Jordanian poet and novelist Jalal Barjas has won the 14th edition of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction with his novel Notebooks of the Bookseller (The Arabic Institute for Research & Publishing).
Barjas, previously longlisted for the prize in 2019, wins $50,000 as well as funding for the English translation of the novel, which is expected to see an increase in book sales and international recognition. The novel tells the story of a book lover’s experience with schizophrenia and a crime spree he commits using the names of characters from fiction.
Chair of judges Chawki Bazih said: “Apart from its rich, refined language and tight, thrilling plot, this bold winning novel is distinguished by Jalal Barjas’ impressive ability to strip the masks from the face of tragic reality. The author presents us with the darkest portraits of homelessness and poverty, where meaning has been lost and hope torn up by the roots, turning life into a realm of nightmares. Despite this, the novel does not call for despair. Rather, through it, the author is saying that reaching the depths of pain is a necessary condition for finding new dreams and standing up once more with hope on firmer ground."
Professor Yasir Suleiman, chair of the IPAF board of trustees, added: “Evoking times of unprecedented change, incipient corruption and simmering turmoil hissing away in the background, Notebooks of the Bookseller reflects on the lives of those who have been left behind in an alienating and expanding city landscape, mercilessly displacing the intimacy of olden times and the obligations of time-honoured norms. The criss-crossing tales in the novel mark multiple descents into unforgiving despair. Sometimes pacy, but often slow and rich in detail, the novel paints a gripping picture of social and psychological fracture writ large."
The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is an annual literary prize for novels in Arabic. It is currently sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre at the Department of Culture & Tourism for Abu Dhabi and is run with support and mentorship from the Booker Prize Foundation in London.
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