Nasrallah takes $50k International Prize for Arabic Fiction

Nasrallah takes $50k International Prize for Arabic Fiction

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction has gone to Jordanian-Palestinian author and former refugee Ibrahim Nasrallah for his “masterful” rendering of a dystopian future.

He scooped the prize for his novel The Second War of the Dog (Arab Scientific Publishers), about a regime rebel who turns into an unscrupulous extremist in a devastated society.

The title was named as this year’s winner by the chair of judges, Ibrahim Al Saafin, at a ceremony at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi, on Tuesday evening (24th April).

The novel focuses on the corrupt main character, Rashid, who changes from an opponent of the regime to a materialistic and unscrupulous extremist. Nasrallah reveals the intrinsic savagery in human beings as he describes a futuristic world where greed intensifies and human values and ethics are ignored.

The Second War of the Dog was chosen by the IPAF judges as the best work of fiction published between July 2016 and June 2017 from 124 entries from 14 countries.

He beat off five writers from the shortlist, revealed in February, including first time writers Aziz Mohammed and Shahad Al Rawi, Amir Tag Elsir, Walid Shurafa and Dima Wannous. The finalists all received $10,000 ($7,200).

Alongside chair Al Saafin, who is a Jordanian academic, critic, poet, novelist and playwright, the 2018 judges were: Inam Bioud, an Algerian academic, translator, novelist and poet; Jamal Mahjoub, a Sudanese-English writer and novelist; Mahmoud Shukair, a Palestinian short story writer and novelist; and Barbara Skubic, a Slovenian writer and translator.

Al Saafin described Nasrallah’s winning novel as “a masterful vision of a dystopian future in a nameless country, using fantasy and science fiction techniques."

“With humour and insight, it exposes the tendency towards brutality inherent in society, imagining a time where human and moral values have been discarded and anything is permissible, even the buying and selling of human souls,” he said.

Professor Yasir Suleiman, chair of the board of IPAF trustees, added: “Ibrahim Nasrallah’s novel paints a chilling picture of humanity in all its destructive potential. Without a moral compass, the protagonist lets go of the normal bounds that constrain human behaviour.

"Nasrallah expertly draws the reader into this world from different vantage points,using cris language in which humour makes the moral burden of relating to the main character 'bearable', or just so."

Nasrallah will participate in his first public event as the winner of the prize, alongside the other shortlisted authors, on Wednesday (25th April), the opening day of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

He was born in 1954 to Palestinian parents and spent his childhood in the Alwehdat Palestinian Refugee Camp in Amman, Jordan where he began his working life as a teacher in Saudi Arabia. After returning to Amman, he worked as a journalist for the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation. Since 2006, he has been a full-time writer and has acted as a mentor to emerging writers at IPAF’s annual writers’ workshop.

Four of his novels and a volume of poetry have been translated into English, including Time of White Horses (Hoopoe), which was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2009, and Lanterns of the King of Galilee (AUC Press), longlisted in 2013.

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is an annual literary prize for prose fiction in Arabic run with the support, as its mentor, of the Booker Prize Foundation in London and sponsored by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi).  Last year’s winner was A Small Death by Mohammed (Dar Al Saqi) Hasan Alwan.