Here is a synopsis of the six novels shortlisted for the Arabic Booker, which were revealed at a press conference in Morocco on 13 February, and a short biography of the six authors as released by the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
A Suspended Life by: Atef Abu Saif
A Suspended Life is set in the Gaza refugee camp. Naim runs the only print shop in the camp, where he prints posters of martyred members of the community. When he is shot and killed by the Army, the fallout from his death changes the lives of the community living a quiet life on the fringes of the camp, where Naim’s house sits on a small hill. The place has historical significance for the residents and, when the government plans to build a police station and mosque on the spot where Naim’s house stands, it leads to a clash between the residents and the police.
Atef Abu Saif a Palestinian writer. He was born in Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip in 1973, to a family originally from Jaffa. He holds a B.A. from Birzeit University, an M.A. from the University of Bradford (UK) and a PhD in Political and Social Sciences from the University of Florence, Italy. He teaches Political Science at the University of Al-Azhar, Gaza, and is Chief Editor of Siyasat magazine, published by the Public Policy Institute in Ramallah. He is the author of four novels: Shadows in the Memory (1997), The Tale of the Harvest Night (1999), Snowball (2000) and The Sour Grapes of Paradise (2003). He has also published two collections of short stories, three plays and a number of books of political science, including: Civil Society and the State: A Foundational Reading with Particular Reference to Palestine (2005). He writes a weekly article for the Palestinian Ayyam newspaper.
Floor 99 by: Jana Elhassan
The novel unfolds between the 1982 massacre at Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon and life in the city of New York in 2000. Majd is a young Palestinian man who bears a scar from the massacre. In present day New York, he falls in love with Hilda, a dancer, whose wealthy family from Mount Lebanon thrived on the power of the Christian right wing during the Lebanese civil war - who were directly linked to the massacre at Sabra and Shatila.
When Hilda decides to return to her village on Mount Lebanon to discover her roots, Majd is torn between mental images of the old enemy and his fear of losing her. He is forced to reflect on the painful events which took the life of his pregnant mother and turned his father, a teacher, into a rose-seller on the streets of Harlem. From his office on the 99th floor of a New York building, Majd's Palestinian identity seems ambiguous, especially given that he was born and has always lived in exile. The novel reflects on the power of love to cleanse hatred and brings the post-war Lebanese generation face-to-face with their ancestors.
Jana Elhassan is a Lebanese novelist and journalist, born in 1985. She has worked in journalism and translation since 2009 and has published literary texts and short stories in a number of cultural periodicals. Her first novel, Forbidden Desires, was published in 2009 and won the Simon Hayek Prize in Batroun, northern Lebanon. Her novel Me, She and the Other Women was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2013.
Diamonds and Women by: Lina Huyan Elhassan
The novel describes two generations of Arab exiles, revealing the secret, privileged world of Arab emigrants and showing their influence on their chosen cities of Paris, Sao Paolo and Damascus. The novel focuses particularly on Syrians living in Paris and Sao Paolo from the beginning of the 20th century to the 1970s and 1980s and the experiences of the heroine, Almaz, as she witnesses key points of Arab social and political history in the modern era.
Lina Huyan Elhassan is a Syrian novelist, born in 1975.She obtained a Diploma in Advanced Philosophy Studies from the Damascus University. She currently lives in Lebanon and has worked as a journalist since 2003. She has published nine works of fiction and non-fiction, including novels, poetry and studies of the Syrian desert. She took part in the 2010 nadwa hosted by the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
The Italian by: Shukri al-Mabkhout
At the heart of 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.
Shukri al-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.
Willow Alley by: Ahmed al-Madeeni
Willow Alley tells the story of a bustling, ancient Moroccan town which hides many secrets, where residents struggle to live in peace while at the mercy of a few arrogant and despotic individuals. Focusing on the struggle between the caretaker of a building under construction and a group of people clinging to their land in order to survive, the novel examines the individual’s right to exist in a country where lives are vulnerable to exploitation and the powerful thrive at the expense of the weak.
Ahmed al-Madeeni is a Moroccan writer, born in 1947. He studied at the University of Morocco, the University of Paris 8, and the Sorbonne, where he gained his doctorate. He has published a number of novels and short story collections as well as works of literary criticism. His complete works were published in five volumes by the Moroccan Ministry of Culture in 2014. He won the Moroccan Prize for Literary Criticism in 2006 and the Moroccan Prize for the short story in 2009. He holds an academic post in higher education.
The Longing of the Dervish by: Hammour Ziada
Set in 19th century Sudan during the collapse of the theocratic state, The Longing of the Dervish follows the story of Bakhi Mindeel, a former slave newly released from prison and seeking revenge for his imprisonment. His release coincides with the end of the Mahdist war – a British colonial war fought between Egypt and a section of Sudanese society seeking independence under their religious leader, Mahdi – when Mahdi and his followers are defeated and force to flee. The Longing of the Dervish examines the social conflict between white Christian and Islamic Sufi cultures in Sudan, exploring the concepts of love, religion, betrayal and political struggle.
Hammour Ziada is a Sudanese writer and journalist, born in Khartoum in 1977. He has worked for charitable and civil society organisations, and as a journalist for a number of Sudanese newspapers, including Al-Mustaqilla, Ajras al-Horriya, and Al-Jarida. He was Chief Editor of the cultural section of the Sudanese Al-Akhbar paper. He is the author of several works of fiction: A Life Story from Omdurman (short stories, 2008), Al-Kunj (a novel, 2010), Sleeping at the Foot of the Mountain (short stories, 2014). His second novel, The Longing of the Dervish (2014), won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2014 and is longlisted for the 2015 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.