Shortlist announced for 2020 International Prize for Arabic Fiction in Marrakesh

International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2020

International Prize for Arabic Fiction
International Prize for Arabic Fiction

The Spartan Court by Abdelouahab Aissaoui, The Russian Quarter by Khalil Alrez, The King of India by Jabbour Douaihy, Firewood of Sarajevo by Said Khatibi, The Tank by Alia Mamdouh and Fardeqan – the Detention of the Great Sheikh by Youssef Ziedan have been announced as the shortlisted works for the 13th International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF). Each of the six shortlisted authors will receive $10,000, with the winner announced on 14 April 2020 receiving an additional $50,000. The books were revealed by the judging panel during a press conference held at the Water Museum in Marrakesh.

The shortlist for IPAF’s 13th edition includes five male and one female authors, ranging in age from 34 to 75 and representing five countries.

The shortlist features two authors who have been previously recognised by the International Prize for Arabic Fiction – Jabbour Douaihy (shortlisted for the inaugural IPAF in 2008 with June Rain and in 2012 with The Vagrant, and longlisted in 2015 with The American Quarter) and Youssef Ziedan (winner of the prize in 2009 with Azazeel). Shortlisted author Abdelouahab Aissaoui took part in an IPAF ‘Nadwa’ (creative writing workshop for talented young writers learning how to write a nonfiction book) in 2016.

The 2020 shortlist, listed in alphabetical order by author surname, is as follows:

AuthorTitleCountry of OriginPublisher
Abdelouahab AissaouiThe Spartan CourtAlgeriaDar Mim
Khalil AlrezThe Russian QuarterSyriaDifaf Publishing
Jabbour DouaihyThe King of IndiaLebanonDar Al Saqi
Said KhatibiFirewood of SarajevoAlgeriaAl-Ikhtilef
Alia Mamdouh IraqThe TankIraqAl-Mutawassit
Youssef ZiedanFardeqan – the Detention of the Great SheikhEgyptDar al-Shorouk

Muhsin al-Musawi, chair of the 2020 Judging Panel, says, “The novels we have chosen include a superior collection of texts varied in style and subject matter. They have escaped the grip of traditionalism which often accompanies the writing of fiction. Nearly all of them are occupied with the oppressive effect of history, past and present, but they do not merely retell this history or current reality. Rather, they confront it in all its harshness to inspire in the reader questions about the destiny of the Arabic individual.”

Yasir Suleiman (CBE), chair of the Board of Trustees, says, “The shortlisted works for this year grapple with what seem like the perennial concerns of Arab societies in modern times. War in all its forms is an overriding theme in pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial times. Some of the novels follow well-worn narratives, but they do so with verve and singular success. Others are more experimental, opting for narrative fragmentation as if to symbolically refract the shattered state of modern Arab life. The variety will certainly appeal to wide audience.”

To celebrate the shortlist, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction will host an event at the Hôtel de Ville, Marrakech. The judges for this year’s prize will discuss the shortlisted books with Yassin Adnan, Moroccan writer, broadcaster and trustee of the prize.

This year’s six shortlisted novels, selected from a longlist of 16 and published in Arabic between July 2018 and June 2019, showcase the best of contemporary Arabic fiction.

Spartan Court follows the interconnected lives of five individuals and their differing experiences of colonialism in nineteenth century Algiers. The Russian Quarter describes the daily existence of ordinary people living on the frontlines of war, based on the author’s experience of a Damascus neighbourhood. The King of India recounts the story of a Lebanese murder case against the backdrop of sectarian animosity in the region. Exploring the impact of exile and war, Firewood of Sarajevo follows two Algerian protagonists seeking a new life away from conflict in Slovenia. The Tank details the architectural development of modern Baghdad, while also following its main protagonist in her new life in exile, with all its positives and negatives. Fardeqan – the Detention of the Great Sheikh transports the reader back a thousand years to depict the life of Avicenna, the Muslim polymath whose work had a profound impact on world philosophy.

The shortlist was chosen by a panel of five judges chaired by Muhsin al-Musawi, an Iraqi literary critic and professor of Classical and Modern Arabic Literature, Comparative and Cultural Studies at Columbia University. Judging alongside al-Musawi were Pierre Abi Saab, a Lebanese critic, journalist and co-founder of the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper, Reem Magued, an Eqyptian broadcaster, television journalist and trainer in journalism and media, Amin Zaoui, an Algerian novelist who writes in both Arabic and French and is the professor of Comparative Literature and Contemporary Thought at the Central University of Algiers and Viktoria Zarytovskaya, a Russian academic, researcher and translator of numerous works of Arabic literature into Russian, including Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad, winner of the prize in 2014.

The winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2020 will be announced at a ceremony at the Ritz Carlton in Abu Dhabi on 14 April 2020, on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. Last year’s winner was The Night Mail by Hoda Barakat.

In fulfilling its ambition to increase the international reach of Arabic fiction, the prize provides funding for English translation for its winners. Winning novels published in English include Mohammed Achaari’s The Arch and the Butterfly, Raja Alem’s The Dove’s Necklace (Duckworth, UK, and Overlook Press, US), Saud Alsanousi’sm The Bamboo Stalk, Abdo Khal’s Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles, Rabai al-Madhoun’s Fractured Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and Al Nakba (Hoopoe Fiction), Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad (Oneworld, UK, and Penguin Books, US), Bahaa Taher’s Sunset Oasis (Sceptre) and Youssef Ziedan’s Azazeel (Atlantic Books).

2019 saw the publication in English of several novels recognised by the prize. This included Ismail Fahd Ismail’s The Old Woman and the River (shortlisted as Al-Sabiliat in 2017), translated by Sophia Vasalou and published by Interlink in October 2019 and Sinan Antoon’s The Book of Collateral Damage (longlisted in 2017 as al-Fihrist), translated by Jonathan Wright and published by Yale University Press in May 2019. Also in 2019, Hoopoe Fiction published George Yaraq’s Guard of the Dead (shortlisted in 2016), translated by Raphael Cohen and published in April and Ibrahim Abdelmeguid’s Clouds over Alexandria (longlisted in 2014), translated by Kay Heikkinen and published in May.

This year, The Night Mail by Hoda Barakat (2019 winner) will be translated by Marilyn Booth and published by Oneworld in September, and Interlink has acquired the rights to publish Shahla Ujayli’s 2019 shortlisted novel Summer with the Enemy for which the translation is underway and is due for publication later this year.

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is an annual literary prize for prose fiction in Arabic. It is sponsored by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi and is run with the support, as its mentor, of the Booker Prize Foundation in London.

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