Rabai al-Madhoun receives the IPAF award from Mohammed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of TCA Abu Dhabi
Palestinian novelist and journalist Rabai al-Madhoun was last night declared winner of the International Prize for Arab Fiction (IPAF) 2016, for his novel Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba. His winning of the award was announced by this year’s Chair of IPAF Judges, Emirati poet and academic Amina Thiban, at a ceremony in Abu Dhabi, on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. In addition to winning $60,000 - the $50,000 prize plus the $10,000 awarded to every shortlisted author - Al-Madhoun is guaranteed English translation of his novel, and is assured increased book sales and international recognition. IPAF is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi). The Prize is popularly known as the Arabic Booker.
Rabai al-Madoun addresses the IPAF award ceremony
A pioneering novel written in four parts, Destinies chronicles Palestinian life both in occupation and exile. Each part representing a concerto movement, the novel looks at the holocaust, the Palestinian exodus from Israel in 1948 (known as the nakba) and the Palestinian right to return. Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba is a novel of Palestine from outside and from within. It examines everyday Palestinian life, telling the story of Palestinians living under occupation and compelled to assume Israeli nationality, as well as exiled Palestinians trying to return to their now-occupied home country.
Speaking on behalf of the judges, Thiban said: “In Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba Rabai al-Madhoun invents a new fictional form in order to address the Palestinian issue, with questions of identity underpinned by a very human perspective on the struggle. This tragic, polyphonic novel borrows the symbol of the concerto, with its different movements, to represent the multiplicity of destinies. Destinies can be considered the complete Palestinian novel, travelling back to a time before the nakba in order to throw light on current difficulties faced by the Palestinian diaspora and the sense of displacement felt by those left behind.”
Al-Madhoun, Palestinian-born but now a British citizen, lives and works in London as an editor for Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper. His family fled Ashkelon, Palestine – now Israel – for Gaza after the 1948 Nakba exodus. After leaving Gaza to attend Alexandria University, al-Madhoun later became involved in the Palestinian liberation struggle as a member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He left activism in 1980 to focus on writing and has produced a number of works of fiction and non-fiction. Destinies is the 70-year-old author’s third novel. His 2010 novel The Lady from Tel Aviv was shortlisted for IPAF 2010. It was published in Elliott Colla's English translation by Telegram Books in 2013 and won an English PEN Writers in Translation award that year.
an image of the cover of Rabai al-Madhoun's IPAF-winning novel
Professor Yasir Suleiman, Chair of the Board of IPAF Trustees, commented: “Another brilliant novel has joined the distinguished list of IPAF winners. Rabai al-Madhoun has been recognised as one of the leading voices of his generation and we hope that this award will take his work to an even wider audience, both in the Arab world and beyond. As we approach our 10th year, it is gratifying to see such animated discussion around IPAF novels, cementing the Prize’s reputation as one of the most prestigious and important literary awards in the Arab world.”
Leading Arab critic and former IPAF judge, Palestinian Faisal Darraj, has likened Destinies to works by Palestinian literary giants Ghassan Kanafani, Emile Habibi and Jabra Ibrahim Jabra. In Al-Ghad newspaper he said “Destinies has added to all these a fresh dimension that the Palestinian novel has not seen before. It has laid a foundation for new innovation in Palestinian writing”. He praised al-Madhoun’s ability to capture “the eloquence of longing”. An article in Al Qahira newspaper quotes al-Madhoun as saying: “I believe in co-existence as the only way to find an end to the bloody and painful struggle of the last 100 years. I don’t think it will happen in my generation, but it will happen one day.”
Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba was chosen by the IPAF judges as the best work of fiction published within the last 12 months, selected from 159 entries from 18 countries across the Arab World. The five other shortlisted finalists were also honoured at the ceremony alongside the winner, each receiving $10,000.
The six names on the shortlist were announced by the judging panel in February 2016, at a press conference hosted by The Cultural Club in Muscat, Oman. In addition to al-Madhoun's Destinies the shortlisted titles were: Numedia (Dar al-Adab) by Tareq Bakari of Morocco; Mercury (Dar Tanweer, Lebanon) by Mohamed Rabie of Egypt; Praise for the Women of the Family (Hachette Antoine) by Mahmoud Shukair of Palestine; A Sky Close to Our House (Difaf Publications) by Shahla Ujayli of Syria, and The Guard of the Dead (Difaf Publications) by George Yaraq of Lebanon.
Chair of the IPAF judges Amina Thiban is an Emirati poet and academic specialising in literature. Her fellow judges were Sayyed Mahmoud, an Egyptian journalist and poet, who is currently editor of Al-Qahira newspaper; Mohammed Mechbal, a Moroccan academic and critic; Munir Mujię, a Bosnian academic, translator and researcher, and Abdo Wazen, a Lebanese poet, critic and editor-in-chief of the cultural pages of Al-Hayat newspaper.
Delivering on its aim to increase the international reach of Arabic fiction, the Prize guarantees English translations for all of its winners. Raja Alem’s novel, The Dove’s Necklace (Duckworth), will be published on 2 June this year and Saud Alsanousi’s The Bamboo Stalk (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing - BQFP) was published in 2015. Other winners published in English include Bahaa Taher’s Sunset Oasis (Sceptre), Youssef Ziedan’s Azazeel (Atlantic Books), Abdo Khal’s Throwing Sparks and Mohammed Achaari’s The Arch and the Butterfly (both published by BQFP). 2014 IPAF winner Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi has also secured English publication, in translation by Jonathan Wright, with Oneworld in the UK and Penguin Books in the US. Since 2008, winning and shortlisted IPAF books have been translated into over 20 languages.