Al-Karmel magazine (1981-83) and the literary supplement of Al-Nhar newspaper (1992-2008). Since 2001, he has edited Palestinian Studies magazine. He has previously been a visiting professor at Columbia University, New York (1980-82), global distinguished professor at the University of New York (2001-2014) and visiting professor at the Lebanese American University (2015). He is the author of 13 novels including Little Mountain (1977), The Journey of Little Ghandi (1989) and Sinalkul (2012), which was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, as well as three plays and four critical works on the theatre. His work has been translated into 15 languages.
Children of the Ghetto – My Name is Adam tells the story of Palestinian Adam Danun and his attempt to write a novel after immigrating to New York. A retelling of his own personal story, the novel recounts his childhood in Lud, Palestine, where in 1948 the city fell to occupying forces who drove out the majority of its inhabitants. Adam’s mother remained in the city with her baby and his story is that of the barbed wire encircled Palestinian ghetto created by the occupying army. It is a tale of remaining and an attempt to interpret the victims’ silence.
Mohammed Abdel Nabi is an Egyptian writer, born in 1977. He obtained a BA in Languages and Translation from the English and Simultaneous Translation Department of Al-Azhar University and currently works as a freelance translator. He has published five short story collections, a novella titled Imprisoned Phantoms (2000) and two novels: The Return of the Sheikh (2011), which was longlisted for the 2013 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and The Spider’s Room (2016). In 2010, his short story collection, The Ghost of Anton Chekhov, won the Sawiris Literature Prize, and his latest collection, As the Flood Passes the Sleeping Village, won the prize for best short story collection at the 2015 Cairo Book Fair. He publishes creative writing, criticism and translations in a number of newspapers and websites, and since 2009 he has taught creative writing in a workshop called The Story and What Is In It. He recently published a book on narrative techniques with the same title.
In the Spider’s Chamber is the tale of Hany Mahfouz, a fictional character who shares the real-life experience of more than fifty men arrested in the notorious “Queen Boat” incident in Cairo in 2001, who were either declared innocent or sentenced to prison terms of two or three years. Hany is declared innocent but emerges from the experience a broken man. Having lost the faculty of speech during the trial process, he finds that writing is the best way of healing his soul.
Saad Mohammed Rahim is an Iraqi writer, born in Diyala province, Eastern Iraq in 1957. He has worked as a teacher and journalist and his articles have been published in Iraqi and Arab newspapers and periodicals. He is the author of six collections of short stories, a number of political and literary studies and three novels: Twilight of the Wader (2000), winner of the 2000 Iraqi Creativity Award for Fiction, The Song of a Woman, Twilight of the Sea (2012) and The Bookseller’s Murder (2016). In 2005, he won the Iraqi Award for Best Investigative Journalism for that year, and was also awarded the 2010 Creativity Prize for the Short Story, for his collection Almond Blossom (2009).
The Bookseller’s Murder follows Magid Baghdadi, an experienced journalist, who arrives in Baaquba, 60 km north of Baghdad, to conduct a two-month investigation commissioned by a rich and influential anonymous person. He must write a book about the life and mysterious death of 70-year-old Mahmoud al-Marzouq, a bookseller and artist. Magid forms relationships with friends and acquaintances of the deceased and comes across a notebook containing some of his diaries. These record his life in the city since the first day of the US occupation. He also discovers letters between al-Marzouq and Jeanette, a Frenchwoman who worked as a model for artists, with whom he had a relationship when he was a refugee in Paris. From these and other sources, the personality of al-Marzouq comes to life and various chapters of his interesting and complex life are revealed. What will remain obscure is the reason for his death.
Youssef Rakha is an Egyptian novelist and journalist born in 1976. He obtained a BA in Literature from Hull University in the UK, and has worked for Al-Ahram Weekly since 1997. He co-founded the English language paper The National in Abu Dhabi in 2007-8 and in 2009 he was selected as one of the best Arab writers under 40, for the Beirut 39 project. He writes in English and Arabic and his work has been translated into Italian, French, German, Spanish and Polish. His first two novels were The Book of the Sultan’s Seal (2011) and The Crocodiles (2013), both published in English in 2014. His third novel, Paolo (part 2 of The Crocodiles) was published in 2016.
Paolo is the eye-witness account of a man involved in the Egyptian “revolutionary movement” since 2011 who shares his experiences of the period before the election of Morsi and the struggles going on behind the scenes. But the revolutionary activist is not all he appears to be. He is more than a photographer or a bookshop manager – one of the intellectuals of downtown Cairo. Paolo is also an agent for the security services and a Don Juan, whose female lovers all end up dead. He sees himself as the covert manipulator of the revolution, who carries a message of ultimate defeat to the revolutionaries.