Six novels have been shortlisted for the Arabic Booker 2014 prize. The shortlist was announced 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 Blue Elephant by Ahmed Mourad
After five years of self-imposed isolation, Doctor Yahya returns to work at the Abbasiya Psychiatric Hospital in Cairo, where there is a surprise in store for him. In ‘West 8’, the department in charge of determining the mental health of patients who have committed crimes, he meets an old friend who reminds him of a past he is desperately trying to forget. Suddenly finding his friend's fate in his hands, Yahya's life is turned upside down, with one shocking turn of events following another. What begins as an attempt to find out the true mental condition of his friend becomes an enthralling journey to discover himself, or what is left of him.
Ahmed Mourad is an Egyptian writer, born in Cairo in 1978. He studied cinematography at the Higher Institute for Cinema in Cairo, graduating in 2001. His graduation films The Wanderers, Three Papers, and On the Seventh Day won prizes for short film at festivals in the UK, France and Ukraine. His first novel, Vertigo, appeared in 2007, before being translated into English, Italian and French and made into a television series broadcast in Ramadan 2012. In 2010, Mourad published his second novel Diamond Dust, which was translated into Italian, followed by The Blue Elephant, in October 2012.
No Knives in this City's Kitchens by Khaled Khalifa
No Knives in this City's Kitchens is a profound exploration of the mechanics of fear and disintegration over half a century. Through the story of one Syrian family, it depicts a society living under tyranny with stifled aspirations. The family realise that all their dreams have died and turned into rubble, just as the corpse of their mother has become waste material they must dispose of in order to continue living. Written with shocking perception and exquisite language, from the very beginning this novel makes its readers ask fundamental questions and shows how regimes can destroy Arab societies, plundering lives and wrecking dreams. Khaled Khalifa writes about everything which is taboo in Arab life, with a particular focus on Syria. No Knives in this City's Kitchens is a novel about grief, fear and the death of humanity.
Khaled Khalifa was born in Aleppo, Syria, in 1964 and holds a BA in Law from Aleppo University. He has written many successful screenplays for TV series, as well as for the cinema. He is also a regular contributor to a number of Arabic newspapers. His third novel, In Praise of Hatred (2006), was shortlisted for IPAF in 2008, longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2013 and has been translated into several languages
A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me by Youssef Fadel
Aziz is a pilot at the air force base who loves flying and forgets his cares when he is up in the air. It is flying that he thinks of on his wedding night, rather his 16 year-old bride, Zina, waiting in the adjoining room. The following morning, he leaves his house at the crack of dawn, not to return for 18 years. His wife, Zina, looks for him everywhere - in prisons, offices, cities and forests – asking questions and following false leads, only to be disappointed. However, one day – in the bar where she and her sister Khatima work – a stranger presses a scrap of paper into her pocket. It takes her on one last journey in search of her husband: to the Kasbah of al-Glaoui in southern Morocco, where Aziz crouches in a prison cell, having lost hope of ever being found. A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me is a fictional testament to the terrible period of Moroccan history known as 'the years of cinders and lead'.
Youssef Fadel is a novelist, playwright and screenwriter, born in Casablanca, Morocco, in 1949. During the so-called ‘Years of Lead’ in Morocco, he was imprisoned in the notorious Moulay al-Sheriff prison (1974-75). He has published a number of plays and novels. His first play,The Barber in the Poor District, was made into a film directed by Mohamed al-Rakab in 1982. His novel Hashish (2000) won the Grand Atlas Prize, organised by the Embassy of France in Morocco, in 2001. A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me (2013) is his ninth novel
The Journeys of 'Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya by Abdelrahim Lahbibi
A researcher stumbles across a manuscript and attempts to edit it, to make it into a doctoral thesis. Entitled The Journeys of 'Abdi, the manuscript is an account of one man’s journeys from Morocco to the Hijaz in Saudi Arabia in search of knowledge, written in the manner of Moroccan intellectuals such as Ibn Khaldun. ’Abdi’s journey turns into an examination of Arabic and Muslim society, with ’Abdi emphasising the need for Arabs to learn from Europe in order to achieve social progress. Split into two, The Journeys of 'Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya follows both ’Abdi’s search for knowledge as well as the narrator’s attempts to edit his manuscript
Abdelrahim Lahbibi is a Moroccan novelist, born in Safi, Morocco in 1950. He left Safi for Fez in 1967, where he obtained a BA in Arabic Language from the College of Arts and Human Sciences in 1970. He worked as a teacher of Arabic language and literature in secondary education from 197o-1982 and as a school inspector and curriculum co-ordinator from 1984 onwards. He has published three novels: Bread, Hashsish and Fish (2008),The Best of Luck (2010) and The Journeys of 'Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya (2013).
Tashari by Inaam Kachachi
Tashari deals with the tragedy of Iraqi displacement of the past few decades, through the life story of a female doctor working in the countryside in southern Iraq in the 1950s. The narrative also follows her three children, who now live in three different continents, particularly her eldest daughter who has also become a doctor and works in a remote region of Canada. The title of the novel, ‘Tashari’, is an Iraqi word referring to a shot from a hunting rifle which is scattered in several directions. Iraqis use it as a symbol of loss and being dispersed across the globe. As a way of combating the dispersal of his own family, one of the characters, Alexander, constructs a virtual graveyard online, where he buries the family dead and allots to each person scattered across the globe his/her own personal plot.
Inaam Kachachi was born in Baghdad in 1952, and studied journalism at Baghdad University, working in Iraqi press and radio before moving to Paris to complete a PhD at the Sorbonne. She is currently the Paris correspondent for London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat and Kol Al-Usra magazine in Sharjah, UAE. Kachachi has published a biography, Lorna, about the British journalist Lorna Hales, who was married to the famous pioneering Iraqi sculptor Jawad Salim and a book in French about Iraqi women's literature produced in times of war. She produced and directed a documentary about Naziha Al Dulaimi, the first woman to become minister of an Arab country, in 1959. Her first novel Heart Springs appeared in 2005 and her second novel The American Granddaughter, was shortlisted for IPAF in 2009. An English translation of the novel was published by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing.
Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi
Hadi al-Attag lives in the populous al-Bataween district of Baghdad. In the Spring of 2005, he takes the body parts of those killed in explosions and sews them together to create a new body. When a displaced soul enters the body, a new being comes to life. Hadi call it ‘the-what's-its-name’; the authorities name it ‘Criminal X’ and others refer to it as ‘Frankenstein’. Frankenstein begins a campaign of revenge against those who killed it, or killed the parts constituting its body. As well as following Frankenstein’s story, Frankenstein in Baghdad follows a number of connected characters, such as General Surur Majid of the Department of Investigation, who is responsible for pursuing the mysterious criminal and Mahmoud al-Sawadi, a young journalist who gets the chance to interview Frankenstein. Frankenstein in Baghdad offers a panoramic view of a city where people live in fear of the unknown, unable to act in solidarity, haunted by the unknown identity of the criminal who targets them all.
Ahmed Saadawi is an Iraqi novelist, poet and screenwriter, born in 1973 in Baghdad, where he works as a documentary film maker. He is the author of a volume of poetry, Anniversary of Bad Songs (2000) and three novels, The Beautiful Country (2004), Indeed He Dreams or Plays or Dies (2008) and Frankenstein in Baghdad (2013). He has won several prizes and in 2010 was selected for the Beirut39, as one of the 39 best Arab authors below the age of 40.