Saudi writer wins this year's 'Arabic Booker' literature prize

Saudi writer wins this year's 'Arabic Booker' literature prize
Mohammed Hasan Alwan became the third Saudi to win the prestigious International Prize for Arabic Fiction with a story imagining the life of Islamic scholar Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi.
2 min read
26 April, 2017

A Saudi novelist has picked up one of the Arab world's most prestigious literary prizes, with the historical novel A Small Death which imagines the life of one of best known Muslim philosophers.

Mohammed Hasan Alwan became the third Saudi in a decade to win the International Prize for Arabic Fiction with his historical novel about the Muslim scholar Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi.

A Small Death chronicles the life of the Muslim scholar from his birth in Muslim Spain in the 12th century to his death in Damascus, and imagines the struggles he endured during his travels across the region.

"Of a sensitive and anxious nature, Muhyiddin struggles with inner turmoil throughout the course of his travels," an abstract on his website raid.

Alwan described the work as "90 percent fiction but "felt the pain while writing it".

"Ibn Arabi remains a controversial figure... but I believe that a reader of the novel would not disagree with the human side it portrays," he added.

Alwan, 38, is Saudi born and now based in Canada, where he studied for his PhD. 

It is the second time Alwan has been shortlisted for the $50,000 prize after his novel The Beaver made it to the last six in 2015. This year, Alwan competed with five other authors from Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon and Libya.

Alwan was chosen as one of the 39 best Arab authors aged under 40 by the Beirut39 project, and has five novels to his name.

The latest was awarded the "Arabic Booker" at a ceremony in Abu Dhabi, and Alwan believes that the three Saudis who have won the prize over the past ten year reflect the huge changes and dymanism in the kingdom.

"The culture and arts arena in Saudi Arabia has been rather active over the past 10 years," Alwan told AFP.

"The Saudi society is going through a phase of massive change. There is a young population facing various intellectual changes, which brings on many questions... When such questions are posed, novelists find their chance to repose them in a literary form."