Alnaas Wins the International Prize for Arabic Fiction

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Mohammed Alnaas, from Libya, has become the youngest writer to win the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

Mohammed Alnaas in the International Prize for Arabic Literature video sequence on its 2022 shortlist. Image: IPAF

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Youngest Winner of the Prize to Date
In a program this evening (May 22) here in Abu Dhabi, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF)) has announced that Libyan novelist Mohammed Alnaas has won the program’s 15th edition top honor for his book Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table, which is published by Rashm Publishing and Distribution.

At 31, Alnaas is the youngest author to win this coveted honor, and he’s the first winning author from Libya.

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, one of the most valuable aspects of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction is that it carries funding for an English translation, as well as paying a purse of $US50,000.

The shortlisted finalists each receive US$10,000.

Shukri Mabkhout

In providing a descriptive rationale for the jurors’ decision in favor of Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table, jury chair Shukri Mabkhout is quoted, saying that the book “is written in the form of confessions of personal experience.

“Its plethora  of detail is deftly unified by a gripping narrative. This offers a deep and meticulous critique  of prevailing concepts of masculinity and femininity and the division of work between men  and women, and the effect of these on both a psychological and social level.

“It falls into the  category of novels that question cultural norms about gender. However, it’s embedded in its local Arab context and steers away from any ideological treatment of the issues, as such a  treatment would be contrary to the way in which fiction can present multiple points of  view.”

Mohammed Alnaas

Alnaas is a journalist and short-story writer, a native of Libya.

He obtained a BA in electrical engineering from the University of Tripoli in 2014, and his short story collection “Blue Blood” was published in 2020. Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table (2021) was written in just six months during lockdown and while Tripoli was under bombardment.

The author has said that writing the book was his “refuge from insanity” amid the news of the still ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and war.

In tonight’s ceremony, a representative accepted the honor for Alnaas, who was not present. We’ll embed video of the program at the end of our report.

We repeat here for you the shortlist this year:

International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2022 Shortlist
The International

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction Stand at the 2022 Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. In this shot from May 23, the stand’s setup was just being completed. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

Author Title Country of Origin Publisher
Tarek Imam Cairo Maquette Egypt Al-Mutawassit
Reem al-Kamali Rose’s Diary United Arab Emirates Dar al-Adab
Bushra Khalfan Dilshad Oman Takween-Iraq
Mohsine Loukili The Prisoner of the Portuguese Morocco Dar Mim
Khaled Nasrallah The White Line of Night Kuwait Dar Al Saqi
Mohammed Alnaas Bread on the Table of Uncle Milad Libya Rashm

Mabkhout is accompanied on the jury by:

  • Libyan doctor, poet, and translator Ashur Etwebi
  • Lebanese writer and PEN International board member Iman Humaydan
  • Kuwaiti poet and critic Saadiah Mufarreh
  • Bulgarian academic and translator Baian Rayhanova

Some disambiguation about this award is in order. While often called “the Arabic Booker,” that phrasing is not endorsed by the prize, nor by the Booker Foundation. The two prizes “are completely separate, independent organizations,” according to the International Prize for Arabic Literature.

“The confusion has originated with the fact that the International Prize for Arabic Literature—which is currently sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre—was at one time “mentored” by the Booker program but no connection is in place between the two prize regimes.

The prize also has support from the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which opens Monday (May 23).

Here’s the video from tonight’s (May 22) awards ceremony in which a representative for Alnaas accepted his award.

Past winners in the program are:

  • 2008: Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher (Egypt)
  • 2009: Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan (Egypt)
  • 2010: Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles by Abdo Khal (Saudi Arabia)
  • 2011: The Arch and the Butterfly by Mohammed Achaari (Morocco) and The Doves’ Necklace by Raja Alem (Saudi Arabia)
  • 2012: The Druze of Belgrade by Rabee Jaber (Lebanon)
  • 2013: The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi (Kuwait)
  • 2014: Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (Iraq)
  • 2015: The Italian by Shukri Mabkhout (Tunisia)
  • 2016: Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba by Rabai al-Madhoun (Palestine)
  • 2017: A Small Death by Mohammed Hasan Alwan (Saudi Arabia)
  • 2018: The Second War of the Dog by Ibrahim Nasrallah (Palestine)
  • 2019: The Night Mail by Hoda Barakat (Lebanon)
  • 2020: The Spartan Court by Abdelouahab Aissaoui (Algeria)
  • 2021: Notebooks of the Bookseller by Jalal Barjas (Jordan)

This is Publishing Perspectives’ 95th awards report published in the 97 days since our 2022 operations began on January 3.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the International Prize for Arabic Fiction is here, and more on publishing and book prizes in general is here. More on translation is here, and more on Arabic in the publishing world is here.

Our special Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2022 Show Magazine is here for your free download (PDF).

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is here, and more on the United Arab Emirates’ market is here. More from us on book fairs and trade shows in world publishing is here. More on translation is here, and more on Arabic in the publishing world is here.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.