The six shortlisted novels for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, known as the Arabic Booker, were announced today, 21 February, including novels by Sudanese writer Amir Tag Elsir, Palestinian Jordanian writer Ibrahim Nasrallah, Saudi writer Aziz Mohammed, Iraqi writer Shahad Al-Rawi, Palestinian writer Walid Shurafa, and Syrian writer Dima Wannous.
Here are short biographies and synopses of the six novels as they appeared on the official site of the Arabic Booker:
Flowers in Flames by Amir Tag Elsir
Biography: Amir Tag Elsir was born in Sudan in 1960 and now works as a doctor in Qatar. At an early age he wrote poetry and in the 1980s began to write novels. He has published 24 books, comprising novels, biographies and poetry, including the novels The Dowry of Cries, The Copt’s Worries, The French Perfume (all 2009), and The Crawling of the Ants (2010). His novel The Grub Hunter (2010) was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2011 before being translated into English and Italian. His novel 366 (2013) was longlisted for the prize in 2014 and was among the winners of the 2015 Katara Prize for the Arabic Novel, while The Resort of the Enchantresses (2015) was longlisted for the 2017 Arabic Booker.
Synopsis: Khamila has inherited her Italian mother's beauty and her father's wealth. Nearly 20, she returns from Egypt, where she has been studying aesthetics, to her cosmopolitan home town Al-Sur. Suddenly, scrawling appears on a wall, carried out by a group calling themselves 'Remembrance and History', who declare war upon infidels and take over the town, slaughtering its inhabitants. The women become objects of pleasure for the princes of the religious revolution, flowers of many colours eaten by flames. An era has ended and a new one has begun. Khamila, whose name is now 'N'anaa'a, waits to be married off to one of the princes, perhaps even their leader: "the Pious One", himself.
The Critical Case of "K” by Aziz Mohammed
Biography: Aziz Mohammed was born in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, in 1987. He has written poetry and short stories, as well as film reviews for cultural magazines and specialist online websites. His first novel, The Critical Case of "K" was published in 2017.
Synopsis: After reading Kafka, "K" decides to write a diary too, but he is constantly frustrated by his limited abilities, boring life, and desire to protect his privacy. When he receives news that turns his life upside down, he is torn between a sense of devastation and a feeling that he has found the way out of his writing predicament.
The Second War of the Dog by Ibrahim Nasrallah
Biography: Ibrahim Nasrallah was born in 1954 to Palestinian parents who were uprooted from their land in 1948. He spent his childhood in the Alwehdat Palestinian Refugee Camp in Amman, Jordan, and began his working life as a teacher in Saudi Arabia. After returning to Amman, he worked as a journalist and for the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation. Since 2006, he has been a full-time writer and has published 14 poetry collections and 16 novels, including his epic fictional project of eight novels covering 250 years of modern Palestinian history. Four of his novels and a volume of poetry have been translated into English, including: Time of White Horses, which was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2009 and for the 2014 Middle East Monitor Prize for the Best Novel about Palestine; and Lanterns of the King of Galilee, longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2013. He has won eight literary prizes. He is also an artist and photographer and has had four solo exhibitions of his photography.
Synopsis: This novel exposes the ugly transformations of society and reality using the techniques of fantasy and science fiction. It focuses on the corrupt main character, who transforms from an opponent of the regime to an unscrupulous extremist, as it reveals the tendency towards savagery inherent in societies and human beings. Greed intensifies and human values are ignored, until everything is permissible, even the buying and selling of people's bodies and souls.
Baghdad Clock by Shahad Al-Rawi
Biography: Shahad Al-Rawi is an Iraqi writer, born in Baghdad in 1986. She completed secondary school in Baghdad before moving with her family to Syria, where she obtained an MA in administration. She is currently studying for a PhD in anthropology and administration and lives in Dubai. Baghdad Clock, her first novel, was published in 2016 and has been translated into English by Oneworld Publications, which owns the English rights to the book and is due to publish it this year.
Synopsis: 1991: Two young girls meet and become best friends in a Baghdad bomb shelter where they have taken refuge from Allied aerial attacks. They share their hopes and dreams, interwoven with fantasy and illusion. A stranger arrives from the mysterious future of the city bearing prophecies, causing families to flee the city en masse, leaving it empty. When a third girl joins them, the friends begin to write a secret history of their neighbourhood, to save it from oblivion. The novel follows the girls through childhood, adolescence and university, until the war and the fall of Baghdad, which triggers a new wave of departures from the capital.
Heir of the Tombstones by Walid Shurafa
Biography: Walid Shurafa is a Palestinian writer, born in Nablus in 1973. He teaches media and cultural studies at Birzeit University in Palestine and wrote his doctoral thesis on the discourse of Edward Said. He published his first play, entitled The People's Court, in 1991 while still in secondary school. He has two published novels: Coming from the Resurrection (2013) and Heir of the Gravestones (2017). His interests lie in visual culture and Orientalism.
Synopsis: From his prison cell on Mount Carmel, Palestinian Al-Wahid remembers his childhood during the June 1967 war, and how his father and grandfather were forcibly evicted from their village Ain Hawd, which the Israelis turned into an artists' village and renamed Ain Hood. Suleiman, the grandfather, builds a new house in Nablus which resembles the old one. When he dies, Al-Wahid returns from his university studies abroad and tries to visit the house in the village. However, the artist living there refuses him entry. He sits in a nearby cafe, and then discovers the old sign belonging to his grandfather's house in the toilet. When he removes it, he gets into a fight with the police and accidently kills one of them.
The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous
Biography: Dima Wannous is a Syrian writer, born in 1982. She studied French literature at Damascus University and the Sorbonne. Her short story collection Details was published in 2007 and was translated into German. Her first novel, Chair, was published in 2008. She has written for newspapers such as Al-Safir, Al-Hayat, The Washington Post and the online outlet Jadaliyya. In 2009, she was selected among the 39 most talented Arab writers under the age of 40 by the Beirut39 project. She currently works as a researcher and presenter of the "I'm From There" programme on the Syrian Orient TV channel based in Dubai. The Frightened Ones is currently being translated into English by Elisabeth Jaquette, due for publication in 2019.
Synopsis: Suleima feels anxious as she looks at the pile of papers sent to her by Naseem, a handsome man with bulging muscles. As she devours them, lingering on every word, she finds that she is reading an unfinished novel, or biography, about a woman dominated by fear, just like her. What did Naseem mean by it? Had he himself been overwhelmed by fear and unable to finish it, and did he now want her to write the ending?