The shortlist for the Arabic Booker Prize was announced this morning at the Cairo Opera House, and it includes two books by Egyptian authors: Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge by Ezzedine Choukri Fishere, and The Unemployed by Nasser Iraq.
Other books which made the Booker shortlist include: The Vagrant, by Lebanese author Jabbour al-Douaihy; The Druze of Belgrade, by Lebanese journalist and author Rabee Jaber; Toy of Fire, by Algerian novelist Bashir Mufti; and The Women of Al-Basatin, by Tunisian author Habib Selmi.
Georges Tarabichi, head of the judging committee and a Syrian author himself, noted that the announcement of the 5th annual Arabic Booker coincided with the one year anniversary of the Arab Spring, and that the books selected offer some background to the coming revolutions.
"In these novels the authors show innovation in describing the social and historical variety of the Arab world, as well as premonitions of the current peoples’ movements, which is exhibited in the emphasis on corruption and tyranny formerly prevalent in the Arab world,” said Tarabichi.
The winning novel will be announced on Tuesday 27 March in Abu Dhabi, on the eve of the opening of Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.
The rest of the judging committee members include Lebanese journalist Moody Bitar, Egyptian activist and academic Hodda El-Sadda, Qatari academic Hoda El-Neimi and Spanish translator and researcher Gonazalo Fernandez.
The head of the Arabic and International Booker prizes, Jonathan Taylor, was also present at the announcement.
The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is awarded for prose fiction in Arabic. Each of the six shortlisted finalists will receive $10,000, with an additional $50,000 going to the winner. The competition was launched in Abu Dhabi in April 2007, and is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation and funded by the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy. Most unique about this prize is the translation of the winning novels, bringing attention to the finalists and encouraging international publishers. Over the years, some 20 books from the award selection have been translated by international publishing houses.
When asked why Youssef Zeidan's The Nabatean was excluded from the short list, Tarabichi explained that if it had been as good as Zeidan’s 2008 Booker Prize-winning novel Azazeel, he would have certainly considered it, since there's no rule against one author winning the award twice.
Zeidan, who attended the announcement this morning, replied that the book has already won the Booker among readers, since it's the only book that was reprinted seven times in this turbulent year, and that he knew about the nomination after the submission, and didn't want to withdraw it since it made the long list. "I would have withdrawn my work to leave space for others," he explained.
Lebanese journalist Moody Bitar commented on the frequent occurrence of typing and linguistic mistakes, blaming publishing houses for failing to proofread the books before publication.
Tarabichi added that the selection of novels is never related to geography, gender or any other guidelines other than the book being a novel. "It could even go to a novel about sex if it existed," Tarabichi added.