Algerian novel wins 2020 International Prize for Arabic Fiction

Algerian novel wins 2020 International Prize for Arabic Fiction

The Spartan Court by Abdelouahab Aissaoui has won the 13th International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Aissaoui is the first Algerian to win the prize. 

He wins USD $50,000 (£39,950), as well as funding for the English translation of the novel. 

The Spartan Court tells the story of five interconnected characters in Algiers from 1815 to 1833. The novel follows the story of the French campaign against Algiers in 1830 from the five different perspectives. 

Chair of the judges Muhsin al-Musawi commented: "The Spartan Court stands out for its stylistic brilliance. It is polyphonic—with multiple voices telling the story. Readers gain a multi-layered insight into the historical occupation of Algeria and, from this, the conflicts of the entire Mediterranean region, with characters embodying different interests and intersecting visions."

Professor Yasir Suleiman CBE, chair of the board of trustees, said: "Abdelouahab Aissaoui has given us a work to celebrate and remember during these anguished times. For this we are grateful to him."

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is sponsored by the Department of Culture and Tourism for Abu Dhabi and is run with support and mentorship from the Booker Prize Foundation in London. 

The prize provides funding for English translation, to fulfil its ambition of increasing the international reach of Arabic fiction. Previous winners include Raja Alem’s The Dove’s Necklace (2011), Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad (2014) and Rabai al-Madhoun’s Fractured Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and Al Nakba (2016).

The judges for this year's prize were chosen by a panel of five judges chaired by al-Musawi, an Iraqi literary critic and professor of classical and modern Arabic literature, comparative and cultural studies at Columbia University. The other judges were Pierre Abi Saab, a Lebanese critic; Reem Magued, an Eqyptian broadcaster; Amin Zaoui, an Algerian novelist; Viktoria Zarytovskaya, a Russian academic.