Shortlist for International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2015 announced

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The International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2015 shortlist has been announced.

At a press conference held in Casablanca, Friday, IPAF’s judging panel revealed its shortlist of six novels competing for its 2015 prize.

The six nominated novels have been selected from a 16-long list announced in January and chosen from a total of 180 entries.

The judging panel is chaired by Palestinian poet and writer Mourid Barghouti, and includes: Egyptian academic Ayman El-Desouky, Bahraini poet, critic and media expert Parween Habib, Iraqi critic and academic Najim Kadhim, and Japanese academic and translator Kaoru Yamamoto.

The following list comprises this year’s contenders along with novels synopses published on IPAF’s official website:

1. ‘A Suspended Life’ by Atef Abu Saif (Palestine)

‘A Suspended Life is set in the Gaza refugee camp. Naim runs the only print shop in the camp, where he prints posters of martyred members of the community. When he is shot and killed by the Army, the fallout from his death changes the lives of the community living a quiet life on the fringes of the camp, where Naim’s house sits on a small hill. The place has historical significance for the residents and, when the government plans to build a police station and mosque on the spot where Naim’s house stands, it leads to a clash between the residents and the police.’

2. ‘Floor 99’ by Jana Al-Hassan (Lebanon)

‘Floor 99 unfolds between the 1982 massacre at Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon and life in the city of New York in 2000. Majd is a young Palestinian man who bears a scar from the massacre. In present day New York, he falls in love with Hilda, a dancer, whose wealthy family from Mount Lebanon thrived on the power of the Christian right wing during the Lebanese civil war – who were directly linked to the massacre at Sabra and Shatila.

When Hilda decides to return to her village on Mount Lebanon to discover her roots, Majd is torn between mental images of the old enemy and his fear of losing her. He is forced to reflect on the painful events which took the life of his pregnant mother and turned his father, a teacher, into a rose-seller on the streets of Harlem. From his office on the 99th floor of a New York building, Majd’s Palestinian identity seems ambiguous, especially given that he was born and has always lived in exile. The novel reflects on the power of love to cleanse hatred and brings the post-war Lebanese generation face-to-face with their ancestors.’

3. ‘Diamonds and Women’ by Lina Huyan Al-Hassan (Syria)

‘Diamonds and Womendescribes two generations of Arab exiles, revealing the secret, privileged world of Arab emigrants and showing their influence on their chosen cities of Paris, Sao Paolo and Damascus. The novel focuses particularly on Syrians living in Paris and Sao Paolo from the beginning of the 20th century to the 1970s and 1980s and the experiences of the heroine, Almaz, as she witnesses key points of Arab social and political history in the modern era.’

4. ‘The Italian’ by Shukri Al-Mabkhout (Tunisia)

‘At the heart of The Italian is Abdel Nasser (nicknamed ‘the Italian’) and his mysterious assault on the Imam, his neighbour, during his father’s funeral procession. The book’s narrator attempts to uncover the motivations behind the attack, re-constructing his friend Abdel Nasser’s troubled history from childhood. It looks at Abdel Nasser’s time as a left-wing student at the University of Tunis, during the final years of the Bourguiba era and the beginning of Ben Ali’s, through to the period of radical changes that subsequently rocked Tunisian society, when the dreams of a generation were torn apart by the fierce struggle between the Islamists and the Left. The novel reveals the mechanisms of control and censorship exercised through the press as well as the fragility of human beings, their secret histories and buried wounds.’

5. ‘Willow Alley’ by Ahmed Al-Madeeni (Morocco)

‘Willow Alley tells the story of a bustling, ancient Moroccan town which hides many secrets, where residents struggle to live in peace while at the mercy of a few arrogant and despotic individuals. Focusing on the struggle between the caretaker of a building under construction and a group of people clinging to their land in order to survive, the novel examines the individual’s right to exist in a country where lives are vulnerable to exploitation and the powerful thrive at the expense of the weak.’

6. ‘The Longing of the Dervish’ by Hamour Ziada (Sudan)

‘Set in 19th century Sudan during the collapse of the theocratic state, The Longing of the Dervish follows the story of Bakhi Mindeel, a former slave newly released from prison and seeking revenge for his imprisonment. His release coincides with the end of the Mahdist war – a British colonial war fought between Egypt and a section of Sudanese society seeking independence under their religious leader, Mahdi – when Mahdi and his followers are defeated and force to flee. The Longing of the Dervish examines the social conflict between white Christian and Islamic Sufi cultures in Sudan, exploring the concepts of love, religion, betrayal and political struggle.’

In a press release published on IPAF’s website, the judges applauded the different artistic techniques employed by this year’s candidates in their literary works. Such techniques included “adopting a flowing, quiet narrative when rendering the intricacies of a violent history (Floor 99); the widening, panoramic view offered of a tumultuous period of history, through a gripping and inspiring story (The Italian); the ability of a narrator to effectively portray the cruelties a society can inflict on its dispossessed minority (Willow Alley); delving into the complex and hidden recesses of a human soul which is grappling with the authority of the sacred, whether religious or secular (The Longing of the Dervish); a writer being able to undo fixed views by offering rich counter narratives, penetrating into the intricacies of social realities (A Suspended Life); and, finally, the shrewd narration that blends disparate life stories into one account of intertwined destinies (Diamonds and Women).”

The website quoted Mourid Barghouti saying that “reading the 180 novels nominated for the Prize this year, the judges observed that the thematic concerns were broadly similar. Our objective was to identify the ability of the novelists to find artistic solutions and fresh technical approaches to their themes. We believe that this is reflected in the six novels announced today.”

For his part, Chair of the Board of Trustees Professor Yasir Suleiman praised the diversity of this year’s shortlist, saying “the novels on this year’s shortlist feature a diverse range of characters and narrative stances and styles. They are all marked with subtlety of voice and force of vision. This list builds on the success of previous years in bringing quality Arabic fiction to wider audiences.”

The winner, who will be announced in a ceremony held in Abu Dhabi on 6 May ahead of the International Book Fair, will pick up a $50,000 prize which will also guarantee an English translation of the winning novel, while each of the six shortlisted authors will be awarded a $10,000 prize.