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10 December 2023

Arab women are region's new literary stars

The winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2011 will be announced in Abu Dhabi on March 14 (FILE)

By Miranda Smith

Seven women, including one Saudi Arabian, have made the longlist for next year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction, the largest in the history of the prestigious award.

While the award has only been running four years, this time around 29 per cent of works submitted were by female writers, as compared to 16 per cent in the previous round, the judges said on Thursday.

As might be expected from the Middle East, the region’s writers are dealing with religious extremism, political and social conflict and women’s struggles. So two books about fathers whose sons join Al-Qaeda are on the list, two others examine the struggles of the Arab expatriate in the West, while another touches upon the ordeal of inmates in the region’s American prisons.

The judging panel whittled down the longlist of 16 from a total of 123 entries, from 17 countries across the Arab world. They included for the first time this year, Afghanistan. The highest number of submissions came from Egypt. The number of submissions is up on the previous prize year, when 118 titles were entered from 17 countries.

Makkah-born, Jeddah-based Raja Alem, one of the most highly regarded writers in contemporary Arabic literature, was nominated for “The Dove’s Necklace”, while the Syrian author Fawaz Haddad, previously shortlisted for “The Unfaithful Translator”, has been nominated for his new book, “God’s Soldiers.” Other notables include Egypt’s Miral al-Tahawy and the much-feted Moroccan poet and philosopher Ben Salem Himmich.

The Chair of Judges commented on the longlist: “This year’s novels were thematically varied, covering the issues of religious extremism, political and social conflict, and women’s struggle to liberate themselves from the obstacles standing in the way of their personal growth and empowerment. We are delighted with the very high percentage of women who reached the longlist compared with previous years.”

The 2011 panel of judges will be announced in Doha on December 9, at the same time the 2011 shortlist is revealed.

Prize Administrator Joumana Haddad commented on the longlist: “The prize in its fourth year has become a critical conscience and a literary reference in all that relates to the modern Arabic novel, in both the Arab and Western worlds. The 2011 longlist is proof of that.”

2011 marks the fourth year of the prize, the first of its kind in the Arab world in its commitment to the independence, transparency and integrity of its selection process. Its aim is to celebrate the very best of contemporary Arabic fiction and encourage wider international readership of Arabic literature through translation.

To date, the three winners of the prize have been translated into English, in addition to a range of other languages including Bosnian, French, German, Norwegian and Indonesian. Bahaa Taher’s “Sunset Oasis” (2008) was translated into English by Sceptre (an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton) in 2009, Youssef Ziedan’s “Azazel” (2009) will be published in the UK by Atlantic Books in August 2011 and news of an English translation of Abdo Khal’s “Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles” (2010) will be announced shortly. In addition, a number of the shortlisted finalists have also secured translations, the most recent of which is an English translation of Inaam Kachachi’s “The American Granddaughter” through the Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation.

Jonathan Taylor, Chair of the Board of Trustees, commented: “The longlist for the fourth International Prize for Arabic Fiction is as varied, talented and powerful as ever and includes writers from seven Arabic countries, a high proportion being women.”

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 and the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy.

The winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2011 will be announced in Abu Dhabi on March 14, the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

The 2011 longlist is, with author names in alphabetical order:

- Mohammed Achaari, Morocco: “The Arch and The Butterfly”

- Rajal Alem, Saudi Arabia: “The Doves’ Necklace”

- Maqbul Moussa Al-Alawi, Saudi Arabia, “Turmoil in Jeddah”

- Khalid Al-Bari, Egypt: “An Oriental Dance”

- Fawaz Haddad, Syria: “God’s Soldiers”

- Maha Hassan, Syria: “Secret Rope”

- Renée Hayek, Lebanon: “A Short Life”

- Ben Salem Himmich, Morocco: “My Tormentor”

- Waciny Laredj, Algeria: “The Andalucian House”

- Razan Naim Al-Maghrabi, Libya: “Women of Wind”   

- Ali Al-Muqri, Yemen: “The Handsome Jew”

- Fatin Al-Murr, Lebanon: “Common Sins”

- Khairy Shalab, Egypt: “Istasia”

- Amir Taj, Sudan: “The Hunter of the Chrysalises”

- Miral Al-Tahawy, Egypt: “Brooklyn Heights”

- Ibtisam Ibrahim Teresa, Syria: “The Eye of the Sun”