Wednesday, January 22, 2014

'Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine' is launched in London

anthology launched on 5th anniversary of Israel's Cast Lead onslaught
by Susannah Tarbush 

Israel's 23-day Operation Cast Lead offensive on Gaza, which lasted from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009, caused massive destruction and killed more than 1,400 people in Gaza. Another 5,000 were injured. It was a particularly brutal chapter in the seemingly never-ending ordeals facing the people of Gaza. 

Now Just World Books of Charlottesville, Virginia, has published a groundbreaking collection of fiction, Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine, edited by Refaat Alareer. In their stories the young authors explore the lives of Gazans during and after Operation Cast Lead. 

The book's international launch in London, on the evening of Wednesday of last week, coincided with the fifth anniversary of the ending of Operation Cast Lead. The launch was held at a packed-out event in the P21 Gallery, with sponsorship from Middle East Monitor (MEMO) and the Arab British Centre. In the chair was author and former associate foreign editor of the Guardian newspaper Victoria Brittain.

The book's cover says: "These stories take us into the homes and hearts of moms, dads, students, children, and elders striving to live lives of dignity in one of the world's most embattled communities."

Gazans have constantly sought ways of overcoming their difficulties and isolation, and writing has played an increasingly vital role in this. Gazans have been adept in using social media, through blogs, Facebook, Twitter and online publications. And as Gaza Writes Back demonstrates, they are also increasingly writing fiction.

 Victoria Brittain

Gaza Writes Back brings together 23 stories by 15 young authors, all but three of them women. The number of stories was chosen so as to match the number of days Operation Cast Lead lasted. The Gaza Writes Back Facebook page has been posting daily extracts from the stories.  The blockade of Gaza means that copies of Gaza Writes Back may not reach Gaza, where most of its writers are currently located.

In addition to the 23 stories, the book includes a photograph and one or two-page biography of each of the 15 contributors, with their personal statements on writing. Elham Hilles, for example, writes: "Writing is way of resistance through which I attempt to highlight the distress and agony of the Palestinian refugees in the wretched camps around my city." 

'telling stories is an act of life and resistance'

Refaat Alareer has an MA in Comparative Literature from University College, London University, and teaches at the Islamic University of Gaza. He is at present doing a PhD in Malaysia. His role in the book project was much more than that of editor: he is a creative writing teacher and a mentor to young Gaza writers, and was the prime mover in getting the book off the ground. In his introduction to the book he says: "Gaza Writes Back provides conclusive evidence that telling stories is an act of life, that telling stories is resistance, and that telling stories shapes our memories."  He is already planning further books of Gazan writing.

Refaat was able to take part in the P21 Gallery launch thanks to a Skype link to Malaysia, in which he was joined by one of the contributors to the book, Yousef Aljamal, who is like him pursuing university studies in Malaysia. The London launch was followed last Saturday by a launch in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur which Refaat attended in person. 

 Yousef Aljamal
As well as editing the book, Refaat contributed two short stories: "House" and "On a Drop of Rain". Over the Skype link from Malaysia Yousef Aljamal read from his story "Omar X". The story is a tribute to his late brother and to his youngest brother, both of them called Omar. Yousef movingly explained the background to his story. The older Omar had joined a resistance group and was killed by the Israelis in an orchard on 7 March 2004 when he was not yet 18. Two years later Yousef's mother had another son, also named Omar, who is now eight years old and "very mischievous and very clever." 

Given the blockade of Gaza and the travel restrictions on its inhabitants Just World Books was unable to bring authors directly from there to London for the launch. But two contributors - Rawan Yaghi and Jehan Alfarra - are currently studying in Oxford, and they attended the event in person to read from their stories and to take part in a Q and A session with the audience. 
In addition, a pre-recorded video of another contributor, Mohammed Suliman - who has three stories in the collection - was screened. Suliman has a BA in English Literature from the Islamic University of Gaza and a Master's degree in Human Rights from the London School of Economics. In the video he reads from his story "One War Day." 

Ain Media has posted this video and those of two other Gaza Writes Back authors on YouTube. The videos can be viewed in a 14-minute compilation, or as separate segments on the individual writers, Hanan Habashi, Mohammed Suliman and Samiha Elwan. Victoria Brittain thanked Gaza video maker Rushdi Sarraj for his help in making the videos.

Refaat Alareer

Refaat prefaced his remarks to the London launch with two quotes from the great Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, "a source of inspiration to all Palestinian young writers". The first quote was: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” The second quote is: “Storytellers are a threat. They threaten all champions of control, they frighten usurpers of the right-to-freedom of the human spirit.” 

'pure Palestinian voices'

Refaat said: "This basically is what Gaza Writes Back is about." The collection "attempts to testify with pure Palestinian voices against one of the most brutal occupations the world has ever known." Its stories "endeavour to educate both ourselves as Palestinians, and the whole world. The young writers in the book strongly believe that there is a lot to learn because we believe that it is our moral obligation to educate ourselves to improve personally, individually, locally and globally in order to achieve peace and better understanding."
The book carries on its back cover and inside pages acclaim from prominent Palestinian and other activists and writers: Dr Ghada Karmi, Victoria Brittain, Ramzy Baroud, Jean Said Makdisi, Susan Abulhawa, Samah Sabawi and Michelle Cohen Corasanti. 

The 23 stories are diverse in theme, setting, form, type, and experimentation, Refaat notes in his introduction. Although the stories try to trace how young writers in Gaza reached to Operation Cast Lead, they include "Palestine as a whole as an attempt to refuse any kind of division. Among Palestinians, no matter where they are, there is an emphasis on the Right of Return. Some stories are about West Bank issues, such as the Separation wall, settlements, or Jerusalem. Some do not have a particular setting, to suggest that the story could happen anywhere in occupied Palestine, or even any people under occupation." 

(L to R): Victoria Brittain, Rawan Yaghi, Jehan Alfarra

All the stories were written in English except for two suspenseful stories by Nour al-Sousi. Her story "Canary" was translated from Arabic by Refaat Alareer, while Mohammed Suliman translated "Will I Ever Get Out?" 

Rawan Yaghi is in her first year studying Italian and linguistics at Jesus College, Oxford University. "Rawan has a very unique situation," Brittain said. "Her scholarship has been largely paid for by all the students in the college." Rawan is the first recipient of the Junior Members' Scholarship set up by Jesus students. In April the BBC News website carried a report of Rawan's achievement:  Gazan heads to Oxford University on unusual scholarship.

a child's-eye view

Rawan often writes her short stories from the child's point of view. At the launch she read "From Beneath", one of her three stories in the collection. After an Israeli attack the first person child narrator is trapped by rubble, alone and unable to move. A horrible realisation gradually dawns: "No one was coming to help me. There was no movement anywhere in the house. I wept even harder." Her other two stories in the anthology are "A Wall" - focusing on the Separation wall - and "Spared".

Jehan Alfarra is at Oxford Brookes University doing an MSc in Computing. In her story "Please Shoot to Kill" medical student Leila recalls how two years earlier her family's home was invaded by Israeli soldiers who beat up and shoot at her father. The home is then wrecked by an explosion. Her badly injured father needs to be sent to Cairo for a kidney operation in Cairo, and the family then faces an agonising dilemma.

Rawan Yaghi (L) and Jehan Alfarra

Just World Books, founded by Helena Cobban , has quite a track record in giving voices to Gazans, particularly women. Last summer it published the remarkable cookbook The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey by Laila El-Haddad, and Maggie Schmitt. In 2010 it  published the blog of El-Haddad, who is a journalist, under the title Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything In Between.

In his introduction to Gaza Writes Back Refaat Alareer writes that almost half its stories began as class assignments in his Creative Writing or Fiction classes. "Many of the writers started as bloggers, and many had never written fiction before. Working closely with many young talents in Gaza has proven to me that all they need is proper encouragement, practical training, and close attention in order to blossom".

 Jehan Alfarra reads her story

At the launch Refaat explained the thinking behind Gaza Writes Back, and the importance of "going fiction".  When he was first approached by Helena Cobban rather more than a year ago, "I strongly suggested having a collection of short fiction rather than say a collection of articles, because in so many ways fiction is universal and 'going fiction' is going global, 'going fiction' is transcending the rigid facts, numbers and statistics we usually have in the news." Fiction addresses the human aspect, "giving a face to the victims here and there in Palestine, especially in Gaza during the Israeli attack called Operation Cast Lead." 

Refaat described preparing the anthology as "the most fascinating and productive year of my life. The peak was not only the book itself, but rather working with these amazing talents in Gaza." The book has 15 writers, but there are "many more writers out there in Gaza. Future book projects with Helena Cobban, or any other publisher, can bring these voices to the light.

"The writers have an excellent command of English, they have their belief in their right, they have the enthusiasm and the motivation, and most importantly understanding that writing back to Israel's long occupation and constant aggression is a moral obligation and a duty they are paying back to Palestine and to a bleeding yet resilient Gaza.
Mohammed Suliman

Looking to future developments for Gaza Writes Back, Refaat said: "We have been approached by people from as far as Japan, Turkey, Malaysia, to translate the book into their languages and we have been approached by people from South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, Australia to go for a book tour, to talk about Palestine and about Gaza, and about the book, and to promote the Palestinian cause and the cause of peace."

He added: "I always say to my friends that sometimes a homeland becomes a story. We love the story because it is about our homeland, and we love our homeland even more because of the story. Therefore I do hope that Gaza Writes Back brings us Palestinians closer to each other and closer to a free Palestine. I also hope the book will be a bridge towards more understanding, a bridge towards dialogue, so that we all work together to end Israel's apartheid and live in peace."

'stories may be turned into movies or documentaries'

During the Q and A session with the audience, Refaat was asked why the stories were mostly written in English rather than being translated from Arabic. He explained the importance of reaching the English-reading audience beyond Gaza, but said he is sure that given the buzz around Gaza Writes Back, and the attention it is attracting, it will be translated into Arabic.

He also spoke of future possible book projects. "We are planning other books to include more talents, more writers from Gaza, in poetry, in children's stories - again mainly written in English. Maybe we are going to go for non-fiction in the future, and for longer stories - maybe a novella or a novel.

"Beyond that we're hoping to have some of these stories turned into movies or even documentaries."

Refaat Alareer at the Kuala Lumpur launch of Gaza Writes Back

Asked how the contributors and stories had been selected from the huge pool of talented young people, Refaat said choosing the stories had been "one of the most painful things I did in the past year and a half." After first announcing the book project to his students and friends on Facebook and Twitter he had received close to 100 stories. With the help of some of the contributors the pieces were read and the number successively reduced until the target of 23 stories was reached.

"It doesn't mean that these are the only good stories; there are other stories that we sadly couldn't include... Since we announced Gaza Writes Back I was told that other people got involved in publishing books of short stories from Gaza. Some of the stories that didn't make it to Gaza Writes Back made it to other books. And hopefully if we go for a Gaza Writes Back:Two we can include stories we had to leave out."

Refaat said the situation in Gaza is "the worst ever", and is aggravated by the terrible situation in Syria and in Egypt. There are "endless layers of pain" in Gaza. "We have political division, which is causing all sorts of crazy things to the people in Gaza and the West Bank; the occupation;, how our neighbouring countries are helping the occupation to tighten the siege. These things attempt to suffocate our determination to live, to go on in life, and you know they succeed - but there is always this ray of hope." People see light at the end of the tunnel, "but hopefully not like the light at the end of the tunnel in the story written by Nour al-Sousi 'Will I Ever Get Out?' because sometimes the light can be deceiving." (Al-Sousi's chilling story depicts a medical student trapped and alone in one of the tunnels from Gaza.)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Jonathan Wright and William M Hutchins jointly win Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation

For the first time in the history of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, two translators share the £3,000 prize: British translator Jonathan Wright and American translator William Maynard Hutchins.

Wright wins the 2013 prize for his translation of Egyptian writer Youssef Ziedan's novel Azazeel, published by Atlantic Books. Hutchins wins for his translation of Yemeni author Wajdi al-Ahdal's A Land Without Jasmine published by Garnet Publishing (which issued this statement on the novel and its author when its deal to publish it was announced). The Arabic originals of both novels were in their different ways notably provocative and groundbreaking, and posed challenges for their translators.

An announcement on the winners issued today says: "For the first time the judges have selected two outright winning translators, instead of the usual winner and runner-up. Two enticing and finely translated novels, each in their very different way, captured the judges’ attention and passion, leading to the decision to share the prize this year."

In today's announcement of the winners the judges describe Wright's  translation of Azazeel as "a masterful achievement, deftly capturing the feeling of the original”. Hutchins's translation of A Land Without Jasmine is "a gripping page-turner from a gifted and original storyteller, superbly translated” 

The juding panel chose the winners from 21 books produced by 19 translators , published in English translation in the year prior to the award. Wright [pictured below] and Hutchins [pictured right] - two of the most productive Arabic translators - were the only entrants to have two translations submitted. In addition to their prizewinning translations, Hutchins was entered for The Diesel by UAE author Thani Al-Suwaidi (AntiBook Club), and Wright for Life on Hold by Saudi writer Fahd Al-Atiq  (AUC Press)

The Arabic originals of both novels caused controversies in their authors' home countries. Prize-winning author Wajdi al-Ahdal is famous for his controversial works, some of which have been banned in Yemen. At one point he was forced to leave Yemen for a period of time. Hutchins has inserted into his translation of A Land Without Jasmine sections of the novel that were excluded from the version published in Arabic in Yemen. In his Translator's Note in the novel Hutchins explains that he started with the 2008 Sanaa edition of the book published by Markaz Ibadi lil Darasat wa-l-Nashr. "I then checked my translation against the author's computer file and added three sexually explicit passages that had been deleted from the published version."

The Arabic original of Azazeel won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF - the "Arabic Booker") in 2009. Wright writes in his three-page Note on the Text in Azazeel that the novel "took the Egyptian and Arabic literary scene by surprise when it first appeared in 2008." Previous Egyptian writers had played with the history of ancient Egypt, but the brief Christian era of Egyptian history, which lasted for a few hundred years up to the Muslim invasion of 639 CE, "was a gap that Egyptian authors had avoided, either out of deference to the Coptic Orthodox Church or because the period appeared to offer little that would resonate with a  modern Arab readership." The response of the Coptic establishment to the novel was "immediate and vitriolic." Wright examines the storm around the novel, and Ziedan's responses.

The judging panel comprised the renowned Arabic translator Humphrey Davies (twice winner and twice runner-up of the Saif Ghobash Banipal prize) and Iraqi playwright Hassan Abdulrazzak (winner of the Arab British Centre Award for Culture 2013) - who each read the Arabic original of the novels as well as the English translation - plus prize-winning fiction writer Rajeev Balasubramanyam, and novelist and Peirene Press founder and publisher Meike Ziervogel.

The judges met in London in December, under the chairmanship of prize administrator Paula Johnson of the Society of Authors, to select the winning titles from the 21 entries.

Azazeel: 'enthralling, and flawlessly translated'

"Azazeel is an enthralling book," the judges say. "The author, and translator, have evoked, and re-evoked, a time, a region, and people that come alive on the page despite our distance from them. The conflicts of the day between tolerance and anathematization – so reminiscent of those of our own time – are seamlessly embodied in the events.

"The landscapes appear before us with palpable and luminous physicality and the protagonist’s strengths and weaknesses, naiveties and intuitive insights, hesitations and impetuosities combine a character as lifelike and as seemingly familiar as the subject of a Fayoum portrait. The translation is notable for its delicacy and well-judged restraint and deftly captures the feeling of the original.”

Azazeel's great strength "lies in its strangeness, a product of the state of mind of its narrator as he struggles with demonic possession and spiritual angst. In vivid, evocative prose, the author plunges us into fifth century Egypt, rendered three-dimensional and immediate in vivid, evocative prose. Ziedan has given us a story that works seamlessly on so many different levels; historical, theological, spiritual, and as a feverishly absorbing confession. A masterful achievement."

In all: "A beautifully crafted and evocative tale. Rich in description of the arid Syrian landscape and seeped in early history, Azazeel has been flawlessly translated making this an easily accessible story.

A Land Without Jasmine: an enjoyable read that preserves the soul of the original

The judges say that A Land Without Jasmine deals with many social and political issues such as the sexual repression of males in a conservative society and the corruption of public institutions yet it does so in the guise of a thriller that keeps the reader enthralled. The story is told by several characters whose accounts do not often tally with one another, leaving room for the readers to synthesise their own version of the truth.

 It is a novel which succeeds in addressing issues of sexual oppression and repression without sacrificing narrative tension. Through its use of multiple perspectives we are given a revealing insight into society, reminding us that no event, or place, has an objective existence or truth. Wajdi al-Ahdal is a gifted and original storyteller.

A Land Without Jasmine gives fascinating insight on life in Yemen, with a thriller-like plot that keeps the reader turning the page. In sparse, lucid prose with a tight narrative structure, the author paints a riveting portrait of sexual confusion, frustration and shame. The translation succeeded in creating an enjoyable English read and at the same time preserving the soul of the original.

Jonathan Wright

Jonathan Wright, who currently lives in London, studied Arabic, Turkish and Islamic History at St. John’s College, Oxford University. Between 1980 and 2009 he worked for Reuters news agency in countries across the Arab world and was also lead writer in the Washington DC Reuters bureau as well as chief sub-editor of the World Desk in London.  Between 2008 and 2011 he was managing editor of Arab Media and Society, an online academic journal run by the AUC (American University in Cairo).

Wright became a published translator of Arabic literature in the late 2000s and  has a remarkable record in terms of the number and quality of the translations he has done. In addition to Azazeel and Life on Hold his  translations of fiction and essays include Khaled el-Khamissi’s Taxi (Aflame Books, 2008, and BQFP); Hassan Blasim’s short story collections The Madman of Freedom Square (Comma Press, 2009) and The Iraqi Christ  (Comma Press, 2013); ; The State of Egypt, a collection of essays and articles by Alaa el-Aswany (AUC Press, 2011); Judgement Day by Rasha al-Ameer (AUC Press, 2012); Whatever Happened to the Egyptian Revolution by Galal Amin (AUC Press, 2013); and Sleepwalkers by Said Makkawi (to be published by Dar el-Shorouk).

Two of Wright's most recent translations will be published in 2014: Bahaa Abdelmegid’s Temple Bar (AUC Press) and Land of No Rain by Amjad Nasser (BQFP).

On two occasions last year Wright appeared at the Mosaic Rooms in London in conversation with an Arab author whose work he had translated. On the first of these occasion he was on stage with the Lebanese author Rasha al Ameer to discuss her novel Judgement Day. On the second occasion he was in discussion with the Iraqi writer Hasan Blasim, two of whose short story collections he has translated.

William Maynard Hutchins

William Maynard Hutchins is a prolific and award-winning translator of literary Arabic. He is a professor in the Philosophy and Religion Department of Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, USA. He began learning Arabic while teaching at the Gerard School for Boys in Sidon, Lebanon. He studied Arabic at Berea, Yale and the University of Chicago, and began translating Arabic literature during graduate school, starting with some of the epistles of al-Jahiz (Peter Lang). During his time teaching at the University of Ghana in Legon he began translating the plays of Tawfiq al-Hakim, and later published a two-volume collection (published by Three Continents Press). He was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant for Literary Translation in 2005-6 for his translation of The Seven Veils of Seth by the Libyan Tuareg author Ibrahim al-Koni (Garnet Publishing) and a second one in 2012 for New Waw, also by al-Koni (Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas, January 2014)

In addition to A Land Without Jasmine and Diesel, Hutchins's translations of Arabic novels include Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street, and Cairo Modern by Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz (Anchor Books); Basrayatha: Portrait of a City by Muhammad Khudayyir (Verso, 2007); The Last of the Angels (Free Press, 2007), Cell Block 5 (Arabia Books, 2008) and The Traveler and the Innkeeper (AUC Press, 2011) all by Fadhil al-Azzawi; Return to Dar al-Basha by Hassan Nasr (Syracuse University Press); Anubis (AUC Press, 2005) and The Puppet (Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas, 2010) both by Ibrahim al-Koni. His recent translations include a revision of his translation of Return of the Spirit by Tawfiq al-Hakim (Lynne Rienner Publishers), and The Grub Hunter by Amir Tag Elsir (Pearson African Writers Series, 2012).
Hutchins's translations have appeared on and and in Banipal Magazine of Modern Arab Literature.

Prize to be awarded at 12 February ceremony

The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize was established in 2005 by Banipal magazine of modern Arab literature in English translation, and the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature, as the first worldwide prize for a published work of English literary translation from Arabic.  It is wholly sponsored by Omar Saif Ghobash and family in memory of his father, the late Saif Ghobash, a man passionate about Arabic literature and other literatures of the word.

The founding of the prize meant that for the first time Arabic joined the ranks of languages (most of  them European) with a literary translation prize administered by the Society of Authors.  The prizes are awarded at an annual ceremony, which for the 2013 prizes is to be held at 6.30 pm on Wednesday 12 February at 6.30pm Europe House, 32 Smith Square, London SW1. While the Saif Ghobas Banipal Prize is awarded annually, some of the other langauge prizes are awarded less frequently. In addition to the prize for Arabic translation, the 2013 prizes are awarded for translatoins from Dutch, French, German, Hebrew and Spanish

The ceremony, hosted by the Society of Authors and the Times Literary Supplement (TLS), will be introduced by Paula Johnson, Prize Administrator Society of Authors. The prizes will be awarded by Sir Peter Stothard, editor of the TLS, and there will be readings by the translators from their winning translations. Following this, poet and translator Dr Ian Patterson and author Adam Mars-Jones will be in conversation on aspects of literary translation

roundable on Arabic-English Literary Translation

At 2-4.30pm on Thursday 13 February, at the Arab British Centre at 1 Gough Square, London EC4,  the two winners of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize 2013, Jonathan Wright and William Maynard Hutchins,  will introduce a roundable on  Literary Translation Arabic to English. The roundtable is  hosted by the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature and will be chaired by Banipal Trustee Professor Yasir Suleiman

The Roundtable is free to attend, but prior registration is necessary. To register, please email

an Arabic Literature in English evening with the prizewinners

Also on 13 February, at 7.00 pm, an event followed by a reception will be held  in The Gallery of Foyle’s Bookshop at 113-119 Charing Cross Road, London WC2.  The evening is hosted by Foyle’s and the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature.

The Arabic Literature in English evening with prizewinning translators Jonathan Wright and William M Hutchins and their novels Azazeel and A Land Without Jasmine will be introduced by Banipal Trustee Paul Starkey. It will include readings from the novels.

Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize changes its cut-off date to 1967

The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize has from the inaugural prize in 2006 until 2013 had a cut-off date for the original Arabic editions of 35 years prior to entry to the prize. It  has now announced a significant change from the 2014 prize, with the cut-off date of the original Arabic extended back and fixed at 1967 - a year widely recognised as a “watershed” year for Arabic literature.
report by Susannah Tarbush

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

longlist of 16 novels for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) 2014 announced

IPAF's 16-novel longlist is packed with heavweights - but includes only two women
by Susannah Tarbush 

covers of the IPAF 2014 longlist

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) - commonly known as the "Arabic Booker Prize" - today announced the longlist of 16 novels for its 2014 prize. The prize is worth a total of $60,000 to the winner: the $50,000 prize itself and  the $10,000 that goes to each of the six shortlisted books. The prize also guarantees the winning novel translation into English. IPAF is run with the support of the Booker Prize Foundation in London and is funded by the TCA (Tourism and Culture Authority) Abu Dhabi. The Prize is also supported by the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair and Etihad Airways

The longlist was chosen from156 entries from 18 countries, published in the past 12 months. The authors are from nine countries, with the highest number - three authors each - coming from Morocco, Iraq and Egypt.
 last year's winner, Saud Alsanousi of Kuwait

For the second consecutive year a  Kuwaiti writer, Ismail Fahd Ismail, makes the longlist;  in 2013 Saud Alsanousi was the first-ever Kuwaiti to be longlisted for the prize, which he went on to win for The Bamboo Stalk. Kuwaiti fiction has been gaining a higher international profile recently, with the 47th issue of Banipal magazine of modern Arab literature having as its special focus Fiction from Kuwait. Kuwaiti novelist Taleb al-Rifai was chair of the IPAF judges in 2010.
IPAF 2014 longlist: 

Clouds Over Alexandria
Ibrahim Abdelmeguid (Egyptian)
Dar al-Shorouq

Love Stories on al-Asha Street
Badryah El-Bishr (Saudi Arabian)
Dar al-Saqi

The Bearer of the Purple Rose
Antoine Douaihy (Lebanese)
Arab Scientific Publishers

Amir Tag Elsir (Sudanese)
Arab Scientific Publishers

A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me
Youssef Fadel (Moroccan)
Dar al-Adab

The Season of Pike Fishing
Ismail Ghazali (Moroccan)
Dar al-Ain

Phoenix and the Faithful Friend
Ismail Fahd Ismail (Kuwaiti)
Arab Scientific Publishers

 Inaam Kachachi (Iraqi)
 Dar al-Jadid

No Knives in this City's Kitchens
Khaled Khalifa (Syrian)
Dar al-Ain

God’s Land of Exile
Ashraf al-Khamaisi (Egyptian)

Ashes of the East: The Wolf who Grew Up in the Wilderness
Waciny Laredj (Algeria)

The Journeys of 'Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya
Abdelrahim Lahbibi (Moroccan)
Africa East

The Blue Elephant
Ahmed Mourad (Egyptian)
Dar al-Shorouq

The Edge of the Abyss
 Ibrahim Nasrallah (Jordanian –Palestinian)
 Arab Scientific Publishers

The Sad Night of Ali Baba
Abdel Khaliq al-Rikabi (Iraqi)
The Arab Institute for Research and Publishing

Frankenstein in Baghdad
Ahmed Saadawi (Iraqi)

 Inaam Kachachi

There are only two women on the longlist: the Iraqi Inaam Kachachi and the Saudi Badryah El-Bishr. Since IPAF was first awarded in 2008 a woman has won only once: Saudi author Raja Alem, who was joint winner with Moroccan Mohammed Achaari in 2011 for her novel The Doves' Necklace.

As always the identity of the panel of five judges is being kept secret at this stage. Their names will only be announced, along with the IPAF 2014 shortlist, in  Amman, Jordan, on Monday 10 February.  The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday 29 April, the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

The still-anonymous chair of the judges said: "The longlisted titles are extremely varied, their diverse themes and styles reflecting the unquestionable richness of Arabic literature. Dominant themes include the socio-political problems currently experienced in many parts of the Arab world, especially the violence and displacement inflicted upon religious and ethnic minorities.

"Techniques and voices within the books range from the traditional narration characterised by an omniscient author to innovative techniques in style and narration, all of which breathes fresh life into the Arabic novel."

This is the seventh year of IPAF, recognised as the leading prize for literary fiction in the Arab world. Professor Yasir Suleiman, Chair of the Board of Trustees, comments: "Seven years on, IPAF has gone from strength to strength. This year’s longlist contains a set of excellent works of fiction that testify to the quality of Arabic literature.

"The judges have toiled long and hard to produce this list which includes female and male novelists, young and more established writers and works that hail from different parts of the Arab world. It is enormously gratifying to witness the role IPAF has played in promoting Arabic fiction among Arab readers and international audiences through translation."

The longlist is studded with some of the best-known names in contemporary Arabic fiction including that of Syrian Khaled Khalifa whose longlisted work No Knives in this City's Kitchens won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in December. Kuwaiti Ismail Fahd Ismail, who turns 74 this year and is longlisted for Phoenix and the Faithful Friend, is regarded as the major pioneer of the Kuwaiti novel.

Khaled Khalifa

At the other end of the age-scale Egyptian Ahmed Mourad, who is 35 this year, and is longlisted for The Blue Elephant, is a filmmaker who used to work as Egyptian ex-President Husni Mubarak's personal photographer. He made his name with the 2007 bestselling political thriller Vertigo, published in English translation by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP) in 2011.

 Ahmed Mourad

Five longlistees have been previously nominated for IPAF. Amir Tag Elsir was shortlisted in 2011 for The Grub Hunter, Inaam Kachachi in 2009 for The American Granddaughter, Khaled Khalifa in 2008 for In Praise of Hatred, and Ibrahim Nasrallah in 2009 for Time of White Horses. Nasrallah was also longlisted in 2013 for  Lanterns of the King of Galilee. Waciny Laredj was longlisted , in 2011 and 2013 for The Andalucian House and Lolita’s Fingers.  Several of these writers have subsequently had their work published in English and other languages.

Iraqi writer Ahmed Saadawi has a previous connection to the prize, through having taken part in the IPAF Nadwa in 2012, under the tutelage of fellow-longlistees Inaam Kachachi and Amir Tag Elsir. The Nadwa, held in Abu Dhabi annually since November 2009, is aimed at emerging Arab writers. Two Arabic-English anthologies of new work produced during the Nadwa have been published so far.

IPAF has delivered on its aim of increasing the international reach of Arabic fiction. It  has guaranteed English translations for all its winners: Bahaa Taher (2008, for Sunset Oasis), Youssef Ziedan (2009, Azazeel), Abdo Khal (2010, Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles), joint winners Mohammed Achaari and Raja Alem (2011, The Arch and the Butterfly, and The Doves' Necklace), Rabee Jaber (2012, The Druze of Belgrade) and Saud Alsanousi (2013, The Bamboo Stalk).

Taher’s Sunset Oasis was translated into English by the Hodder and Stoughton imprint Sceptre in 2009 and has gone on to be translated into at least eight languages worldwide. Ziedan’s Azazeel was published in the UK by Atlantic Books in April 2012. English translations of Abdo Khal and Mohammed Achaari’s winning novels Throwing Sparks and The Arch and the Butterfly are due in Spring 2014, through Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing. 2013 saw the publication of Spanish translations of Baha Taher's Sunset Oasis (El Oasis) and Rabee Jaber's The Druze of Belgrade (Los Drusos de Belgrado) by Madrid-based publisher Turner.

 Spanish edition of Rabee Jaber's 2012 IPAF winner

The English translation of Raja Alem's The Doves Necklace is to be published by Gerald Duckworth and Co in the UK, and Overlook Press in the US, but the publication date is understood to have been postponed from autumn 2014 as Adam Talib and Katharine Halls are still working on their joint translation.  

The IPAF 2014 longlist press release put out by PR consultancy Four Colman Getty includes the following biographies and novel synopses:

Ibrahim Abdelmeguid is a writer from Alexandria, Egypt, born in 1946. He obtained a BA in Philosophy from Alexandria University in 1973 and left Alexandria to live in Cairo in 1975. He is the author of 14 novels and five short story collections. He also writes articles on literature and politics. His novels include: The Other Place (2004), The House of Jasmine (2005), The Hunter and the Doves (2006) and The Threshold of Pleasure (2007). He has also published a book about the Egyptian revolution, Days of Tahrir (2011). Four of his novels have been translated into French and five into English, as well as other languages. He received both the Egyptian State Prize for Literature and the Sawiris Prize for his novel In Every Week there is a Friday (2009). Some of his work has been adapted for television and film.

Clouds over Alexandria completes Ibrahim Abdelmeguid's trilogy about Alexandria, begun with No-one Sleeps in Alexandria followed by Birds of Amber. In these three novels - which can be read as a sequence or individually - Abdelmeguid describes life in the famous city, beginning in an era of openness to the wider world and ending at a time of closure to outside influences. The events of the novel take place in the 1970s, when the cosmopolitan spirit which has characterised the city throughout history has disappeared. In place of the melting pot of ethnicities, religions and cultures come intolerance and hatred, destroying Alexandria’s secular traditions. The city occupies a large portion of the imaginary space of the novel, in which the characters play out their parts to reveal the social and religious crisis of a city now bereft of its free spirit.
Badryah El-Bishr was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1967. She obtained a doctorate in Philosophy of Arts and Sociology from The Lebanese University in 2005 and worked as Assistant Professor at Al Jazeera University, Dubai, from 2010 -2011. In 1997, she began writing a weekly article for the Saudi magazine, Al Yamama, and became well-known for her articles: she was the first Arab woman to win the prize for the best newspaper column at the Arabic Press Awards in 2011. She has written an almost daily column for Al Hayat newspaper since 2009. She is the author of three novels: Hind and the Soldiers (2005), The Seesaw (2010) and Love Stories on al-Asha Street (2013), as well as three short story collections.
Badryah El-Bishr

Love Stories on al-Asha Street is set in the 1970s, on al-Asha Street in the populous district of Manfouha, Riyadh. Three heroines are searching for their freedom: Aziza hopes to find it through love and imitates Soad Hosny, the Cinderella of Arabic cinema, falling in love with an Egyptian doctor because he speaks the dialect of black and white films. Wadha, a bedouin woman, flees from poverty through work in the women's market, becoming its most important trader. Atwa literally runs away from her tiny village, changing her name and fate, and finds independence in the new environment of Riyadh. Their story begins in the romantic period of black and white films and lovers' trysts on the rooftops, where people sleep outside. However, with the advent of colour television comes a wave of religious extremism, opposing the social transformations which have changed the city. One of its first victims is Aziza's young neighbour, Saad. Searching for his identity, he joins the radicals led by religious activist Juhayman al-Otaybi, who famously occupied Mecca’s sacred Grand Mosque in 1979.
Antoine Douaihy is a Lebanese novelist, poet and thinker, born in 1948. He completed his higher education in Paris, where he obtained a doctorate in Anthropology from The Sorbonne, in 1979, and remained in France until the mid-nineties. He is currently Professor in Cultural and Social Anthropology (the comparative study of civilisations) at The Lebanese University. His novels include: The Book of the Current State (1993), The Garden of Dawn (1999), Hierarchies of Absence (2000), Royal Solitude (2001), Crossing Over Rubble (2003) and The Bearer of the Purple Rose (2013).

The Bearer of the Purple Rose tells the story of a writer's arrest and imprisonment in ‘The Citadel of the Port’, a 700-year old Mamluk fortress built to guard the coast. The arrest of the writer, back from a long exile in the West, is a conundrum for all his friends, who see him as a quiet, peace-loving man. He is imprisoned in a bare cell, possessing only two high windows, impossible to reach, and a picture of the tyrant, who stares at him day and night. Perhaps his arrest confirms what his mother used to tell him: ‘Don't fear anything. What a man fears will happen to him.’ Painfully aware of his loss of freedom, he dwells on many things, including: memories from his time of exile; journeying between two worlds; old love and new love; his mother; the destruction of nature; the tragic nature of history; the strange coincidences of fate, and the courses taken by time and death.
Amir Tag Elsir is a Sudanese writer, born in 1960. He studied medicine in Egypt and at the Royal Society of Medicine in Britain. He has published 23 books, including novels, biographies and poetry. Amongst his most important works are: The Dowry of Cries, The Copt’s Worries and The French Perfume (all 2009) and The Crawling of the Ants (2010). His novel The Grub Hunter (2010) was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2011 and has been translated into English and Italian.

366 is the love letter of one man to a woman who doesn’t even know he exists. The protagonist falls in love with Asmaa the moment he sees her at a relative’s wedding. Captivated, he begins a quest to find her, searching everywhere from wedding photographs to the street, the neighbourhood and the faces of other women. He even looks for her in horoscopes, in love stories and in his own vivid imagination. In his letter, he lays out details of his life – from the job that he gives up in order to search for her – to his entanglement in certain political issues. When he fails to find her, he even announces his symbolic death, signing his letter as ‘the deceased’, as a preliminary step to suicide.
Youssef Fadel is a novelist, playwright and screenwriter, born in Casablanca, Morocco, in 1949. During the so-called ‘Years of Lead’ in Morocco, he was imprisoned in the notorious Moulay al-Sheriff prison (1974-75). He has published a number of plays and novels. His first play, The Barber in the Poor District, was made into a film directed by Mohamed al-Rakab in 1982. His novel Hashish (2000) won the Grand Atlas Prize, organised by the Embassy of France in Morocco, in 2001. A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me (2013) is his ninth novel.

A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me Aziz is a pilot at the air force base who loves flying and forgets his cares when he is up in the air. It is flying that he thinks of on his wedding night, rather his 16 year-old bride, Zina, waiting in the adjoining room. The following morning he leaves his house at the crack of dawn, not to return for 18 years. His wife, Zina, looks for him everywhere - in prisons, offices, cities and forests – asking questions and following false leads, only to be disappointed. However, one day – in the bar where she and her sister Khatima work – a stranger presses a scrap of paper into her pocket. It takes her on one last journey in search of her husband: to the Kasbah of al-Glaoui in southern Morocco, where Aziz crouches in a prison cell, having lost hope of ever being found. A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me is a fictional testament to the terrible period of Moroccan history known as 'the years of cinders and lead'.

Ismail Ghazali is a Moroccan novelist and short story writer born in the Amazigh village of M'Rirt in 1977. He holds a BA in Arabic Literature and works in the media. He has published two novels: The Murmuring (2001) and Purl of Dreams, Creak of Nightmares (2012, two novellas), as well as six volumes of short stories. His book, Garden of the Spotted Gazelle - which contains four short story collections - was shortlisted for the Moroccan Book Prize in 2012.

The Season of Pike Fishing A French saxophonist is invited by a Moroccan friend to visit the Aglmam Azgza lake in the Middle Atlas mountains, to try pike fishing. Once there, he finds himself dragged into a confusing maze, at the heart of which is the legendary place itself and the savage pike. He encounters many colourful and dubious characters including: Virginia from London; a blonde fisherman nicknamed 'pike-tamer' and a young hotel employee, who is investigating the tragic fates of those who have visited the lake since 1910. There is also a young girl at the lake, a scriptwriter, two actresses called Hagar and Sara, a piano player and so on... The Season of Pike Fishing is a novel within a novel and many separate narratives find a place within its structure.
Ismail Fahd Ismail is a Kuwaiti writer and novelist. Born in 1940, he has worked as a full-time writer since 1985. He graduated with a BA in Literature and Criticism from the Higher Institute for Dramatic Arts, Kuwait, and has worked as both a teacher and in the administration of educational resources. He also managed an artistic production company. Ismail is regarded as the founder of the art of the novel in Kuwait. Since the appearance of his first novel, The Sky Was Blue, in 1970, he has published 26 novels as well as three short story collections, two plays and several critical studies. His support for a large number of short story writers and novelists and his encouragement of creative talent have had a significant impact on the Kuwaiti and Arab literary scene. 

The Phoenix and the Faithful Friend is the life story of Mansi Ibn Abihi (literally: ‘Forgotten One, Son of his Father’), who comes from a class of Kuwaitis called the bedun (‘without’) because they lack Kuwaiti citizenship. Released from prison after the liberation of Kuwait, he decides to write his life story, addressing it to the daughter he has never seen, Zeinab – born while Kuwait was under occupation - in the hope that she will get to know her father. Mansi recalls his sufferings as a bedun and tells his daughter of his family: of his mother, who preserves the family’s documents in the hope they can apply for citizenship and of his marriage to Ohood, a Kuwaiti, whose brother Saud refuses to accept the union of a bedun and a Kuwaiti. He writes about his life as a self-made young man and the invasion of Kuwait, when he was forced to join the Iraqi ‘people's army’, but managed to escape and join the Kuwaiti resistance. Finally he writes of his imprisonment following liberation, and his subsequent release.
Inaam Kachachi was born in Baghdad in 1952, and studied journalism at Baghdad University. She worked in the Iraqi media before moving to Paris to complete a PhD at The Sorbonne. She is currently the Paris correspondent for the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat and Kol Al-Usra magazine in Sharjah, UAE. Kachachi has published a biography in Arabic, Lorna, about the British journalist Lorna Hales, who was married to the famous pioneering Iraqi sculptor Jawad Salim, and a book in French about Iraqi women's literature produced in times of war and hardship. She produced and directed a documentary about Naziha Al-Dulaimi, the first woman to become government minister in an Arab country, in 1959. Her first novel, Heart Springs, was published in 2005 and her second novel, The American Granddaughter (2008), was shortlisted for IPAF in 2009 and has subsequently been translated into English, French and Chinese.

Tashari deals with the tragedy of Iraqi displacement of the past few decades, through the life story of a female doctor working in the countryside in southern Iraq in the 1950s. The narrative also follows her three children, who now live in three different continents, particularly her eldest daughter who has also become a doctor and works in a remote region of Canada. The title of the novel, 'Tashari’, is an Iraqi word referring to a shot from a hunting rifle which is scattered in several directions. Iraqis use it as a symbol of loss and being dispersed across the globe. As a way of combating the dispersal of his own family, one of the characters, Alexander, constructs a virtual graveyard online, where he buries the family dead and allots to each person scattered across the globe his/her own personal plot.
Khaled Khalifa was born in Aleppo, Syria, in 1964 and holds a BA in Law from Aleppo University. He has written many successful screenplays for TV series, as well as for the cinema. He is also a regular contributor to a number of Arabic newspapers. His third novel, In Praise of Hatred (2006), was shortlisted for IPAF in 2008, and longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2013. It has been translated into several languages.

No Knives in this City's Kitchens is a profound exploration of the mechanics of fear and disintegration over half a century. Through the story of one Syrian family, it depicts a society living under tyranny with stifled aspirations. The family realise that all their dreams have died and turned into rubble, just as the corpse of their mother has become waste material they must dispose of in order to continue living. Written with shocking perception and exquisite language, from the very beginning this novel makes its readers ask fundamental questions and shows how regimes can destroy Arab societies, plundering lives and wrecking dreams. Khaled Khalifa writes about everything which is taboo in Arab life, with a particular focus on Syria. No Knives in this City's Kitchens is a novel about grief, fear and the death of humanity.
Ashraf al-Khamaisi is an Egyptian short story writer and novelist, born in Luxor in 1967. He works as an editor for Al-Thaqafa Al-Jadida magazine. His story The Four Wheels of the Hand-Pushed Cart won first prize in a short story competition for writers from all over the Arab world, organised by the newspaper Akhbar al-Adab. He has published three short story collections and two novels: The Idol (1999) and God's Land of Exile (2013).

God’s Land of Exile is set in 'al-Wa'ara', an imaginary oasis in the Egyptian desert of al-Wadi al-Jadid. The main character, Hajizi, is over 100 years old and has spent most of his life working with his father Shadid, embalming the corpses of animals. Disturbed by the speed with which the living forget the dead, he longs for immortality and fears his own death and burial. When he hears from a passing monk that Christ rose from the dead and that righteous Christians rise from death, he decides to accompany the monk to join his brethren in the mountains. There he meets Christ, who tells him to wait for ‘The Comforter’ who will advise him how to achieve life after death. He returns home to the oasis and waits for instruction. When two of his close friends have died, he has a vision of his own, imminent death and, having not heard from The Comforter, contrives a plan to avoid burial. It is in his last moments that the Comforter arrives and shows him what he must do.
Waciny Laredj is an Algerian novelist, born in 1954. He settled in Paris in 1994 and is a Professor at the Sorbonne University in Paris, as well as the Central University of Algeria. He has written a number of novels dealing with Algeria’s history and its harsh upheavals. For the past 10 years he has produced work on the tragedies of the Arab nation, questioning the sacred and static account of its history. His books are published in Arabic and French. He has won a number of prizes for his work, including the Sheikh Zayed Prize for Literature in 2007. He has been longlisted for IPAF twice – in 2011 for The Andalucian House and in 2013 for Lolita’s Fingers.

 Waciny Laredj

Ashes of the East (part two): The Wolf who Grew Up in the Wilderness sees Jazz, a young musician of Arabic origin, exploring his identity through a symphony he is composing. The different elements of the music reflect the harsh reality of his life in America, where he is regarded as a hostile Muslim Arab, as well as stories from the life of his grandfather, Baba Sheriff. Going through key moments of his family history, he reconstructs an unadorned picture of the beginning of the twentieth century: such as Baba Sheriff being carried on his mother's back, or the death of Baba Sheriff’s father, who was incarcerated in Lebanon’s Aliah prison before being strung up on the gallows in Beirut by order of the Ottoman ruler Jamal Pasha, nicknamed ‘the Manslayer’. Jazz goes back to a time shaped by the pursuit of European, rather than Arab, interests, touching on the influence of well-known historical figures: from Yusuf Al-Azmeh, who resisted the French in Syria, to the escapades of Lawrence of Arabia, Prince Faisal and Viscount Allenby. It is through his symphony, Ashes of the East - which he performs at the Brooklyn Opera - that Jazz finds release and brings to life a grandfather who was nothing short of a walking history book.
Abdelrahim Lahbibi is a Moroccan novelist, born in Safi, Morocco in 1950. He left Safi for Fez in 1967, where he obtained a BA in Arabic Language from the College of Arts and Human Sciences in 1970. He worked as a teacher of Arabic language and literature in secondary education from 1970-1982 and as a school inspector and curriculum co-ordinator from 1984 onwards. He has published three novels: Bread, Hashsish and Fish (2008), The Best of Luck (2010) and The Journeys of 'Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya (2013).

The Journeys of 'Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya A researcher stumbles across a manuscript and attempts to edit it, to make it into a doctoral thesis. Entitled The Journeys of 'Abdi, the manuscript is an account of one man’s journeys from Morocco to the Hijaz in Saudi Arabia in search of knowledge, written in the manner of Moroccan intellectuals such as Ibn Khaldun. ’Abdi’s journey turns into an examination of Arabic and Muslim society, with ’Abdi emphasising the need for Arabs to learn from Europe in order to achieve social progress. Split into two, The Journeys of 'Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya follows both ’Abdi’s search for knowledge as well as the narrator’s attempts to edit his manuscript.
Ahmed Mourad was born in Cairo in 1978. He studied cinematography at the Higher Institute for Cinema in Cairo, graduating in 2001. His graduation films The Wanderers, Three Papers, and On the Seventh Day won prizes for short film at festivals in the UK, France and Ukraine. His first novel, Vertigo, appeared in 2007, before being translated into English, Italian and French and made into a television series broadcast in Ramadan 2012. In 2010, Mourad published his second novel Diamond Dust, which was translated into Italian, followed by The Blue Elephant, in October 2012.

The Blue Elephant After five years of self-imposed isolation, Doctor Yahya returns to work at the Abbasiya Psychiatric Hospital in Cairo, where there is a surprise in store for him. In ‘West 8’, the department in charge of determining the mental health of patients who have committed crimes, he meets an old friend who reminds him of a past he is desperately trying to forget. Suddenly finding his friend's fate in his hands, Yahya's life is turned upside down, with one shocking turn of events following another. What begins as an attempt to find out the true mental condition of his friend becomes an enthralling journey to discover himself, or what is left of him.

Ibrahim Nasrallah was born in 1954 to Palestinian parents who were evicted from their land in 1948. He spent his childhood and youth in the Al-Wehdat Palestinian Refugee Camp in Amman, Jordan, and began his working life as a teacher in Saudi Arabia. After returning to Amman, he worked as a journalist and for the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation. Since 2006, he has been a full-time writer and has so far published 14 poetry collections and 14 novels. He is in the process of writing a Palestinian epic covering 250 years of modern Palestinian history, in seven novels. Three of his novels and a volume of poetry have been translated into English, including his novel Time of White Horses (2007), which was shortlisted for IPAF in 2009. Three of his works have been published in Italian, and a novel each into Danish and Turkish. He is also a painter and photographer and has had four solo exhibitions of his photography. He has won eight prizes, among them the prestigious Sultan Owais Literary Award for Poetry in 1997. His novel Prairies of Fever (1985) was chosen by The Guardian newspaper as one of the ten most important novels written by Arabs or non-Arabs about the Arab world. In 2012, he won the inaugural Jerusalem Award for Culture and Creativity for his writing. His 2012 novel Lanterns of the King of Galilee was longlisted for IPAF in 2013.

Ibrahim Nasrallah

The Edge of the Abyss is  told through the voices of three characters whose lives are intertwined: a former minister, known for his corrupt practices; his lawyer wife, restricted by her association with him and a professor, whose personal interests dictate that he should serve the minister, but who at the same time seeks to fulfil his dreams of love through romantic adventures and becomes entangled with the minister's wife. Their stories intersect with the changes following the Arab Spring, which is drawing everyone to the edge of the abyss. The Edge of the Abyss depicts an Arab reality where legitimate and illegitimate ambitions are merged, as are the suffering of the individual and that of the community.

Abdel Khaliq Al Rikabi is an Iraqi novelist, born in Badra, Iraq, in 1946. He obtained a BA in Fine Art in 1970 and worked as a teacher for 12 years and as an editor for two magazines, Journeys and Pens. In 1987, his novel The Filter (1986) won the Eastern Fair Prize in Baghdad, while The Seventh Day of Creation (1994) received the Best Iraqi Novel Prize in 1995. It was also selected by the Arab Union of Writers in Damascus as one of the 20 best Arabic novels of the twentieth century and has been translated into Chinese. Some of his work has been adapted for the cinema: the 1985 film The Lover, was based upon his novel The Trials of Abdullah the Lover (1982) and the film The Knight and the Mountain (1987) was adapted from his short story Imagination. The Sad Night of Ali Baba (2013) is his seventh novel.

The Sad Night of Ali Baba continues Al Rikabi's imaginative retelling of the history of modern Iraq. Using the American occupation in 2003 as a starting point, he looks back at the defining social and historical events which have taken place in the country during the 20th century, from the Ottoman Empire to the British and American occupations. Focusing on the American occupation, he explores the different ways in which people have been affected; from those who have suffered random violence to those who have exploited occupation for their own benefit. He explores the explosion of repressed religious, racial and sectarian tensions in Iraq as a result of occupation, and the subsequent hatred, intolerance and desire for revenge.
Ahmed Saadawi is an Iraqi novelist, poet and screenwriter, born in 1973 in Baghdad, where he works as a documentary film maker. He is the author of a volume of poetry, Festival of Bad Songs (2000), and three novels, The Beautiful Country (2004), He Dreams or Plays or Dies (2008) and Frankenstein in Baghdad (2013). He has won several prizes and in 2010 was selected for the Beirut39 Festival, as one of the 39 best Arab authors below the age of 40. He took part in the annual IPAF ‘Nadwa’, or literary workshop for promising young writers, in 2012.

Ahmed Saadawi

Frankenstein in Baghdad Hadi al-Attag lives in the populous al-Bataween district of Baghdad. In the Spring of 2005, he takes the body parts of those killed in explosions and sews them together to create a new body. When a displaced soul enters the body, a new being comes to life. Hadi calls it ‘the-what's-its-name’; the authorities name it ‘Criminal X’ and others refer to it as ‘Frankenstein’. Frankenstein begins a campaign of revenge against those who killed it, or killed the parts constituting its body. As well as following Frankenstein’s story, Frankenstein in Baghdad follows a number of connected characters, such as General Surur Majid of the Department of Investigation, who is responsible for pursuing the mysterious criminal and Mahmoud al-Sawadi, a young journalist who gets the chance to interview Frankenstein. Frankenstein in Baghdad offers a panoramic view of a city where people live in fear of the unknown, unable to act in solidarity, haunted by the unknown identity of the criminal who targets them all.