The prize’s inaugural winner, Bahaa Taher is one of Egypt’s most exciting modern authors, and the winner of a slew of international literary prizes
Time Out Bahrain staff
Bahaa Taher Sunset Oasis The prize’s inaugural winner, Bahaa Taher is one of Egypt’s most exciting modern authors, and the winner of a slew of international literary prizes. Sunset Oasis, his sixth novel, is set in nineteenth century Egypt at the beginning of the British Occupation of the country. The protagonist, Mahmoud Abd El Zahir, is sent to govern the remote Egyptian oasis of Siwa in the late 1890s. The job is not as simple as it sounds: two of his predecessors were murdered. But having been accused of disloyalty to the current regime and its British overlords, he has little choice. Rather than stay behind in Cairo, his Irish wife Catherine insists on going too, hoping to reinvigorate their relationship.
Once at Siwa, Mahmoud finds himself not only fiercely resented but caught between two warring factions, while Catherine, with her Western ways and seemingly avaricious interest in the local archaeological sites, succeeds in alienating the entire community – all except for a beautiful young woman, herself an outcast, whose attempt at friendship spells the ultimate disaster.
In this fascinating novel, Bahaa Taher weaves together several voices to capture a society at war with itself and a marriage in trouble. At once a complex tale of love and an exploration of power, occupation and rebellion, Sunset Oasis tells of people struggling to free themselves from the grip of the past. It is a striking, haunting work by one of the Arab world’s most celebrated writers, and available in English.
Youssef Ziedan Beelzebub Born in Upper Egypt and bred in Alexandria, Youssef Ziedan is another of Egypt’s literary heavyweights. The director of the Manuscript Center and Museum affiliated to the Bibliotheca Alexandria, he is a university professor, a public lecturer, a columnist and a prolific author of more than 50 books.
Set in fifth century Upper Egypt, Alexandria and northern Syria, the novel unfolds during a critical point in Christian history. Focusing on the period following the Roman Empire’s adoption of the ‘new’ religion, it highlights the conflicts arising amongst the fathers of the c-hurch on the one hand, and between the ‘new’ believers and receding paganism on the other. It will be published in English by Atlantic Books early in 2010.
Prizes from further afield
The Man Booker Prize The father of all major international literary prizes, the Man Booker Prize started life in 1969, and has grown to become one of the world’s most influential prizes. The award is open to books written in English from the UK, Ireland and Commonwealth countries. The most recent winner was Hilary Mantel for her epic Wolf Hall.
Russian Booker Prize Inaugurated in 1992 and now the country’s top prize for literature, the Russian Booker Prize has thus far awarded 17 authors, few of which have made any real impact on the literary world at large. However, with Russian culture experiencing a post-communist revival, there’s every chance the country could produce writers in the vein of the literary superstars of pre-Bolshevik Russia.
Caine Prize For African Writing Known as the African Booker Prize, this prize is unique in the sense that it’s awarded for a short story as opposed to a novel. Founded in 2000, some of Africa’s biggest literary heavyweights have won, the most recent being E C Osondu for Waiting.
Man Asian Literary Prize There was a massive fanfare when the Man Asian Literary Prize got off the ground in 2007, with the Chinese winner of the inaugural event, Jiang Rong’s Wolf Totem, seeing massive sales in China, Europe and America. The winners since have not seen such a strong interest, but this is one of the awards to watch.
Man Booker International Prize A biennial literary award given by the London-based Booker Foundation to an author that has had the biggest impact in the world of literature, the inaugural winner in 2005 was Albanian writer Ismail Kadare. Since then Nigerian Chinua Achebe and Canadian Alice Munro have bagged the top prize.