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Algerian Novelist Abdelouahab Aissaoui wins 2020 Arabic Booker

Mohamed Saad, Tuesday 14 Apr 2020
Sparta Court
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The Internarional Prize for Arabic Fiction, known as the Arabic Booker, has announced Algerian novelist Abdelouahab Aissaoui the winner of the 2020 prize for his novel Al-Diwan Al-Isparti (The Spartan Court) published by Dar Mim.

In addition to winning USD $50,000, funding will be provided for the English translation of The Spartan Court, and Abdelouahab Aissaoui.

Muhsin al-Musawi, Chair of the 2020 Judging Panel, said in a press release: ”The Spartan Court stands out for its stylistic brilliance. It is polyphonic – with multiple voices telling the story. Readers gain a multi-layered insight into the historical occupation of Algeria and, from this, the conflicts of the entire Mediterranean region, with characters embodying different interests and intersecting visions. The novel invites the reader to gain a greater understanding of life under occupation and the different forms of resistance that grow against it. With its deep, historical narrative structure, the novel does not live in the past, but rather it challenges the reader to question present reality.”

Professor Yasir Suleiman CBE, Chair of the Board of Trustees, sayid “The Spartan Court is a captivating tale, a tale of many voices, truths and falsehoods. It goes back in history to excavate the past and permeate the present with intertwined narratives that keep the reader glued to its enchanting characters and their tortuous fortunes. Its many bittersweet vignettes, and their rootedness in place and time draw the reader to worlds with myriad tones of colour, sound and smell. Abdelouahab Aissaoui has given us a work to celebrate and remember during these anguished times. For this we are grateful to him.”

The Spartan Court follows the interconnected lives of five characters in Algiers from 1815 to 1833. The first, Dupond, is a French journalist covering the colonial campaign against Algeria, and the second, Caviard, is a former soldier in Napoleon’s army who finds himself a prisoner in the city and later becomes a planner for the campaign. The other three Algerian characters have different attitudes to the Ottoman and French colonial powers. Ibn Mayyar thinks that politics is a means of building relationships with the Ottomans and even the French, whilst Hamma al-Sallaoui believes that revolution is the only means of achieving change. The fifth character, Douja, is suspended somewhere between all these: she witnesses the transformation of Algiers helplessly and is forced to become a part of it, for one must live according to the city’s rules, or leave.

Abdelouahab Aissaoui is an Algerian novelist, born in Djelfa, Algeria, in 1985. He graduated in Electromechanical Engineering from Zayan Ashour University in Djelfa and works as a maintenance engineer. In 2012, his first novel, Jacob's Cinema, came first in the novel category of the President of the Republic Prize. He won the Assia Djebar Prize, widely regarded as the most important prize for the novel in Algeria, for his second novel, Mountain of Death (2015), which tells the story of Spanish communists imprisoned in North African camps after losing the Spanish Civil War. In 2016, he took part in the IPAF “Nadwa” (creative writing workshop for talented young writers). His third novel Circles and Doors (2017) won the 2017 Kuwaiti Suad al-Sabah Novel Prize, and also in 2017, he won the Katara Novel Prize in the unpublished novel category, for Testament of the Deeds of the Forgotten Ones.  

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