Yesterday's issue of the Abu Dhabi-based English language daily The National came with a free booklet containing excerpts in English translation of the six novels shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, popularly dubbed the "Arab Booker". The booklet includes the Arabic originals of the extracts. This is a helpful initiative; one of the frustrations in trying to cover the announcement of the shortlist at a high-profile event in London's South Bank cultural complex last December was that those who are not fluent readers of Arabic were unable to access some of the the content of the novels via translation, and could only resort to the potted versions given in the press packs and to the comments made by the judges in their panel presentation (largely in Arabic - and the simultaneous tranlsation was not wholly satisfactory).
IPAF was established in Abu Dhabi in April 2007 with funding from the Emirates Foundation and support from the Booker Prize Foundation, which administers Britain’s leading fiction prize, the Man Booker. The winner is due to be announced in Abu Dhabi on 16 March, shortly before the opening of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. In addition to the $50,000 prize, the winner receives the $10,000 that goes to each of the shortlisted authors.
The six shortlisted authors are: Jordanian-Palestinian poet and novelist Ibrahim Nasrallah, for Time of White Horses published by Arab Scientific Publishers of Beirut; Egyptians Muhammad Al-Bisatie for Hunger (Dar al-Adab) and Yusuf Zaydan for Beelzebub (Dar al Shorouk); Syrian Fawwaz Haddad for The Unfaithful Translator (Riad el Rayyes, Beirut); Iraqi journalist Inaam Kachahi (the only woman shortlisted) for The American Granddaughter (Al Jadid, Beirut), and Tunisian Al-Habib Al-Salmi for The Scents of Marie-Claire (Dar Al Adab).
One of IPAF’s main aims is to encourage the translation of Arabic fiction into English. The English translation of Bahaa Taher's “Sunset Oasis”, the first-ever IPAF winner in 2008, has been executed by the awared-winning translator Humphrey Davies, with funding by the philanthropist and publisher Sigrid Rausing. It is due to be published in the UK by the Hodder & Stoughton imprint Spectre in early September. The other five novels shortlisted in 2008 have been, or are being, translated into English and other languages.
The five judges, chaired bythe Lebanese critic and scholar Youman el-Eid, read 121 books to arrive at their 16-book longlist announced on November 11 from which the shortlist was subsequently selected. El-Eid’s co-judges are the Egyptian scholar Rasheed El Enany, Professor of Modern Arabic Literature and Director of Arab Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, England (his book Mahfouz: Life and Times was published in paperback by Haus last year); the Emirati writer, journalist and head of the Dubai Cultural Council Mohammad al-Murr; the Palestinian-Jordanian critic, journalist and author Fakhri Saleh, and the German translator of Arabic literature Hartmut Faehndrich.