Jordanian poet and novelist Jalal Barjas has won the 14th edition of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), also known as the Arabic Booker, for his novel Dafater El-Warraq (Notebooks of the Bookseller).
The novel, published by The Arabic Institute for Research and Publishing, was named as this year’s winner by Chair of Judges Chawki Bazih during a virtual awards ceremony.
In addition to being awarded $50,000, funding will be provided for the English translation of Notebooks of the Bookseller.
Bazih said in a statement: “Apart from its rich, refined language and tight, thrilling plot, this bold winning novel is distinguished by Jalal Barjas’ impressive ability to strip the masks from the face of tragic reality. The author presents us with the darkest portraits of homelessness and poverty, where meaning has been lost and hope torn up by the roots, turning life into a realm of nightmares. Despite this, the novel does not call for despair. Rather, through it, the author is saying that reaching the depths of pain is a necessary condition for finding new dreams and standing up once more with hope on firmer ground.”
Set in Jordan and Moscow between 1947 and 2019, Notebooks of the Bookseller tells the story of Ibrahim, a bookseller and voracious reader, who loses his shop and finds himself on the street.
Experiencing schizophrenia, he assumes the identities of the protagonists of the novels he loved in order to commit a series of crimes of burglary, theft and murder. He attempts suicide, before meeting the woman who will change his life. This story and others are told through a series of notebooks and multiple narrators whose paths sometimes collide. It is the painful, fragmented tale of marginalised people who are ignored or invisible to others, while a corrupt ruling class thrives. Against this background, the importance of the house is highlighted, as a symbol of the homeland.
Barjas’s novel audaciously tackles a difficult reality not just in Jordan but the Arab world as a whole.
Barjas is a Jordanian poet and novelist, born in 1970. He works in the field of aeronautical engineering. For many years, he wrote articles for Jordanian newspapers and headed several cultural organisations. He is currently head of the Jordanian Narrative Laboratory and presents a radio programme called House of the Novel. His published work includes two poetry collections, short stories, travel literature and novels. His short story The Earthquakes (2012) was winner of the Jordanian Rukus ibn Zaid Uzayzi Prize. His novel Guillotine of the Dreamer (2013) won the Jordanian Rifqa Doudin Prize for Narrative Creativity in 2014, and Snakes of Hell won the 2015 Katara Prize for the Arabic Novel, in the unpublished novel category, and was published by Katara in 2016. His third novel Women of the Five Senses (2017) was IPAF-longlisted in 2019.