Friday, February 13, 2015

shortlist of IPAF - the 'Arabic Booker' prize - is unveiled

International Prize for Arabic Fiction announces 2015 shortlist 

Atef Abu Saif of Palestine, Jana Elhassan of Lebanon, Lina Huyan Elhassan of Syria, Shukri al-Mabkhout of Tunisia, Ahmed al-Madeeni of Morocco and Hammour Ziada of Sudan were today announced as the six authors shortlisted for this year's $60,000 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF, often referred to as the Arabic Booker Prize).  For the first time in IPAF's eight year history, no Egyptian author appears on the shortlist.

The shortlisted novels are A Suspended Life (published by Al-Ahlia) by Atef Abu Saif;  Floor 99 ( Difaf Publications) by Jana Elhassan;  Diamonds and Women (Dar al-Adab) by Lina Huyan Elhassan;   The Italian (Dar Tanweer, Tunis) by Shukri al-Mabkhout;  Willow Alley (Al-Markez al-Thaqafi al-Arabi) by Ahmed al-Madeeni and The Longing of the Dervish (Dar al-Ain) by Hammour Ziada. 

IPAF is awarded annually for prose fiction in Arabic. The winner receives $50,000, plus the $10,000 that goes to each of the six shortlisted finalists.  The novels were chosen from 180 entries from 15 countries, all published within the last 12 months.

The winner of IPAF 2015 will be announced at an awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi, UAE, on Wednesday 6 May - the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. The prize, launched in Abu Dhabi in April 2007, is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation in London and is funded by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority. There is additional support from Abu Dhabi International Book Fair and Etihad Airways

Mourid Barghouti (credit: Peter Everard Smith)

In keeping with IPAF tradition, the identities of the judges of the prize were kept secret until the press conference in Casablanca, Morocco, to announce their choice of shortlisted novels. The  chair of the judges was revealed to be the award-winning Palestinian poet and writer, Mourid Barghouti. His fellow judges are Egyptian academic  Ayman A. El-Desouky; Bahraini poet, critic, and media expert Parween Habib; Iraqi critic and academic Najim A. Kadhim, and Japanese academic, translator and researcher Kaoru Yamamoto

IPAF 2015 judges with (centre) IPAF administrator Fleur Montanaro

The press conference was held at the Royal Mansour Hotel, in partnership with the Moroccan Ministry of Culture and the Casablanca International Book Fair. 

The judges praised the effective and creative artistic techniques with which the writers approached their subjects. 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). 

Jana Elhassan

One formerly shortlisted novelist, Jana Elhassan (Me, She and the Other Women, 2013) makes the list along with a former nadwa participant, Lina Huyan Elhassan. (The IPAF nadwa or workshop is held annually for around a week to encourage emerging Arab authors, with established Arab authors acting as mentors).

The shortlisted authors are a mixture of academics and journalists and range widely in age, with Ahmed al-Madeeni the eldest at 67 and Jana Elhassan the youngest at 30. There is one debut novelist, Shukri al-Mabkhout, with The Italian. One of the books, The Longing of the Dervish, was awarded the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in December 2014. 

Chair of the judges Mourid Barghouti commented: "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."  

Professor Yasir Suleiman

Professor Yasir Suleiman, Chair of the Board of Trustees, said: The novels on this year's shortlist feature a diverse range of characters and narratives 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.

 Atef Abu Saif

Atef Abu Saif was born in Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip in 1973, to a family originally from Jaffa. He holds a B.A. from Birzeit University, an M.A. from the University of Bradford (UK) and a PhD in Political and Social Sciences from the University of Florence, Italy. Abu Saif teaches Political Science at the University of Al-Azhar, Gaza, and is Chief Editor of Siyasat magazine, published by the Public Policy Institute in Ramallah. He is the author of four novels: Shadows in the Memory (1997), The Tale of the Harvest Night (1999), Snowball (2000) and The Sour Grapes of Paradise (2003). He has also published two collections of short stories, three plays and a number of books of political science, including: Civil Society and the State: A Foundational Reading with Particular Reference to Palestine (2005). He writes a weekly article for the Palestinian Ayyam newspaper. Abu Saif edited, and contributed a story to, The Book of Gaza - an anthology of short stories by Palestinian writers published last summer by Comma Press. His account of the 2014 Gaza War The Drone Eats With Me: Diaries From a City Under Fire, with a foreword by Noam Chomsky, is forthcoming from Comma. His acclaimed dispatches during that war appeared in international publications including the New York Times, The Sunday Times and Guernica. 

A Suspended Life

A Suspended Life is set in a 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, this leads to a clash between the residents and the police. 

Jana Elhassan is a Lebanese novelist and journalist, born in 1985. She has worked in journalism and translation since 2009 and has published literary texts and short stories in a number of cultural periodicals. Her first novel, Forbidden Desires, was published in 2009 and won the Simon Hayek Prize in Batroun, northern Lebanon. Her novel Me, She and the Other Women was shortlisted for IPAF 2013. 

Floor 99

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. 

 Lina Huyan Elhassan

Lina Huyan Elhassan is a Syrian novelist, born in 1975. She obtained a Diploma in Advanced Philosophy Studies from the Damascus University. She currently lives in Lebanon and has worked as a journalist since 2003. She has published nine works of fiction and non-fiction, including novels, poetry and studies of the Syrian desert. She took part in the 2010 nadwa - writers' residential workshop - hosted by IPAF. 

Diamonds and Women
Diamonds and Women describes 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. 

Shukri al-Mabkhout

Shukri al-Mabkhout was born in Tunis in 1962. He holds a state doctorate in Literature from the Arts College of Manouba, Tunisia, and is head of the Manouba University. He is on the editorial board of several refereed journals, including the magazine published by the Institute of Arabic Literature in Tunis (Ibla) and Romano Arabica published by The Centre for Arab Studies in Bucharest, Romania. He is the author of several works of literary criticism. 

The Italian

The Italian is al-Mabkhout's first novel. At its heart  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. 

Ahmed al-Madeeni

Ahmed al-Madeeni is a Moroccan writer, born in 1947. He studied at the University of Morocco, the University of Paris 8, and the Sorbonne, where he gained his doctorate. He has published a number of novels and short story collections as well as works of literary criticism. His complete works were published in five volumes by the Moroccan Ministry of Culture in 2014. He won the Moroccan Prize for Literary Criticism in 2006 and the Moroccan Prize for the short story in 2009. He holds an academic post in higher education. 

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. 

Hammour Ziada

Hammour Ziada is a Sudanese writer and journalist, born in Khartoum in 1977. He has worked for charitable and civil society organisations, and as a journalist for a number of Sudanese newspapers, including Al-Mustaqilla, Ajras al-Horriya, and Al-Jarida. He was Chief Editor of the cultural section of the Sudanese Al-Akhbar paper. He is the author of several works of fiction: A Life Story from Omdurman (short stories, 2008), Al-Kunj (a novel, 2010), Sleeping at the Foot of the Mountain (short stories, 2014). His second novel, The Longing of the Dervish (2014), now shortlisted for IPAF 2015, won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2014.

The Longing of the Dervish

The Longing of the Dervish, set in 19th century Sudan during the collapse of the theocratic state, 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. 

IPAF 2015 Judging Panel 

Mourid Barghouti (Chair) is an award-winning Palestinian poet and writer. He has produced 12 volumes of poetic works, the first published in 1972 and the last in 2005. His poetry has been translated into many other languages and won him the Palestine Award for Poetry in 2000. He is also the author of two novels: I Saw Ramallah (2003) and I Was Born There, I Was Born Here (2011). I Saw Ramallah won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal in 1997 and was translated into several languages, including English, with an introduction written by Edward Said. He has written articles of literary criticism on poetry and prose and delivered lectures on Arabic literature at several Arab and international universities. 

Dr Ayman El-Desouky

Ayman A. El-Desouky is an Egyptian academic and the Founding Chair of the Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies (CCLPS, 2009-2012) at SOAS, University of London, where he has been lecturing on Modern Arabic and Comparative Literature since 2002. He is also co-founder of a pioneering programme in Global English Literary Studies (launched 2014). Dr El-Desouky has lectured on World Literature and American Literature at the University of Texas at Austin (1993-1995), on Arabic Language and Literature at Baltimore  Johns Hopkins University (1995-1996), where he founded a new programme in Arabic Language and Literature, and at Harvard University (1996-2002). He is a member of the Modern Language Association (MLA), the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA), the Middle Eastern Studies Association of North America (MESA) and the British Comparative Literature Association (BCLA). He has lectured widely on hermeneutics, comparative literature and literary theory in Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East. His most recent publications include: The Intellectual and the People in Egyptian Literature and Culture: Amara and the 2011 Revolution (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014); Between Hermeneutic Provenance and Textuality: The Qur'an and the Question of Method in Approaches to World Literature, Journal of Qur'anic Studies, 16.3 (2014); and Heterologies of Revolutionary Action: On Historical Consciousness and the Sacred in Mahfouz's Children of the Alley, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 47.4 (September 2011). He is currently preparing a long monograph on Figuring the Sacred in the Modern Arabic Novel for Edinburgh University Press. 

Parween Habib

Parween Habib is a Bahraini poet, critic and media expert. She has overseen specialist training for Dubai Media Incorporated and helped to launch highly successful cultural dialogue programmes, the first of their kind in the Gulf. In 2011, she won the Dynamic Women Prize awarded by The George Washington University, the first international prize to be given to successful and inspiring women from around the globe. Her story was studied by students of the university on one of the world's largest online networks. She is the author of two critical works and three poetry collections and her poetry has been translated into seven languages. 

Habib obtained an MA (with distinction) in Literary Criticism, focusing on the poetic style of Nizar Qabbani, from Ain Shams University, Cairo, and a PhD (with distinction) in Literary Criticism: a study of the language of women's poetry in the Gulf (1975-2004), from the Arab League University, Egypt. Her book on Techniques of Expression in the Poetry of Nizar Qabbani is part of the Arabic language curriculum at secondary school level in Bahrain. Habib is a member of the committee for modernising methods of teaching the Arabic language, an initiative of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. She writes a weekly article for Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper and a monthly article for the Dubai Cultural magazine. She has conducted televised interviews with 500 Arab novelists, poets and thinkers. Her poetry collections include: Your Scared Masculinity, my Paper Childhood (2001), I Gave the Mirror my Back (2009), The Butterfly (2012), and a book of prose entitled: Lace/Less than the Desert (2010). 

Najim A. Kadhim is an Iraqi critic and academic, born in Iraq in 1951. He obtained his PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Exeter (UK) in 1984. He has since taught there as a visiting lecturer, and has also taught at universities in Iraq, Libya, Jordan and Oman. He currently teaches Critical Theory, Modern Literature and Comparative Literature at the University of Baghdad's College of Arts. His special area of interest is 'The Other in modern Arabic literature'. 

Among his published works are: The Problem of Dialogue in the Arabic Novel (2004), winner of the 2003 Rashid Bin Humaid Award in the UAE; The Other in Modern Arabic Poetry (2010), winner of the 2010 YBA Kanoo Award in Bahrain; Icons of Delusion: the Arab Critic and Problematics of Modern Criticism (2011), longlisted for the 2014 Sheikh Zayed Book Award; Us and the Other in the Contemporary Arabic Novel (2013), winner of the 2014 Arab Creativity Award given by the Arab Thought Foundation in Lebanon; Encyclopedia of the Iraqi Novel 1919-2014 (2015). 

Kaoru Yamamoto is a Japanese academic, translator and researcher. Having received her PhD in Literature from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, she lectures in Arabic language, literature and culture at several Japanese universities. She has published many articles on both classical and modern Arabic literature, and has translated many works, including those of Emile Habiby, Rashid al-Daif and Abdul Rahman al-Abnudi, into Japanese. She was previously a research associate of the Research and Educational Project for Middle East and Islamic Studies at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Here she took charge of the translation team, which focuses on Arabic daily papers, and published a textbook on the translation of Media Arabic into Japanese.  

Previous IPAF winners

Delivering on its aim to increase the international reach of Arabic fiction, the Prize has guaranteed English translations for all of its winners: 2008 - Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher (Egypt); 2009 - Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan (Egypt); 2010 - Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles by Abdo Khal (Saudi Arabia); 2011 - The Arch and the Butterfly by Mohammed Achaari (Morocco) and The Doves' Necklace by Raja Alem (Saudi Arabia); 2012 - The Druze of Belgrade by Rabee Jaber (Lebanon); 2013 -  The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi (Kuwait); 2014 - Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (Iraq).

Taher's Sunset Oasis was translated into English by Sceptre (an imprint of Hodder and Stoughton) 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, while 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) and Youssef Ziedan's Azazeel (Azazel) by Madrid-based publisher Turner. More recently, English translations of Abdo Khal and Mohammed Achaari's winning novels appeared on bookshop shelves in 2014, published by the Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation. 

Saud Alsanousi's The Bamboo Stalk (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, June) will be published in the UK in April 2015. Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi has recently secured English publication with Oneworld in the UK and Penguin Books in the US. It is set to be published in Autumn 2016, translated into English by Jonathan Wright.