International Prize for Arabic Fiction: The 2023 Shortlist

In News by Porter Anderson

The shortlist for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction comprises work from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.

Authors shortlisted for the 2023 International Prize for Arabic Fiction are, upper row from left, Fatima Abdulhamid, Al-Sadiq Haj Ahmed, and Zahran Alqasmi. On the lower row, from left, Najwa Binshatwan, Azhar Jirjis, and Miral al-Tahawy

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

Suleiman: ‘The Emergence of New Voices’
In the 2023 International Prize for Arabic Fiction—announced a bit later than expected this morning (March 1) in a digital presentation—two of the authors have been previously shortlisted.

Najwa Binshatwan (Concerto Qurina Eduardo) was shortlisted in 2017 for The Slave Yards, and Miral al-Tahawy (Days of the Shining Sun) was shortlisted in 2011 for Brooklyn Heights. Azher Jirjis (The Stone of Happiness) was longlisted in 2020 for Sleeping in the Cherry Field. Fatima Abdulhamid.

While nine international markets were represented in the longlist in January, six are heard from in this shortlist: Algeria, Egypt, Iraq,  Libya, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. 

The shortlist was announced in the program’s digital transmission by the jury chair, Mohammed Achaari of Morocco, accompanied by his fellow jurors:

  • 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

The winner of this 16th edition of the award is to be named in Abu Dhabi on May 21 in an event that organizers intend to stream.

International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2023 Shortlist

Shortlisted works in the 2023 International Prize for Arabic Fiction are, upper row from left, ‘The Highest Part of the Horizon’; ‘Drought’; and ‘The Exile of the Water Diviner.’ On the lower row from left are ‘Concerto Qurina Eduardo’; ‘The Stone of Happiness’; and ‘Days of the Shining Sun’

Author Title Country of Origin Publisher
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
Azhar Jirjis The Stone of Happiness Iraq Dar Al-Rafidain – Lebanon
Miral al-Tahawy Days of the Shining Sun Egypt Dar al-Ain
Achaari: ‘The Contemporary Arabic Novel’

In his statement of rationale on behalf of the jury, chair Mohammed Achaari is quoted, saying, “The scope of the 2023 shortlisted novels is vibrant and varied.

Mohammed Achaari

“The Stone of Happiness shines  a light on how children and the weak bear the burden of society disintegrating after war and sectarian struggles. The Exile of the Water Diviner focuses on water and its symbolism in the  collective memory. Days of the Shining Sun explores migration and upheaval, through people trapped between the hardships of their places of origin and the violence of their places of  exile. Concerto Qurina Eduardo is an intimate portrait of human struggle in the face of  injustice and political despotism, where the hell of the present seems only to signal a hellish future.

“The Highest Part of the Heavens charts the terrors of death, and of love, and their  constant intersections. Finally, Drought transports us to the world of the Sahara between southern Algeria and northern Mali, where drought, famine, and tribalism mirror the brutal  and fragile nature of the desert.

“The jurors feel that through this multiplicity of voices and idiom, with contrasting styles, structure, and narrative forms, the broad sweep which these stories comprise offers a dynamic snapshot of the contemporary Arabic novel.”

Yasir Suleiman

And the program’s board chair, Yasir Suleiman, says, “These shortlisted novels excavate the themes of marginality, alienation and dispersal in Arab  life from different vantage points, interweaving them with nostalgia for the past in some cases, and the brutality of a failed political and social order in others.

“Exhibiting the ethnic richness and cultural diversity of Arab social life, the novels unfold in equally varied settings that amplify this range.

“The emergence of new voices and a strong gender mix are striking  features of this list.”

Previous Winners of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction
  • 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 Dove’s 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) 
  • 2022: Bread on the Table of Uncle Milad by Mohamed Alnaas (Libya)
Sponsorship and a Disclaimer

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction currently is sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, a program very familiar to Publishing Perspectives readers for its many programs under the direction of its chair, Dr. Ali Bin Tamim.

The prize program is also supported by the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

Dr. Ali Bin Tamim

The Arabic Language Centre is a program of the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism.

While the International Prize for Arabic Fiction has been mentored by the Booker Prize Foundation, in a disclaimer about a frequently heard inaccuracy, the prize’s organizers write, “Although the prize is often referred to as the ‘Arabic Booker,’ this is not instigated nor endorsed at all by the International Prize for Arabic fiction or the Booker Prize Foundation, two completely separate, independent organizations.

“The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is not in any way connected with the Booker Prize.”

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. More on the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is here, and more on the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the world media partner of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award and the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

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.