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22 April 2024

Arabic fiction in the spotlight

By Rachel McArthur


Abu Dhabi and The Booker Foundation are hosting the Arab edition of the Man Booker Prize, as six authors from the Middle East compete for the inaugural International Prize for Arabic Fiction, which is being funded by the Emirates Foundation.


Each of the shortlisted authors will receive $10,000 (Dh36,700) in prize money and the winner, who will be announced on March 10 in the capital, will receive an additional $50,000. The Man Booker Prize, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, along with The Booker Foundation, provided guidance for the award.


Iraqi writer Samuel Shimon, chairman of the judging panel for the awards, announced the names of the shortlisted authors and their works at a recent press conference in London. These include Egypt’s Mekkaoui Said (Swan Song) and Baha Taher (Sunset Oasis), Lebanese authors May Menassa (Walking In The Dust) and Jabbour Douaihy (June Rain), Syrian writer Khaled Khalifa (In Praise of Hate) and Jordanian author Elias Farkoukh (The Land of Purgatory).


Jonathan Taylor, chairman of the Booker Foundation and the board of trustees of the Arabic prize, told Emirates Business: “The purpose of the prize is to secure recognition and reward for Arabic fiction. A further objective is to ensure translation and publication.”


Peter Clark, independent consultant and writer for the Middle East Cultural Advisory Services in the United Kingdom, and member of the board of trustees, adds: “Aiming to facilitate translation and publication of the best Arabic literature in major European languages will hopefully lead to regular exchanges between Arab and Western publishers and writers. We’re also encouraging more people to read in the Arab region.”


The International Prize for Arabic Fiction, which was launched in Abu Dhabi last April, is part of a boom in new literary awards emanating from the emirate. Last year, the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage launched the Sheikh Zayed Book Awards, presented in nine categories and worth Dh7 million.


“The foundation’s support for the prize – and the opportunities that it presents to spread Arab culture to new audiences – is based on the Abu Dhabi government’s efforts to make the UAE amongst the most prominent cultural centres in the world,” says Ahmed Ali Al Sayegh, Managing Director of the Emirates Foundation.


The Booker Foundation has been instrumental in developing several international literary awards, including the Russian Booker Prize in 1992, and the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2000.


“After establishing the Russian Booker and African Booker prizes, it made sense for the Middle East to be the next destination,” Clark concludes.


For more information about the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, visit www.arabicfiction.org


The Books


Swan Song

The book is a fictional account of Egyptian society


Sunset Oasis

The novel explores the existential crisis of a defeated man and how he deals with it


Walking in the Dust

Menassa writes about a Lebanon of the past, when the country was yet to be torn by war and politics


June Rain

The book presents the 1957 massacre of the Al  Semaani clan in Lebanon that killed 50 members


In Praise of Hate

A story of oppression under fundamentalist organisations


The Land of Purgatory

A novel/fictional autobiography of an Arab man in exile,