The International Prize for Arabic Fiction’s 2023 Longlist

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Nine nationalities are represented by the 16 longlisted books selected by the 2023 jury of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

One half the 2023 longlist for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction comprises, on the top row from left, ‘The Ages of Daniel in the City of Threads’; ‘The Highest Part of the Horizon’; ‘Drought’; and ‘The Exile of the Water Diviner.’ And on the lower row from left, ‘Concerto Qurina Eduardo’; ‘Ruler of the Two Fortresses’; ‘Bar Lialina’; and ‘The Melody of the Rabbit’

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

Achaari: ‘The Authors’ Writing Styles Are Incredibly Varied’
Writers longlisted for the 2023 International Prize for Arabic Fiction represent nine nations: Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.

Of the 16 authors on this year’s list, seven have previously been recognized by the program in the announcement made this morning (January 24, 9 a.m. GMT / 4 a.m. ET). Longlisted authors for this year are aged between 40 and 77.

Five jurors have selected the longlisted titles from an initial submission pool of 124 books. Those jurors for the 2023 cycle:

  • Moroccan writer and novelist, Mohammed Achaari, the panel’s chair
  • Egyptian novelist and academic Reem Bassiouney
  • Algerian novelist, researcher, and journalist Fadhila El Farouk
  • Swedish university professor and translator Tetz Rooke
  • Omani writer and academic Aziza al-Ta’i

Those honored on the longlist who have been previously recognized by the program are:

  • Ahmad Abdulatif, who was longlisted in 2018 for The Earthen Fortress
  • Najwa Binshatwan, who was shortlisted in 2017 for The Slave Yards
  • Lina Huyan Elhassan, who was shortlisted in 2015 for Diamonds and Women
  • Aisha Ibrahim, who was longlisted in 2020 for The War of the Gazelle)
  • Nasser Iraq, who was shortlisted in 2012 for The Unemployed
  • Azher Jerjis, who was longlisted in 2020 for Sleeping in the Cherry Field
  • Miral al-Tahawy, who was shortlisted in 2011 for Brooklyn Heights

Egyptian writers have a strong lead on this longlist, with five of its 16 titles being written by Egyptian authors.

International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2022 Longlist

The latter half of the 2023 longlist for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction comprises, on the top row from left, ‘My Name is Zayzafoune’; ‘The Box of Sand’; ‘The Antikkhana’; and ‘The Stone of Happiness.’ And on the lower row from left, ‘The Family House’; ‘Days of the Shining Sun’; ‘One Night is Enough’; and ‘They All Say I Love You’

Author Title Country of Origin Publisher
Ahmad Abdulatif The Ages of Daniel in the City of Threads Egypt Dar al-Ain
Fatima Abdulhamid The Highest Part of the Horizon Saudi Arabia Masciliana – UAE
Al-Sadiq Haj Ahmed Drought Algeria Dar Dwaya
Zahran Alqasmi The Exile of the Water Diviner Oman Rashm
Najwa Binshatwan Concerto Qurina Eduardo Libya Takween – Iraq
Lina Huyan Elhassan Ruler of the Two Fortresses Syria Dar al-Adab
Ahmed El-Fakharany Bar Lialina Egypt Dar al-Shorouk
Mohammed Harradi The Melody of the Rabbit Morocco Al-Mutawassit
Sausan Jamil Hasan My Name is Zayzafoune Syria Al-Rabie Publications
Aisha Ibrahim The Box of Sand Libya Al-Mutawassit
Nasser Iraq The Antikkhana Egypt Dar al-Shorouk
Azhar Jerjis The Stone of Happiness Iraq Dar Al-Rafidain – Lebanon
Rabia Raihane The Family House Morocco Dar al-Ain
Miral al-Tahawy Days of the Shining Sun Egypt Dar al-Ain
Qassem Tawfik One Night is Enough Jordan Alaan
May Telmissany They All Say I Love You Egypt Dar al-Shorouk
Dates and Commentary

Jurors joining Mohammed Achaari on the 2023 panel are, from left, Aziza al-Ta’i; Fahila El Farouk; Reem Bassiouney; and Tezt Rooke

It’s anticipated that the jury now will winnow down the 16-book longlist to a six-title shortlist to be announced on March 1 at an event held in the National Library of Kuwait.

The winner is to be named on May 21 in Abu Dhabi.

Mohammed Achaari

The jury chair, Mohammed Achaari, is quoted, saying, “The novels on this year’s longlist are marked by the large number of female Arab writers and a striking diversity in both subject matter and narrative style. While a preoccupation with current, newsworthy issues of the Arab world—in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Lebanon, Egypt and other countries—permeates a significant number of the books, others turn to the roots of these events in history, the state, society and culture.

“Several themes dominate the texts, including exile, childhood, the family, freedoms, and the relationships between regime and society. A number of longlisted novels deal with cultural heritage and legends, drawing on ancient sources to create worlds which express something of our real or imagined lives.

“Common themes aside, the authors’ writing styles are incredibly varied, ranging from journalistic research to a prevalence of folk tales and colloquialisms, some leaning towards the satirical and others deeply reflective and poetic in tone.”

Yasir Suleiman

And Yasir Suleiman, chair of the prize’s board of trustees, is quoted, saying, “The longlisted novels this year delve into aspects of the enduring themes of fracture and displacement we have witnessed in past submissions to the prize, as well as the devastating effect of conflict on the fabric of Arab societies.

“The search for an understanding of the present by mining the past to engage or visit these themes proves to be elusive, thus compounding the feelings of bewilderment, confusion and in some cases loss.

“However, the 2023 longlist stands out for the spectacular participation of women novelists and the pleasing appearance of diaspora writers, enhancing a trend that has gathered pace over the years.”

Translation Updates

In 2022, English publications of several novels recognized by the International Prize for Arabic Fiction included these volumes, and Publishing Perspectives has included translators’ credits where we are able to find them:

  • The Bird Tattoo by Dunya Mikhail (shortlisted 2021), published by the United States’ publishing house Pegasus Books in the States and in the United Kingdom
  • The King of India by Jabbour Doauihy in a translation by Paula Haydar (shortlisted 2020), and Tashari by Inaam Kachachi in a translation by Inaam Kachachi (shortlisted 2014, published as The Dispersal), both released by Interlink Books
  • The Russian Quarter by Khalil Alrez (shortlisted 2020) was recently awarded a PEN America literary translation grant
  • In 2023, anticipated translations include Mohammed Alnaas’ 2022 winning novel Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table, to be published by HarperVia
  • Rose’s Diary by Reem al-Kamali (shortlisted 2022) is to be published by ELF (Emirates Literature Festival Publishing)
  • File 42 by Abdelmajid Sebbata (shortlisted 2021) and Sleeping in the Cherry Field by Azhar Jerjis (longlisted 2020) are forthcoming from Banipal Books

Beyond English:

  • Longing for the Woman Next Door by Habib Selmi in a translation by Stephanie Dujols (shortlisted 2021) was published in French by Actes Sud
  • The Calamity of the Nobility by Amira Ghenim (shortlisted 2021) has been published in Italian by Edizione e/o
  • The Tank by Alia Mamdouh (shortlisted 2020) has been published in Spanish by Ediciones del Oriente y del Mediterraneo
  • No One Prayed Over Their Graves by Khaled Khalifa in a translation by Larissa Bender (longlisted 2020) has been published in German by Rowohlt Verlag

Additionally, three novels are due to appear in French in 2023:

  • The Spartan Court by Abdelouahab Aissaoui (winner 2020) will be published by Imtidad
  • The Outcast by Inaam Kachachi (shortlisted 2019) is forthcoming from Gallimard
  • The Gardens of Basra by Mansoura Ezeldin (longlisted 2021) is to be published by Actes Sud
Disambiguation: Not ‘the Arabic Booker’

For clarification, this award program sometimes is called “the Arabic Booker,” but it seems that the program’s organizers are ready to see the end of that misleading terminology.

While it was initially mentored by the Booker Prize Foundation in London, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction’s organizers stress on their site that the Arabic Booker phrase is “not instigated nor endorsed at all by the International Prize for Arabic Fiction or the Booker Prize Foundation, which are two completely separate, independent organizations.”

The program goes on to put it even more bluntly, writing that the International Prize for Arabic Fiction “is not in any way connected with the Booker Prize,” italics ours.

Currently, the US$50,000 International Prize for Arabic Fiction is sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, which under the direction of Dr. Ali Bin Tamim also produces the extensive Sheikh Zayed Book Award, with its 7-million-dirham purse (US$1.9 million), annually recognizing winning books in eight categories and a “Cultural Personality of the Year.”

Both awards programs make generous efforts in funding translation of Arabic content into other languages.

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.

Publishing Perspectives is the world media partner of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award.

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.