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Arab writers' shortlist out for prestigious literature award

Arab writers' shortlist announced for prestigious literature prize
3 min read
02 March, 2023
This year's International Prize for Arabic Fiction's shortlist, comprising six authors from across the Arab World, has been announced.
The International Prize for Arabic Fiction shortlist for 2023 has been announced [Ahed Izhiman/AFP via Getty]

The shortlist for the 16th International Prize for Arabic Fiction was announced on Wednesday with six authors from across the region selected for their "differing narrative styles" and "vital and timely themes". 

Each of the short-listed authors will receive $10,000, with the winner set to receive a further $50,000 when the number one novel is announced on Sunday, May 21.

The authors featured on the list are Najwa Binshatwan from Libya and Miral al-Tahawy from Egypt - who have both been shortlisted before - as well as Fatima Abdulhamid from Saudi Arabia, Al-Sadiq Haj Ahmed from Algeria, Azher Jirjees from Iraq and Zahran Alqasmi from Oman. 

"The shortlisted novels excavate the themes of marginality, alienation and dispersal in Arab life from different vantage points, interweaving them with nostalgia for the past in some cases, and the brutality of a failed political and social order in others," said Professor Yasir Suleiman, the Chair of the Board of Trustees. 

"Exhibiting the ethnic richness and cultural diversity of Arab social life, the novels unfold in equally varied settings that amplify this range," he added. 

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The 6 shortlisted novels

Fatima Abdulhamid's Highest Part of the Horizon juxtaposes the terror of death with the power of love and how the two intersect.

Drought by Al-Sadiq Haj Ahmed is set in the Sahara desert region between southern Algeria and northern Mali where the brittle and fragile existence of those surviving this drought-stricken landscape is threatened by famine and marred by tribalism.

Zahran Alqasmi is the writer of The Exile of the Water Diviner, which talks about the symbolism of water in collective folk memory.

Najwa Binshatwan, whose previous novel The Slave Yards was shortlisted in 2017, entered the competition this year with Concerto Qurina Eduardo, where the human struggle against injustice and despotism is depicted in the hellish world of the present in which all signs indicate humanity is headed for even worse.

Azher Jirjees' book The Stone of Happiness focused on the suffering of children and the vulnerable in the aftermath of war and sectarian violence. On a related theme, Days of the Shining Sun by Miral al-Tahawy speaks to the experience of migrants and refugees, the sense of upheaval, and the hardships faced by those from shattered countries who face new forms of violence in exile.

The winner of last year's prize went to Libyan author Mohamed Alnaas, for his first novel, Bread on Uncle Milad's Table which explored notions of masculinity in rural communities in Libya.

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is considered to be one of the most prestigious literary awards in the Arab world. 

It was launched in 2007 to encourage the recognition of high-quality Arab fiction, encourage budding writers across the Arab world, and increase the international readership of Arab authors through translation.