The International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2010 shortlist
On December 15, the long list of 16 authors, taken from 115 eligible submissions from 17 Arab countries, was whittled down to just six books
Time Out Bahrain staff
A Cloudy Day on the West Side
Muhammad Al-Mansi Qindeel Dar Al-Shorouk, Cairo, 2009 In his novel A Cloudy Day on the West Side, Muhammad Al-Mansi Qindeel evokes the period of great archeological discovery and nationalist struggle in Egypt. The novel tells the story of a young girl taken from home by her mother when she is forced to flee her abusive husband. After changing her name and fastening a crucifix around her tiny arm, the mother leaves her daughter at a village in Asyut. The fate of the girl, who grows up to become a translator, intersects with that of a number of historical figures from the period, including Howard Carter, Lord Cromer and Abdulrahman al-Rifa’i. This thrilling tale is brought to life by the author’s detailed and vivid descriptions of real historical events and places. Egyptian novelist Muhammad Al-Mansi Qindeel was born in 1946 in the Egyptian delta city of al-Mahalla al-Kubra, where his father was employed. His first novel, Breaking of the Spirit, was inspired by events surrounding workers’ unrest in the city. A medical school graduate, he worked as a doctor in the countryside before dedicating himself to writing. He currently lives in Kuwait, where he works as an editor for monthly magazine Al-Arabi. He has won two awards for his writing, the State Incentive Award in 1988 and the Sawiris Foundation Award in 2006. He has published several novels, short story collections and children’s books and his most famous novel Moon over Samarkand has been published in English by the American University in Cairo Press.
Mansoura Ez Eldin Al-Ain Publishing, Egypt, 2009 In Beyond Paradise, Mansoura Ez Eldin engages with Egypt’s rural middle class through the character of Salma. The editor of a literary magazine, Salma is trying to dispose of her negative self-image by liberating herself from a past loaded with painful memories. The process encourages her to write a novel in which she tells her family history: a history of love, a history of the body, a history of movement across the social classes within her village, a history of madness, and a history of writing. Through this process Salma’s identity is split into two. On the one hand she observes and narrates in the present, whilst on the other she delves frantically into the hidden depths of her memory.
Egyptian novelist and journalist Mansoura Ez Eldin was born in Delta Egypt in 1976. She studied journalism at the Faculty of Media, Cairo University and has since published short stories in various newspapers and magazines: she published her first collection of short stories, Shaken Light, in 2001. This was followed by two novels, Maryam’s Maze in 2004 and Beyond Paradise in 2009. Her work has been translated into a number of languages, including an English translation of Maryam’s Maze by the American University in Cairo (AUC) Press. This year, she was selected for the Beirut39, as one of the 39 best Arab authors below the age of 40. She was also a participant of the inaugural nadwa (writers’ workshop) held by the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in Abu Dhabi in November 2009.
Rabee Jabir Al-Markaz al-Thaqafi al-Arabi (Arab Cultural Centre), Morocco and Lebanon, 2009 America evokes the story of the Syrians who left their homeland in the early twentieth century to try their luck in the young America. Spurred on by a sense of adventure and the desire to escape poverty, they made the epic journey. Leaving their homeland with only a few belongings, their journey takes in everything from their travels across mountains and plains, to their gradual integration into American society, later becoming citizens of America and fighting its wars. In particular, the novel focuses on the character of Marta, who travels alone to New York in search of her husband, with whom she has lost contact. America is a tribute to those who left Syria in search of a new life from those who remained behind.
Lebanese novelist and journalist Rabee Jabir was born in Beirut in 1972. He has been editor of Afaq, the weekly cultural supplement of Al-Hayat newspaper, since 2001. His first novel, Master of Darkness, won the Critics Choice Prize in 1992. He has since written 16 novels, including: Black Tea; The Last House; Yousif Al-Inglizi; The Journey of the Granadan (published in German in 2005) and Berytus: A City Beneath the Earth (published in French by Gallimard in 2009).
She Throws Sparks
Abdo Khal Al-Jamal Publications, Baghdad/Beirut, 2009 A painfully satirical novel, She Throws Sparks depicts the destructive impact that power and limitless wealth has on life and the environment. It captures the seductive powers of the palace and tells the agonising story of those who have become enslaved by it, drawn by its promise of glamour. She Throws Sparks exposes the inner world of the palace and of those who have chosen to become its puppets, from whom it has stolen everything.
Abdo Khal is a Saudi novelist born in al-Majanah, southern Saudi Arabia, in 1962. He studied political science at King Abdel Al Aziz University in Jeddah before starting writing in 1980. He is the author of several works, including: A Dialogue at the Gates of the Earth, There’s Nothing to be Happy About, and Cities Eating the Grass. Some of his works have been translated into English, French and German. In addition to his writing, he is a member of the board of directors of the Jeddah Literary Club and the editor-in-chief of the Ukaz newspaper, for which he writes a daily column.
The Lady from Tel Aviv
Raba’i Madhoun Arab Institute for Publishing and Studies, Beirut, 2009 In The Lady from Tel Aviv, Raba’i Madhoun tackles the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli issue, focusing on a pivotal time of anxiety and suspicion. The novel’s protagonists are Palestinian exile Walid Dahman, who is returning home to Gaza after many years in Europe, and Israeli Dana Ahuva, who happens to be sitting next to him on their flight into Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport. Their dialogue takes the reader into the far realms of memory, history. The Lady from Tel Aviv is a novel that, in its complexity, intricacy and ambiguity, avoids the dogma of ready-made ideology.
Palestinian writer Raba’i Madhoun was born in al-Majdal, Ashkelon, Israel, in 1945. Along with his parents, he was uprooted from his homeland during the 1948 Nakba exodus and as a consequence his childhood was spent in the Khan Younis Palestinian refugee camp situated in the Gaza Strip. He studied at Alexandria University, Egypt, and since 1973 has worked as a journalist. His written works include the short story collection, The Idiot of Khan Younis, an academic study, The Palestinian Intifada and his autobiography, The Taste of Separation. He currently works as an editor for Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper, which is published out of London, England.
When the Wolves Grow Old
Jamal Naji Ministry of Culture Publications, Amman, 2009 When the Wolves Grow Old reveals the secret lives of the social climbers who have travelled from Amman’s poor quarters to positions of wealth and power, providing an insight into the world of the city’s preachers, politicians and charitable institutions. The book is told by a succession of characters who narrate incidents and scenes that repeat, conflict and develop from one character to the next. However the protagonist, ‘Azmi al-Wajih, remains silent and shrouded in mystery throughout the novel: is he the only one of these wolves that does not grow old? When the Wolves Grow Old is a story of human frailty and the complex interaction between sex, religion and politics. Jamal Naji is a Jordanian writer of Palestinian descent, born in the ‘Aqbat Jaber refugee camp, Jericho (Ariha) in 1954. He began writing in 1975 and his published works include: The Road to Balharith, Time, The Remnants of the Last Storms, Life on the Edge of Death, The Night of the Feathers, What Happened Thursday and The Target. He was president of the Jordanian Writers Association during a critical period between 2001-2003 and is currently employed as the head of the Intelligentsia Centre for Research and Survey in Amman, Jordan. The shortlisted finalists for the prize will each receive $10,000, with the winner receiving an additional $50,000. The winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2010 will be announced at an awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday 2 March 2010, the first day of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.