International Prize for Arabic Fiction Shortlist Announcement

| by Jim Hinks

Record number of women on the 2019 International Prize for Arabic Fiction shortlist.

The shortlist for the 2019 International Prize for Arabic Fiction was announced today at the El-Hakawati Palestinian National Theatre in East Jerusalem. The IPAF - often referred to as the ‘Arabic Booker’ - is an annual literary prize for prose fiction, which encourages the readership of high-quality Arabic literature internationally.

For English-language readers, the annual announcement is a tantalising glimpse of what’s to come, as most previous winners (and many short-listees) have subsequently been published in English translation. This year, the twelfth edition, is no exception, with an enticing range of subject matter covered in the six shortlisted novels, whittled-down from 134 submitted to the prize.

The 2019 shortlisted books (in alphabetical order) are:

Hoda Barakat: The Night Mail, Lebanon Dar al-Adab

Adel Esmat: The Commandments, Egypt, Kotob Khan

Inaam Kachachi, The Outcast, Iraq, Dar al-Jadid

Mohammed Al-Maazuz: What Sin Caused her to Die? Morocco, Cultural Book Centre

Shahla Ujayli: Summer with the Enemy, Syria, Difaf Publishing

Kafa Al-Zou’bi: Cold White Sun, Jordan, Dar al-Adab

This year, a record four women make the list. Of these, three have been recognised by the prize before, including Inaam Kachachi (shortlisted for The American Granddaughter in 2009 and again in 2014 for Tashari); Shahla Ujayli (shortlisted for A Sky Close to Our House in 2016); and Lebanese Hoda Barakat (longlisted for The Kingdom of the Earth in 2013).

The shortlist was selected by a judging panel chaired by Charafdin Majdolin and including Fowziyah AbuKhalid, Zulaikha Aburisha, Zhang HongYi and Latif Zeitouni. The six finalists receive $10,000, with a further $50,000 going to the winner. Last year’s winner was the dystopian novel The Second War of the Dog by Palestinian-born Ibrahim Nasrallah.

To celebrate the announcement, the IPAF is presenting a series of events in partnership with the British Council and the Educational Bookshop in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and with support from the El-Hakawati Palestinian National Theatre, Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre and Bethlehem University. The events will feature IPAF judges, authors and representatives. More info here.

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is sponsored by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) and is run with the support, as its mentor, of the Booker Prize Foundation in London.


IPAF 2019 Shortlist Professor Yasir Suleiman Fleur Montanaro and Zhang HongYi Credit IPAF and Tom Dallal 32
IPAF 2019 Shortlist judges: Professor Yasir Suleiman, Fleur Montanaro and Zhang HongYi, © IPAF and Tom Dallal


IPAF Shortlist 2019 — biographies and synopses


Hoda Barakat is a Lebanese novelist, who was born in Beirut in 1952. She has worked in teaching and journalism and currently lives in France. She has published six novels, two plays, a book of short stories and a book of memoirs, as well as contributing to books written in French. Her work has been translated into a number of languages. She received the ‘Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres’ in 2002 and the ‘Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite National’ in 2008. Her novels include: The Stone of Laughter (1990), Disciples of Passion (1993), The Tiller of Waters (2000) which won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in that year, and My Master and my Lover (2004). Her fifth novel The Kingdom of This Earth (2012) reached the IPAF longlist in 2013. In 2015, she was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, given (at that time) every two years to honour a writer’s achievement in fiction. Barakat has featured in Banipal magazine on several occasions including the publication of excerpts from A Tiller of Water in autumn 2009.

The Night Mail tells the stories of letter writers. The letters are lost, like those who have penned them, but each is linked to another and their fates are woven together, like those of their owners. The writers are foreigners, either immigrants by choice or forced by circumstance to leave their countries; exiled and homeless, orphans of their countries with fractured destinies. There are no certainties in The Night Mail. The killer is not a criminal, nor is the prostitute a whore. It is — like the times we live in — a realm of deep questioning and ambiguity, where boundaries have been erased, and old places and homes lost forever.  


Adel Esmat is an Egyptian writer, born in 1959. He obtained a BA in Philosophy from Ain Shams University in 1984 and a BA in Library Science from Tanta University in 1986. He works as a librarian in the Ministry of Education. He has published a collection of short stories entitled Fragments (2015) and five novels. His novel Days of the Blue Windows (2009) was awarded the 2011 State Prize for Incentive for the Novel, while his Tales of Yusuf Tadrus (2015) won the 2016 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature and has been translated into English and published by the American University in Cairo.

The Commandments follows the Dar Selim family in Upper Egypt through several generations, beginning in 1920s Egypt, from the time of the monarchy, the 1952 July revolution and Abdel Nasser, through to Sadat, the Naksa and the 1973 October War. The grandfather Abdel Rahman gives his grandson 10 commandments to help him endure life, enjoy its pleasures and stay away from temptations. Although he may not keep them, these commandments remain an important influence throughout his life. In each chapter the grandfather presents one of them, and part of the family story is told. They represent the grandfather’s wisdom, acquired through his life, which he wishes to pass on to future generations.


Inaam Kachachi was born in Baghdad in 1952, and studied journalism at Baghdad University, working in Iraqi press and radio before moving to Paris to complete a PhD at the Sorbonne. She is currently the Paris correspondent for London-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat and Kol Al-Usra magazine in Sharjah, UAE. Kachachi has published a biography, Lorna, about the British journalist Lorna Hales, who was married to the famous pioneering Iraqi sculptor Jawad Salim, and a book in French about Iraqi women's literature produced in times of war. She produced and directed a documentary about Naziha Al Dulaimi, the first woman to become minister of an Arab country in 1959. Her first novel Heart Springs was published in 2005. Her second novel The American Granddaughter, was shortlisted for IPAF in 2009 and published in English, French and Chinese. Her novel Tashari was also shortlisted for the Prize in 2014 and published in French. Inaam Kachachi has also featured in Banipal magazine, who published a chapter from Streams of Hearts in its summer 2006 issue.

The Outcast is based on a true story and spans the history of modern Iraq. Amid the upheavals of the 1940s when Iraq was ruled by a monarchy, the novel’s main protagonist, Taj al-Muluk Abdelmagid, a journalist and female owner of the first magazine in Iraq, has relationships with Nuri al-Said, the Prime Minister, and Abd al-Ilah, Regent to King Faisal II. Forced to flee due to her involvement in anti-government activity, she moves to Pakistan with her Palestinian colleague Mansour al-Badi where they work for Karachi Arabic radio, fall in love, but are forced to part. While Taj al-Muluk moves to Paris and gets married, her lover Mansour becomes an advisor to Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan President. Meanwhile, Widyan, a young violin player in the Iraqi symphony orchestra, has lost her hearing after being attacked by the son of the Iraqi President. She travels to Paris for medical treatment, where she is befriended by Taj al-Muluk. Despite the difference in their ages, they form a close friendship, bound by their sense of belonging to a country which has rejected them both, for no fault of their own.


Mohammed Al-Maazuzis a Moroccan writer and researcher, born in 1959. He obtained a doctorate in Political Anthropology from the Sorbonne University in 1991 and a doctorate in Arabic Thought (Philosophy) from Mohammed V University in Rabat, in 1999. He has published numerous books in the field of political anthropology in both Arabic and French, including Islam and Politics (2001), Aesthetics in Classical Arabic Thought (2002) and Political Preoccupations: Documenting Standpoints (2016). His 2007 novel The Flutter of Seasons won the Moroccan Book Prize of the same year.

What Sin Caused her to Die? is a call to return to philosophy, goodness and beauty in the fight against ugly distortions of human nature. Despite her divorce, Raheel is determined to remain hopeful. Having always found refuge in reading Sartre and Le Beauvoir, and contemplating the worlds of music, philosophy and human freedom, she determines to reengage with the world and resist depression through music. Her mother had tried to do the same through drawing and painting, although she committed suicide, leaving her young daughter behind. Raheel chooses to use her freedom to play and sing, sowing a last seed of hope.


Shahla Ujayli is a Syrian writer, born in 1976. She holds a doctorate in Modern Arabic Literature and Cultural Studies from Aleppo University in Syria and teaches Modern Arabic Literature and Aesthetics at the American University in Madaba, Jordan. She is the author of four novels: The Cat's Eye (2006), which won the Jordan State Award for Literature 2009; Persian Carpet (2012); A Sky Close to Our House (2015) which was IPAF-shortlisted in 2016; and has been published in English, and Summer with the Enemy (2018). She has also published two short story collections: The Latticed Window (2005) and Bed of the King’s Daughter (2016), which won the 2017 Al-Multaqa Prize for the Arabic Short Story awarded by the American University in Kuwait. Her books of literary criticism include: The Syrian Novel: Experimentalism and Theoretical Categories (2009), Cultural Particularity in the Arabic Novel (2011) and Mirror of Strangeness: Articles on Cultural Criticism (2006). Shahla Ujayli has been featured in Banipal magazine on several occasions including the publication of a short story translated by Ayane Ezaki, 'A Dead Hand', in the Spring 2017 issue. She took part in the IPAF nadwa (writers' workshop) for promising young writers, where she worked on a passage from A Sky Close to Our House.

Summer with the Enemy tells the story of Lamees, who having fled the war in her home country, arrives in the German city of Cologne to meet Nicholas, a lecturer at the University of Munich, who welcomes her and enables her to pursue her studies in Germany. In the 1980s, Nicholas followed in the footsteps of the Arab astronomer Al-Battani and spent a summer in Lamees’ home town of Raqqa in Syria. While doing research and surveying the sky, he met and fell in love with her mother Najwa. The courtship tortures Lamees and Nicholas became her sworn enemy. Through Lamees’ voice, who is in her thirties, we hear the story of three generations of women, and learn about the history of the Arab region and surrounding areas over the course of a century.


Kafa Al-Zou’bi is a Jordanian writer, born in 1965. She obtained a BA in Civil Engineering from Saint Petersburg University, Russia, where she remained until 2006. She is the author of five novels. Her third book, Laila, the Snow and Ludmilla (2007) dealt with the collapse of the Soviet Union and questions of Arab and Russian identity, and was published in Russian in Moscow in 2010. Her fourth novel Go Back Home, Khalil (2009) was published only in Russian. Cold White Sun is her fifth novel. Kafa Al-Zou’bi writes for the Jordanian and Arab press and lives in Amman, Jordan.

Cold White Sun tells the story of a young intellectual Jordanian man, impoverished and alienated from his conservative society. Working as a teacher in the Jordanian capital, Amman, he is forced to rent a miserable, windowless room in one of the poor districts. He soon discovers that his predecessor was an old seller of lottery tickets who died in the room. His body rotted and he was only found by the neighbours because of the smell. The room seems to him to be a metaphor for his life and his mental struggles, as his existentialist questions grow ever more intense.

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