The shortlist for the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), known as the Arabic Booker, was revealed on Monday in Amman, Jordan.
Highlights include Egypt's Ahmed Mourad, Syria's Khaled Khalifa, Iraqi authors Inaam Kashachi and Ahmed Saadawi, and Moroccan authors Youssef Fadel and Abdelrahim Lahbibi.
The announcement of the IPAF's judging panel also provided a big surprise, with news that it is being headed by Saudi Arabian academic and critic Saad A. Al-Bazei.
Both the shortlist and judging panel were revealed at a press conference held at the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation in Amman.
This year’s six novels are wide-ranging in both subject matter and style. They include: a prison novel from Morocco; a story about one family’s dispersal around the globe, from 1950s Iraq to the modern day; a police hunt for an Iraqi Frankenstein terrorising Baghdad; one man’s search for knowledge as he travels around North Africa and the Middle East; the grim reality of one family’s struggle to survive in present day Aleppo and a psychological thriller played out in a psychiatric hospital in Cairo.
Two formerly shortlisted novelists, Inaam Kachachi's The American Granddaughter from 2009 and Khaled Khalifa's In Praise of Hatred from 2008, appear on the list, as does a former participant of the IPAF's nadwa literary workshops for young authors, Iraqi writer Ahmed Saadawi.
The previously anonymous 2014 judges are: Saad A. Al-Bazei (Chair); Ahmed Alfaitouri, Libyan journalist, novelist and playwright; Zhor Gourram, Moroccan academic, critic and novelist; Abdullah Ibrahim, Iraqi academic and critic and Mehmet Hakki Suçin, a Turkish academic specialising in Arabic language instruction and the translation of Arabic literature into Turkish.
The six shortlisted titles were chosen from a longlist of 16, announced in January 2014. The novels were selected out of 156 entries from 18 countries, all of which have been published within the last 12 months.
The shortlisted novels are, in alphabetical order:
Saad Al-Bazei comments: "This year’s longlist was full of excellent books – a reflection of the overall quality of Arabic fiction published this year – so it was a real challenge to whittle the list down to just six. The shortlisted novels are varied in their narrative styles and language: from discovering virtual reality to the mingling of fantasy and reality, they also include classical language and multiple-narrative voices and demonstrate the Arabic novel's ability to flower despite the harsh realities of daily life."
Professor Yasir Suleiman, Chair of the Board of Trustees, comments: "This year's shortlist includes a rich selection of outstanding novels, in which subject, narrative style and atmosphere are dominated by current fragmented reality and human suffering. There are new voices in the list who are reaching this stage in the prize for the first time and more experienced ones who have been there before. Despite their differences, they all have in common humanitarian concerns and masterful storytelling, gripping and enthralling the reader."
The IPAF is awarded for prose fiction in Arabic. Each of the six shortlisted finalists receives $10,000, with a further $50,000 going to the winner. First launched in Abu Dhabi, UAE in April 2007, the IPAF is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by the TCA Abu Dhabi in the UAE.
The winner of 2014's IPAF will be announced at an awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi on 29 April 2014, on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. An English translation of the winning novel is guaranteed for the winner. To date, two of the winning novels have appeared in English (Sunset Oasis, Sceptre, and Azazeel, Atlantic Books); a further two (The Arch and the Butterfly and Throwing Sparks, both Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation) are due to be published this year.