Palestinian writer, Rabai Al-Madhoun, was announced as the winner of the International prize for Arabic Fiction known as the Arabic Booker for his novel Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba.
The announcement took place in an Abu Dhabi Hotel by this year’s Chair of Judges Emirati poet and academic Amina Thiban at a ceremony in Abu Dhabi. In addition to winning $50,000, Rabai al-Madhoun is guaranteed an English translation of his novel, as well as an increase in book sales and international recognition.
The winning novel, Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba, was published by Maktabat Kul Shee (Haifa, Palestine).
Al-Madhoun’s family emigrated from Ashkelon, Palestine – now occupied by Israel – to the Gaza strip after the 1948 nakba exodus. Leaving Gaza to attend Alexandria University, he later became involved with the Palestinian liberation struggle as a member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
He left activism in 1980 to focus on writing and has written a number of works of fiction and non-fiction. This is the 70-year-old author’s third novel.
His 2010 novel, The Lady from Tel Aviv, was shortlisted for the 2010 International Prize for Arabic Fiction. It was subsequently published in English by Telegram Books in 2013 and won the English PEN Writers in Translation award that year.
The 2016 judging panel for this year, which was revealed on 9 February, are Amina Thiban (Chair), an Emirati poet and academic specialising in literature; Sayyed Mahmoud, an Egyptian journalist and poet, who is currently editor of Al-Qahira newspaper; Mohammed Mechbal, a Moroccan academic and critic; Munir Mujić, a Bosnian academic, translator, and researcher; and Abdo Wazen, a Lebanese poet, critic and editor-in-chief of the cultural pages of Al-Hayat newspaper.
The judging panel said in its reasoning for awarding Madhoun's novel the prize “In Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba, Rabai al-Madhoun invents a new fictional form in order to address the Palestinian issue, with questions of identity underpinned by a very human perspective on the struggle. This tragic, polyphonic novel borrows the symbol of the concerto, with its different movements, to represent the multiplicity of destinies. Destinies can be considered the complete Palestinian novel, travelling back to a time before the nakba in order to throw light on current difficulties faced by the Palestinian diaspora and the sense of displacement felt by those left behind.”
Former IPAF judge and leading Arab critic, Faisal Darraj, has likened the novel to works by Palestinian literary giants Ghassan Kanafani, Emile Habibi and Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, saying “Destinies has added to all these a fresh dimension that the Palestinian novel has not seen before. It has laid a foundation for new innovation in Palestinian writing”. He praised al-Madhoun’s ability to capture “the eloquence of longing”. (Al-Ghad newspaper.)
In another article in Al Qahira newspaper, al-Madhoun is quoted saying “I believe that co-existence is the only way to find an end to the bloody and painful struggle of the last 100 years. I don’t think it will happen in my generation, but it will happen one day.”
The five other shortlisted finalists Egyptian Mohamed Rabie, Moroccan Tareq Bakari, Palestinian Mahmoud Shukair, Syrian Shahla Ujayli, and Lebanese George Yaraq were honoured at the ceremony alongside the winner; each of the finalists, including the winner, receives $10,000.
The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is an annual literary prize for prose fiction in Arabic. It is run with the support of the Booker Prize Foundation in London and is funded by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) in the UAE.