Egyptian Youssef Ziedan makes shortlist of Arabic Booker

Mohammed Saad , Tuesday 4 Feb 2020

The shortlist for the IPAF’s 13th edition includes five male and one female authors, representing Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, and Algeria

Booker 2020 short list

Egyptian author Youssef Ziedan has made it to the shortlist of the 13th International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), known as the Arabic Booker, for his novel Fardeqan – the Detention of the Great Sheikh by published by Dar El-Shorouk.

The shortlist that was announced today, 4 February, also included The Spartan Court by Algerian Abdelouahab Aissaoui, The Russian Quarter by Syrian Khalil Alrez, The King of India by Lebanese Jabbour Douaihy, Firewood of Sarajevo by Algerian Said Khatibi, and The Tank by Iraqi Alia Mamdouh.

Each of the six shortlisted authors will receive $10,000, with the winner announced on 14 April receiving an additional $50,000. The books were revealed by the judging panel during a press conference held at the Water Museum in Marrakesh.

The shortlist for IPAF’s 13th edition includes five male and one female authors, ranging in age from 34 to 75 and representing five countries.

The shortlist features two authors who have been previously recognised by the International Prize for Arabic Fiction: Jabbour Douaihy (shortlisted for the inaugural IPAF in 2008 with June Rain and in 2012 with The Vagrant, and longlisted in 2015 with The American Quarter) and Youssef Ziedan (winner of the prize in 2009 with Azazeel). Shortlisted author Abdelouahab Aissaoui took part in an IPAF ‘Nadwa’ (creative writing workshop for talented young writers) in 2016.

Chair of the 2020 judging panel Muhsin Al-Musawi said in a press release by the IPAF, “The novels we have chosen include a superior collection of texts varied in style and subject matter. They have escaped the grip of traditionalism which often accompanies the writing of fiction. Nearly all of them are occupied with the oppressive effect of history, past and present, but they do not merely retell this history or current reality. Rather, they confront it in all its harshness to inspire in the reader questions about the destiny of the Arabic individual.”

This year’s six shortlisted novels, selected from a longlist of 16 and published in Arabic between July 2018 and June 2019, showcase the best of contemporary Arabic fiction.

Spartan Court follows the interconnected lives of five individuals and their differing experiences of colonialism in nineteenth century Algiers.

The Russian Quarter describes the daily existence of ordinary people living on the frontlines of war, based on the author’s experience of a Damascus neighbourhood.

The King of India recounts the story of a Lebanese murder case against the backdrop of sectarian animosity in the region.

Exploring the impact of exile and war, Firewood of Sarajevo follows two Algerian protagonists seeking a new life away from conflict in Slovenia.

The Tank details the architectural development of modern Baghdad, while also following its main protagonist in her new life in exile, with all its positives and negatives.

Fardeqan – the Detention of the Great Sheikh transports the reader back a thousand years to depict the life of Avicenna, the Muslim polymath whose work had a profound impact on world philosophy.

The shortlist was chosen by a panel of five judges chaired by Al-Musawi, an Iraqi literary critic and Professor of Classical and Modern Arabic Literature, Comparative and Cultural Studies at Columbia University.

Judging alongside Al-Musawi were Pierre Abi Saab, a Lebanese critic, journalist and co-founder of the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper; Reem Magued, an Egyptian broadcaster, television journalist and trainer in journalism and media; Amin Zaoui, an Algerian novelist who writes in both Arabic and French and a professor of Comparative Literature and Contemporary Thought at the Central University of Algiers; and Viktoria Zarytovskaya, a Russian academic, researcher and translator of numerous works of Arabic literature into Russian, including Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad, winner of the prize in 2014.

The winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2020 will be announced at a ceremony at the Ritz Carlton in Abu Dhabi on 14 April 2020, on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. Last year’s winner was The Night Mail by Hoda Barakat.


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