International Prize for Arabic Fiction: The 2024 Shortlist

In News by Porter Anderson

The winner of this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction, drawn from this shortlist, will be announced in Abu Dhabi on April 28.

Image: International Prize for Arabic Fiction

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

‘People in Their Rich Demography’
Today (February 14), the US$50,000 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) has revealed its 2024 six-title shortlist at a news conference in Riyadh, and that list features Egyptian, Moroccan, Saudi Arabian, Syrian, and Palestinian work.

Five of the six writers named today are getting their first attention from this awards program. The sixth, the Saudi writer Raja Alem, returns to the shortlist this time with her book Bahbel: Makkah Multiverse, 1945-2009 from Dar Tanweer in Beirut.

She was a joint winner of the award in 2011 for The Dove’s Necklace, one of the better known titles to have come through the program. Her fellow winner in 2011 was Mohammed Achaari for the less widely known The Arch and the Butterfly.

Shortlisted authors this year range in age from 31 to 60. The jury for the prize this year comprises:

  • Syrian writer Nabil Suleiman, serving as chair
  • Palestinian writer, researcher, and academic Sonia Nimr
  • Czech academic František Ondráš
  • Egyptian critic and journalist Mohamed Shoair
  • Sudanese writer and journalist Hammour Ziada

Currently, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction currently is sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre.

That’s a program very familiar to Publishing Perspectives readers for its many programs under the direction of its chair, Dr. Ali Bin Tamim, who also leads another major award in Arabic, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award.

The IPAF program is also supported by the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which like the Arabic Language Centre, is a program of the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism.

The 2024 International Prize for Arabic Fiction Longlist

Image: International Prize for Arabic Fiction

As usual, the program’s organizers have presented the longlist to members of the news media with authors listed alphabetically by surname.

Author Title Country of Origin Publisher
Raja Alem Bahbel: Makkah Multiverse, 1945-2009 Saudi Arabia Dar Tanweer
Rima Bali Suleima’s Ring Syria Tanmia Publishing
Osama Al Eissa The Seventh Heaven of Jerusalem Palestine Al Mutawassit
Basim Khandaqji A Mask, the Color of the Sky Palestine Dar Al Adab
Ahmed Al Morsi Gambling on the Honor of Lady Mitsy Egypt Dar Dawen
Eissa Nasiri The Mosaicist Morocco Masciliana
A ‘Fictional Excavation of History’

In a prepared comment on the shortlist, jury chair Nabil Suleiman is quoted, saying, “The shortlisted novels offer us a profound fictional excavation of history, in which the distant and more recent past and future intersect.

Nabil Suleiman

“Various civilizations and artistic forms are interwoven with their narratives. Their subjects include war, the body, and family breakdown, questions of identity, oppression, and cruelty, as well as individual and collective human longing for freedom and justice.

“With passion and perception, the novels engage with the wars, exiles and uprisings endured by the Arab world at the current moment. Their rich creative worlds are not limited to their localities but span the globe, highlighting common struggles. Their visions and aesthetic expressions are diverse, tinged with self-awareness and imaginative verve.”

Yasir Suleiman

And Yasir Suleiman, the longtime chair of the board, also uses the term excavation, saying, “Giving us a nuanced sense of place in which a varied tapestry of humanity is reflected, the  novels of the shortlist for this year dig deep into the past to excavate the present.

“This results in haunting narratives that weave their stories from fracture, aided by the resurrection of memories of a vanishing past and the pursuit of hope dashed by inevitable oblivion. Through  all of this we find ourselves in the Mecca of bygone years, the Old City of Jerusalem of  tormented present, and in the city of Aleppo in which the scars of the recent past are indelibly marked on the bodies of its people in their rich demography.

“And this is the first time in the history of the prize that a novel from (literally) behind the walls of an Israeli jail reaches out to readers on the other side.”

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)
  • 2023: The Water Diviner by Zahran Alqasmi (Iraq)

It’s important to note that the International Prize for Arabic Fiction is based in England, and operated from London. It is not connected with the Booker Prizes, a common misconception. The Arabic award’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.” There’s no connection between IPAF and the Booker program.

A Note on the Dating of Prize Years

As Publishing Perspectives readers know from our longlist report, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction smartly dates itself by the year in which its winner is named. This is the 2024 award, although that longlist was published on December 14. Congratulations are in order: This is the wise way for contests to date themselves when their annual process spans parts of two calendar years.

Related article in Arabic language book competition: UAE: Sheikh Zayed Book Award Supports 10 Translations.

Why? Because to call the author who will be named the winner of this prize in April the “2023 winner” would make that author and her or his victory look immediately outdated—it would appear to be last year’s news at the very moment it was announced. “Oh, you’re the 2023 winner? Who is the 2024 winner?”

This is something that actually happens, unfortunately, with several high-visibility book and publishing awards programs.

Because we’re a news medium for the industry, and not published for consumers, this is one of many criteria we look at when evaluating the viability and effectiveness of the myriad awards programs that vie for press coverage in books and publishing. An award named for the year in which it is conferred is always the best, and it’s good to see that the International Prize for Arabic Fiction follows this approach. Whoever wins the prize in April will be this year’s winner, and that’s the most logical formula for any such program to employ.

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.