International Prize for Arabic Fiction announces 2015 shortlist

Each of the six shortlisted finalists receives $10,000

ABU DHABI - Atef Abu Saif, Jana Elhassan, Lina Huyan Elhassan, Shukri al-Mabkhout, Ahmed al-Madeeni and Hammour Ziada are today, Friday 13 February, announced as the six authors shortlisted for the 2015 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
Their names were revealed by a judging panel chaired by award-winning Palestinian poet and writer, Mourid Barghouti, at a press conference in Casablanca. The event 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).

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 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.

The previously anonymous 2015 judges are: Mourid Barghouti (Chair), an award-winning Palestinian poet and writer; Ayman A. El-Desouky, an Egyptian academic; Parween Habib, a Bahraini poet, critic, and media expert; Najim A. Kadhim, an Iraqi critic and academic; and Kaoru Yamamoto, a Japanese academic, translator and researcher.

The novels selected were chosen from 180 entries from 15 countries, all published within the last 12 months.

Mourid Barghouti, Chair of Judges, comments: ‘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, 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.’

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is awarded for prose fiction in Arabic and each of the six shortlisted finalists receives $10,000, with a further $50,000 going to the winner. It was launched in Abu Dhabi, UAE, in April 2007, and is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority in the UAE.

The winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2015 will be announced at an awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday 6 May, the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

Delivering on its aim to increase the international reach of Arabic fiction, the Prize has guaranteed English translations for all of its winners: Bahaa Taher (2008), Youssef Ziedan (2009), Abdo Khal (2010), joint winners Mohammed Achaari and Raja Alem (2011), Rabee Jaber (2012), Saud Alsanousi (2013) and Ahmed Saadawi (2014).

Taher’s Sunset Oasis was translated into English by Sceptre (an imprint of Hodder & 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 both 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.