The administrators of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF, often referred to as the Arabic Booker Prize) have now issued synopses and author bios for the 13 novels on the longlist for IPAF 2012 which was announced on 10 November. The shortlist of six novels will be announced in Cairo on 7 December, and the winner in Abu Dhabi on 27 March - the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. The $60,000 prize is composed of the $50,000 award plus the $10,000 that goes to each shortlisted book.
Sarmada (pub. Thaqafa)
Fadi Azzam (Syria)
Documentary producer Rafi Azmi meets a strange woman in Paris - a Professor of Physics at the Sorbonne - who informs him that she has lived a previous life in his village of Sarmada, in southern Syria. It turns out that she is the reincarnation of a woman murdered by her brothers in an honour killing. Affected by her story, Rafi returns to his hometown, to discover an entire world previously hidden from him. The woman’s story leads him to delve into the depths of the place and uncover its secrets, desires, beauty and the co-existence of its people of different religions.
Fadi Azzam was born in Sweida, southern Syria, in 1983. He graduated from the Faculty of Arts in Damascus in 1998 and has written for Arabic newspapers, as well as publishing a number of stories in Arabic magazines. He is the author of a book entitled Things Underneath (Dar Merit, 2010). He was a cultural and arts correspondent for Al Quds al-Arabi between 2007 and 2009 and currently works as a producer of documentary films and three-dimensional cartoons in Dubai. Sarmada is his first novel; an English translation by Adam Talib was recently published by Swallow Editions.
Paving the Sea (pub. Riyad al-Rayyes)
Rashid al-Daif (Lebanon)
The second half of the nineteenth century saw Syrians fighting to build a new Syrian state and Faris Mansour Hashem is one of the movement’s most fervent activists alongside his friend, the influential writer Georgy Zeidan. However his plans are thwarted as, whilst he is studying medicine at the newly-founded American University in Beirut, student strikes force him to emigrate to the United States. Following in the footsteps of his father and thousands of his fellow countrymen, he begins a new life in America, joining the American army and going to fight in the Spanish-American war in Cuba. It is after he marries that he decides to fulfil his dream of returning to Beirut. But the question is: can he achieve his dream?
Rashid al-Daif was born in Zgharta, northern Lebanon, in 1945. He is Professor of Arabic Literature at the University of Lebanon. He has published 13 novels, three poetry collections and a short story collection about children. His works have been translated into 12 languages.
The Unemployed (pub. Al-Dar al-Masriya al-Lubnaniya)
Nasr Iraq (Egypt)
The Unemployed tells the story of a young, educated Egyptian man from a middle-class family who, like so many others, is forced to look for work in Dubai due to the lack of opportunity in Cairo. In Dubai, he discovers an astonishing world filled with people of all nationalities and he experiences mixed treatment from his friends, relations and acquaintances. And then, just as he falls in love with an Egyptian girl, he finds himself imprisoned for the murder of a Russian prostitute…
Nasr Abelfatah Ibrahim Iraq graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Cairo University, in 1984. He has worked in cultural journalism in Egypt and co-founded the Dubai Al-Thaqafiya magazine where he has been managing editor since 2004. He has published a number of books, including: A History of Journalistic Art in Egypt (2002), which won the Ahmad Bahaa al-Din Prize in its first year; Times of the Dust (2006); From the Excess of Love (2008); The Green and the Damaged (2009) and The Unemployed (2011). He currently works as Cultural and Media Co-ordinator for the Foundation of Culture and Science Symposium in Dubai.
Suitcases of Memory (pub. Naufel)
Charbel Kattan (Lebanon)
There are ‘lost’ bags in Beirut airport. A search is made for their owners and they either come to collect them or the bags remain forgotten in the storage room. There are also ‘orphan’ bags, whose owners cannot be identified... that is, until Ehab Alem arrives in the customs department. As a child, he lost his father in mysterious circumstances at the beginning of the Lebanese war, and he has dedicated his life to searching for him. So Ehab decides to solve the riddle of the five ‘orphans’ of the airport. Inside each bag is a story, told by its contents to those who are good at listening. As the owner of each bag is found, a different story linked to a part of the Lebanese war is told. In his quest to find each owner, Ehab starts to find himself by recalling his childhood. He begins to realise the meaning of life, revives his own hopes and falls in love, in turn bringing his own story to completion.
Charbel Kattan was born in Maghdouche, southern Lebanon, in 1970. He moved to South Africa in 1990, where he continued his higher education and obtained a degree in Information Technology. He currently lives and works in Johannesburg. Suitcases of Memory is his first novel.
Toy of Fire (pub. Al-Ikhtilef)
Bashir Mufti (Algeria)
Toy of Fire is the story of a meeting between the novelist, Bashir Mufti, and a mysterious character called Rada Shawish, who presents Mufti with a manuscript containing his autobiography. Shawish’s goal in life has always been not to turn out like his father, who ran an underground cell in the seventies and committed suicide in the eighties. However, circumstances have driven him to follow in his father’s footsteps, resulting in him becoming a leading member of a secret group of his own.
Bashir Mufti is a writer and journalist, born in 1969 in Algiers, Algeria. He has published a number of short story collections and novels, including: Archipelago of Flies (2000); Witness of the Darkness (2002); Perfumes of the Mirage (2005); Trees of the Resurrection (2007) and Maps of Nightly Passion (2009). Some of his works have been translated into French. He often writes articles in the Arabic press and works in Algerian television as assistant producer of the cultural programme Maqamat.
Under the Copenhagen Sky (pub. Dar al-Saqi)
Hawra al-Nadawi (Iraq/Denmark)
Under the Copenhagen Sky tells the love story of Huda, a teenage girl born in Copenhagen to Iraqi parents, and Rafid, an older man forced to emigrate to Denmark by the political situation in Iraq. It begins when Rafid receives a letter from Huda, who he has never met before, asking him to translate her novel from Danish into Arabic. As their relationship grows, Huda begins to reveal that she knows more about him than he first thought. This novel weaves together chapters from Huda’s manuscript with Rafid’s own account of the romance that is developing between them through their email exchanges.
Hawra al-Nadawi is an Iraqi writer living in London. She was six when she and her family left Iraq for political reasons and moved to Denmark, where she grew up, learning Arabic at home. Under the Copenhagen Sky is her first novel.
Nocturnal Creatures of Sadness (pub. Dar Merit)
Mohamed al-Refai (Egypt)
Nocturnal Creatures of Sadness follows the life of hero Yahya. It opens with some bizarre events from his childhood, from the story of Ali ibn al-Aashara, who disappears from the town of Mahala al-Wasaaya, to the beautiful Saffiya who sets fire to herself and Ibrahim who loses his leg. We then follow Yahya as a young man, as he volunteers to fight in the 1967 war out of his love for Egyptian President Gamal Abd al-Nasser. However, defeat in the war means that his illusions quickly fade.
Egyptian writer Mohamed al-Refai is a cultural critic based in Cairo. He has written for the magazine Sabah al-Khair since 1980 and won the Mustapha and Ali Amin Prize for Journalism for his weekly column in 2000. He is also the author of a number of books on the theatre, including Palestine in Egyptian Theatre and Experiments in Arab Theatre. His radio screenplays include A Journey in Olden Times, Paradise Lost and Papers of the Barada River and he has written three series for television: The Overcoat, based on Nikolai Gogol's short story; The White based on Yusef Idriss' novel and The Extoller of the Moon, a programme about Baligh Hamdi, which is currently on air. He has also written screenplays for two films: The Case of Mr. Mungid and Stolen Dreams.
The Amazing Journey of Khair al-Din ibn Zard (pub. Dar Fada'at)
Ibrahim Zaarur (Jordan/Palestine)
This is a darkly comic and fast-paced stream of consciousness novel in which a lorry driver inherits 25 million dollars. Whilst he cannot believe that he will be rich, he soon gains a sense of himself and of his own importance and rich relatives acknowledge him after years of ignoring him. However, a surprise awaits him when he goes to collect the inheritance...
Ibrahim Zaarur was born in Palestine in 1939. He is a short story writer, novelist and journalist who has eight published novels. He currently lives in Amman, Jordan.
The Vagrant (pub. Dar al-Nahar)
Jabbour Douaihy (Lebanon)
The Vagrant provides a realistic, engaging portrayal of the Lebanese civil war through the eyes of a young man who finds himself uprooted by the conflict. The hero represents the crisis of the Lebanese individual imposed upon by a sectarian reality. We follow his struggle to belong as he faces unfamiliar situations and conflicts in a society that considers him an outsider.
Jabbour Douaihy was born in Zgharta, northern Lebanon, in 1949. He holds a PhD degree in Comparative Literature from the Sorbonne and works as Professor of French Literature at the University of Lebanon. To date, he has published seven works of fiction, including novels, short stories and children’s books. His novel June Rain was shortlisted for the inaugural IPAF in 2008, and will be published in English by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing in October 2012.
The Druze of Belgrade (pub. Al-Markez al-Thaqafi al-Arabi)
Rabee Jaber (Lebanon)
After the 1860 civil war in Mount Lebanon, a number of fighters from the religious Druze community are forced into exile, travelling by sea to the fortress of Belgrade on the boundary of the Ottoman Empire. In exchange for the freedom of a fellow fighter, they take with them a Christian man from Beirut called Hana Yaaqub; an unfortunate egg seller who happens to be sitting at the port. The Druze of Belgrade follows their adventures in the Balkans, as they struggle to stay alive.
Lebanese novelist and journalist Rabee Jaber was born in Beirut in 1972. He has been editor of Afaq, the weekly cultural supplement of Al-Hayat newspaper, since 2001. His first novel, Master of Darkness, won the Critics’ Choice Prize in 1992. He has since written 16 novels, including: Black Tea; The Last House; Yousif Al-Inglizi; The Journey of the Granadan (published in German in 2005), Berytus: A City Beneath the Earth (published in French by Gallimard in 2009) and America, which was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2010.
The Women of al-Basatin (pub. Dar al-Adab)
Habib Selmi (Tunisia)
The Women of Al-Basatin is an intimate portrayal of the daily lives of a modest family living in the Al-Basatin district of Tunis in Tunisia. Through the stories of this small matriarchal environment, we observe the contradictions of the wider Tunisian society, exposing a world in flux between burdensome religious traditions and a troubled modernity.
Habib Selmi was born in al-’Ala, Tunisia, in 1951. He has published four novels and two collections of short stories. A number of the stories have been translated into English, Norwegian, Hebrew and French. His first novel, Jabal al-’Anz (Goat Mountain), was published in French translation in 1999. His 2001 novel, Ushaq Bayya (Bayya's Lovers) was published in French translation in 2003 and excerpted in Banipal 18. Other novels include Surat Badawi Mayyit (Picture of a Dead Bedouin), 1990, Matahat al-Raml (Sand Labyrinth), 1994, Hufar Dafi’a (Warm Pits), 1999, and Asrar ‘Abdallah (Abdallah’s Secrets), 2004. Habib Selmi has lived in Paris since 1985. His novel The Scents of Marie-Claire was shortlisted for IPAF in 2009. An English translation of the book was published by Arabia Books this year.
Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge (pub. Dar al-Ain)
Ezzedine Choukri Fishere (Egypt)
Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge is a novel about alienation in its various forms and senses: the hero who doesn’t belong; his second wife, torn between professional ambition and a desperation to give her husband the impression she belongs in his world; his son, with whom he has limited communication; his granddaughter, uncertain where she belongs, and his Egyptian friend, who discovers that neither his children nor his Cuban-American-Lebanese wife belong to his world. All these characters are linked by their relationship with the protagonist, who draws them together by inviting them to his granddaughter’s birthday party, at which he intends to convey some sad news.
Ezzedine Choukri Fishere is an Egyptian writer and diplomat. Born in Kuwait in 1966, he grew up in Egypt, where he graduated from Cairo University in 1987 with a BA in Political Science. After graduation, he attended a number of universities in France and Canada and attained an International Diploma in Administration from The National School of Administration, Paris (1990-92). He went on to gain a Masters in International Relations from Ottawa University (1992-95) and a doctorate in Political Science from Montreal University (1993-98). He currently teaches political science at the American University in Cairo, but also lectures at a number of other universities. In addition, he writes political articles for several Arabic, English and French periodicals and newspapers.
The Nabatean (pub. Dar al-Shorouq)
Youssef Ziedan (Egypt)
As in his earlier, IPAF-winning, novel Azazel Youssef Ziedan brings history to the reader in intimate detail, removing the halos from famous historical characters and transforming them into flesh and blood, with real dreams, mistakes and achievements, strong and weak points. This novel focuses on the fabled Nabateans – an ancient Arabic people living across the Middle East before the arrival of Christianity and Islam – who helped prepare the way for the Muslim conquest of Egypt.
A highly respected Egyptian scholar specialising in Arabic and Islamic studies, Youssef Ziedan (born June 30, 1958) is director of the Manuscript Centre and Museum affiliated to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. University professor, public lecturer, columnist and prolific author, he has written two critically acclaimed and best-selling novels Azazel (winner of IPAF 2009) and The Shadow of the Serpent. The English translation by Jonathan Wright of Azazel is due to be published by Atlantic Books in the UK in April 2012. Ziedan has worked as a consultant in the field of Arabic heritage preservation and conservation in a number of international institutions: UNESCO, ESCWA and the Arab League. He has also directed a number of projects aimed at the delimitation and preservation of Arabic manuscripts – the cataloguing, editing and publishing of these historic texts is something he is devoted to and they, in turn, influence and inform his fiction.