International Prize for Arabic Fiction Won by Zahran Alqasmi

In News by Porter Anderson

‘The Water Diviner’ wins the US$50,000 International Prize for Arabic Fiction purse, plus translation, for the Omani novelist Zahran Alqasmi.

Zahran Alqasmi, winner of the 2023 International Prize for Arabic Fiction for ‘The Water Diviner,’ May 21, at the program’s award ceremony in Abu Dhabi. Image: IPAF

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

‘A New Subject in Modern Fiction’
At its annual award ceremony here in Abu Dhabi, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) tonight (May 21) had announced that The Water Diviner by Zahran Alqasmi is its 2023 winner.

The novel, published by Rashm, was named as  this year’s winner by the jury chair, Mohammed Achaari.  

In addition to being awarded US$50,000 (183,615 United Arab Emirates’ dirhams), funding will be made available by the award for the English translation of The Water Diviner, and Alqasmi can expect to see an increase in book sales and
international recognition.

Alqasmi is this prize’s first Omani winner. Many Publishing Perspectives readers will recall that the International Booker Prize awarded Omani author Jokha Alharthi and translator Marilyn Booth for Celestial Bodies in 2019.

Tonight’s win of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction by Alqasmi means that Omani writers have, in the space of five years, captured two of the world’s most prominent honors in contemporary fiction.

The Water Diviner—its title was listed by the prize for its longlist on January 24 and its shortlist on March 1 as The Exile of the Water Diviner—is Alqasmi’s fourth novel and is said to be “steeped in the world of aflaj,” an irrigation system that has much to do with Omani village life.

A digital stream was provided this evening and is available now for review here.

Achaari and Suleiman: ‘Precise Structure, Poetic Language’

International Prize for Arabic Fiction winner Zahran Alqasmi speaks to the audience on accepting his award in Abu Dhabi, March 21, with jury chair Mohammed Alchaari, center, and board chair Yasir Suleiman. Image: IPAF

In his comments, the jury chair Mohammed Achaari said, “The Water Diviner by Zahran Alqasmi explores a new subject in modern fiction: water and its  impact on the natural environment and the lives of human beings in hostile regions.

“‘The Water Diviner’ transports us to the world of Oman’s riverbeds and the aflajwater channels—showing how natural forces influence the relationship between individuals, environment, and culture.”Mohammed Achaari

“Blurring the boundaries of reality and myth, the novel’s precise structure and sensitive poetic language  are the conduit for compelling characters like the water diviner, who plays an essential role  in people’s lives, yet simultaneously inspires their fear and revulsion. The Water Diviner transports us to the world, little known in the Arabic novel, of Oman’s riverbeds and the aflaj—water channels—showing how natural forces influence the relationship between  individuals, environment, and culture.

Achaari’s fellow jurors for this year’s prize:

  • 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

And Yasir Suleiman, chair of the board of trustees for the prize, said, “Rooted in its socio-environmental milieu, The Water Diviner delves into the social fabric of  Omani village society that lives its life at the mercy of the subterranean ebb and flow of  water.

“The novel takes the reader into a world dominated by vulnerability and ready-made modes of thinking.”Yasir Suleiman

“Entangled in the accidents of his life, the water diviner lives through the calamities of  his community, suffering as it does in equal measure from the tumultuous nature of water as  an environmental force.

“The novel takes the reader into a world dominated by vulnerability  and ready-made modes of thinking. Written in exquisite language suffused with the local  cadences, the novel charms the reader with its narrative flow and poetic impulse.”

Alqasmi’s book is being praised not only for its literary value and for its focus on the ground-water culture of Oman (the titular water diviner ends up, himself, trapped in a water channel—but also for its use of the term narrator to mean in its Arabic original a person who “waters” others, satisfying their thirst.

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2023 Shortlist

Shortlistees for the 2023 International Prize for Arabic fiction gathered in Abu Dhabi for the event’s award ceremony, May 21. From left, the shortlisted authors are Zahran Alqasmi; Azhar Jirjis; Fatima Abdulhamid; Najwa Binshatwan; Al-Sadiq Haj Ahmed; and Miral al-Tahawy

Each of the shortlisted authors receives US$10,000 (36,723 dirhams).

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
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.”

Zahran Alqasmi appears in the International Prize for Arabid Fiction video for ‘The Exile of the Water Diviner,’ seen as part of the award ceremony event. Image: IPAF

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.