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VIDEO: Tunisian writer Shukri Mabkhout wins Arabic Booker 2015

Tunisian writer Shukri Mabkhout wins Arabic Booker 2015

Mohammed Saad , Wednesday 6 May 2015
Shukri Mabkhout
Tunisian writer Shukri Mabkhout wins Arabic Booker 2015 for his novel 'The Italian'
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Shukri Mabkhout - شكري المبخوت - International Prize For Arabic Fiction: 2015 Shortlist from IPAF on Vimeo.

Tunisian writer Shukri Mabkhout won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) for his novel The Italian.

The $50,000 prize was announced today, 6 May, in a press conference on the eve of the opening of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair in the United Arab Emirates.

The shortlist, announced on 13 February, included Palestinian novelist Atef Abu Saif, Lebanese writer Jana Elhassan, Syrian writer Lina Huyan Elhassan, Tunisia writer Shukri al-Mabkhout, Moroccan writer Ahmed al-Madeeni and Sudanese writer Hammour Ziada.

All shortlisted finalists receive $10,000.

This year's judges panel was headed by the award-winning Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti; Ayman A. El-Desouky, an Egyptian academic; Parween Habib, a Bahraini poet, critic, and media expert; Najim A. Kadhim, an Iraqi critic and academic; and Kaoru Yamamoto, a Japanese academic, translator and researcher.

The IPAF is an annual literary prize supported by the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by TCA Abu Dhabi in the UAE.

The prize was launched in Abu Dhabi in April 2007 with the aim of attracting more international attention for high quality Arab fiction. Both the winners and finalists can look forward to increased book sales both within the Arab world and internationally through translation.

Although the prize is often referred to as the Arabic Booker, the two prizes are not connected.

Delivering on its aim to increase the international reach of Arabic fiction, the prize has guaranteed English translations for all of its winners: Bahaa Taher (2008), Youssef Ziedan (2009), Abdo Khal (2010), joint winners Mohammed Achaari and Raja Alem (2011), Rabee Jaber (2012), Saud Alsanousi (2013) and Ahmed Saadawi (2014).

The Italian, published by Dar Tanweer Tunis, was selected from 180 entries from 15 countries across the Arab World.

Shukri Mabkhout
Pictures from the ceremony held in Abu Dhabi to announce the winner of the IPAF (Photos: Courtesy of the official Facebook page of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction)

The Winner, Shukri Mabkhout, will be granted $50,000 and guaranteed an English translation of his novel, as well as an expected increase in book sales and international recognition.

Mourid Barghouti, head of the judging panel, commented: "The whole of Shukri Mabkhout's debut novel is as astonishing as its first chapter: piquing the reader’s interest through a mysterious event in the opening scene, the book gradually reveals the troubled history of its characters and a particular period in Tunisia’s history. The hero, Abdel Nasser, is complex and multi-faceted and even the minor characters are convincing as we believe the logic of their actions.

Shukri Mabkhout
Pictures from the ceremony held in Abu Dhabi to announce the winner of the IPAF (Photos: Courtesy of the official Facebook page of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction)

"However, his most striking creation is that of Zina, Abdel Nasser’s wife: skilfully rendered as a blend of confidence and diffidence, harshness and love, strength and fragility. She is a highly individual character who, rather than being pre-conceived, clearly developed during the act of writing.

"The novel brilliantly depicts the unrest both of the small world of its characters and the larger one of the nation, as well as exploring themes of personal desire, the establishment, violation and opportunism. Whilst it lifts the lid on Tunisian society, the book may also surprise many of its Arab readers who may recognise aspects of their societies in its pages too. From the first line to the last, The Italian is a work of art and an important contribution to Tunisian, and Arab, literary fiction."

Shukri Mabkhout
Pictures from the ceremony held in Abu Dhabi to announce the winner of the IPAF (Photos: Courtesy of the official Facebook page of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction)

The Winner:

Shukri Mabkhout, was born in Tunis in 1962. He holds a state doctorate in Literature from the Arts College of Manouba, Tunisia, and is head of the Manouba University. He is on the editorial board of several refereed journals, including the magazine published by the Institute of Arabic Literature in Tunis (Ibla) and Romano Arabica published by The Centre for Arab Studies in Bucharest, Romania. He is the author of several works of literary criticism. The Italian is his first novel. 

Short Synopsis of the novel:

The Italian is Abdel Nasser (nicknamed 'the Italian') and his mysterious assault on the Imam, his neighbour, during his father’s funeral procession. The book’s narrator attempts to uncover the motivations behind the attack, re-constructing his friend Abdel Nasser’s troubled history from childhood. It looks at Abdel Nasser’s time as a left-wing student at the University of Tunis, during the final years of the Bourguiba era and the beginning of Ben Ali's, through to the period of radical changes that subsequently rocked Tunisian society, when the dreams of a generation were torn apart by the fierce struggle between the Islamists and the Left. The novel reveals the mechanisms of control and censorship exercised through the press as well as the fragility of human beings, their secret histories and buried wounds.

 

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