Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Kuwaiti novelist Saud Alsanousi wins 2013 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF - the Arabic Booker)

Saud Alsanousi

The novel The Bamboo Stalk by Kuwaiti author Saud Alsanousi was tonight announced as the winner of the sixth International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF - often known as the Arabic Booker). The prize is worth a total of $60,000 to the winner, comprising the first prize of $50,000 and the $10,000 that goes to each of the six shortlisted authors.

Alsanousi is the first Kuwaiti writer ever to win the prize. Born in 1981 he is also, at the age of 31, the youngest writer to win IPAF. The Bamboo Stick (published by Arab Scientific Publishers) is Alsanousi's second novel; the first, Prisoner of Mirrors, was published in 2010. [update 26.4.2013- a podcast of Granta magazine deputy editor Ellah Allfrey's interview with Alsanousi, with IPAF administrator Fleur Montanaro interpreting between Arabic and English, is posted on Granta's website].

The winner was announced by this year’s Chair of Judges, the Egyptian writer and academic Galal Amin, at a prize ceremony held in Abu Dhabi on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2013.  Alsanousi will take part in his first public event at the book fair tomorrow, and there will also be a series of talks featuring some of the shortlisted finalists. In addition to the prize money Alsanousi is guaranteed an English translation of his novel, as well as increased book sales and international recognition.

 The Bamboo Stalk

A daring work which looks objectively at the phenomenon of foreign workers in Gulf countries, The Bamboo Stalk is the story of Issa, the son of a Kuwaiti father and a Filipino mother. On returning to his father’s homeland as an adult, Issa finds himself in a difficult position. Rather than the mythical country his mother has described to him, he discovers he is caught between the natural, biological ties he shares with his father’s family and the prejudices of a traditional society, which views a child of Kuwaiti-Filipino heritage as socially unacceptable. Skilfully constructed, The Bamboo Stalk is a story of great strength and depth which questions identity in modern society.

The Bamboo Stalk was chosen as the best work of fiction from the last 12 months, selected from 133 submissions from across the Arab World. On behalf of the Judging Panel, Galal Amin commented: 'The members of the Judging Panel are delighted that The Bamboo Stalk has won the Prize. All the Judges agreed on the superior quality of this novel, both artistically and also in terms of its social and humanitarian content.’

The five other shortlisted finalists were also honoured at the ceremony alongside the winner, each receiving $10,000. The six names on the shortlist were announced in January, in Tunis, by the  distinguished Judging Panel of academics and cultural figures. The shorlist was selected from a  longlist of 16 novels, announced on 6 December and chosen from 133 entries from 15 countries.

Chaired by Galal Amin, the Judging Panel comprised: Lebanese academic and critic Sobhi al-Boustani; Ali Ferzat, who is head of the Arab Cartoonists' Association, and owner and chief editor of the independent Syrian daily newspaper Al-Domari; Polish academic and Professor of Arabic Literature at the Arts College of the Jagiellonian University of Cracow, Barbara Michalak-Pikulska, and Professor Zahia Smail Salhi, specialist in Arabic Literature Classical and Modern and Gender Studies at Manchester University.

The Prize is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by the TCA Abu Dhabi in the UAE, which marks its first year as the new sponsor of the Prize in 2013. IPAF was previously funded by the Emirates Foundation.

Jonathan Taylor, Chair of the Board of IPAF Trustees, said: ‘The Prize has a history of discovering new voices and we’ve done that again this year. The Judges have been working without fear or favour with their sole objective to identify the best of Arabic fiction published over the last year. We salute a distinguished shortlist and congratulate an outstanding winner.’

To date, five of the six winning novels have secured deals for publication in English. Overall, winning and shortlisted books since 2008 have been translated into over 20 languages. (For further information about the Prize, visit www.arabicfiction.org or follow the Prize on Facebook).

Saud Alsanousi is a novelist and journalist whose work has appeared in a number of Kuwaiti publications, including Al-Watan newspaper and Al-Arabi, Al-Kuwait and Al-Abwab magazines. He currently writes for Al-Qabas newspaper.

His first novel The Prisoner of Mirrors won in 2010 the fourth Laila al-Othman Prize, awarded for novels and short stories by young writers. In the "Stories on the Air" competition organised in July 2011 by Al-Arabi magazine with BBC Arabic, he won first place for his story The Bonsai and the Old Man.

In The Bamboo Stalk Josephine comes to Kuwait from the Philippines to work as a household servant, leaving behind her studies and family, who are pinning their hopes for a better future on her. In the house where she works, she meets Rashid, the spoiled only son of Ghanima and Issa. After a brief love affair, he decides to marry Josephine, on condition that the marriage remains a secret.

But things do not go according to plan. Josephine becomes pregnant with José and Rashid abandons them when the child is less than two months old, sending his son away to the Philippines. There he struggles with poverty and clings to the hope of returning to his father's country when he is eighteen. It is at this point that the novel begins. The Bamboo Stalk is a daring work which looks objectively at the phenomenon of foreign workers in Arab countries and deals with the problem of identity through the life of a young man of mixed race who returns to Kuwait, the ‘dream’ or ‘heaven’ which his mother had described to him since he was a child.

Tomorrow there will be a "Meet the Winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2013" event held at the  Discussion Sofa at 7-8pm, hosted by Dr Maan Al Taie

At the Live Book Club at The Tent Iraqi writer Sinan Antoon will talk about his shortlisted novel Ave Maria with Al Raweyat tomorrow at 5.30-6.30 pm.

Egyptian shortlistee Ibrahim Issa will on Thursday discuss with host Mohamed Mazrouei 'how to write and read after the Arab Spring', at the  Discussion Sofa 7pm-8pm

Further information on the above events, as well as additional events with IPAF authors at the fair, can be found on the book fair’s website: www.adbookfair.com

 the shortlisted titles

When the shortlist of IPAF 2013 was announced in Tunis it was noted that none of the six shortlisted authors had previously been longlisted for the Prize. The shortlist omitted last year's IPAF winner Rabee Jaber and several other long-established and acclaimed authors who were on the longlist. The chair of the until then anonymous Judging Panel,  Galal Amin, said the judges felt "extremely pleased that they were able to select an excellent shortlist of newly written Arabic novels, which bring to the fore several evolving talents around the Arab world." The panel was "gratified to note that outstanding creativity is common across Arab countries and generations of writers.'

In addition to The Bamboo Stick the shortlisted novels were:

 Ave Maria by Sinan Antoon (Iraqi), published by Al-Jamal
Sinan Antoon 

I, She and Other Women by Jana Elhassan (Lebanese), published by Arab Scientific Publishers

Jana Elhassan

The Beaver by Mohammed Hassan Alwan (Saudi Arabian), published by Dar al-Saqi
Mohammed Hassan Alwan

Our Master by Ibrahim Issa (Egyptian), published by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP)
Ibrahim Issa with his shortlisted book

His Excellency the Minister by Hussein Al-Wad (Tunisian), published by Dar al-Janub

 Hussein Al-Wad

IPAF said the shortlist revealed "a number of varied thematic concerns, which lie at the heart of the Arab reality of today. They include, religious extremism; the lack of tolerance and rejection of the Other; the split between thought and behaviour in the contemporary Arab personality; the Arab woman's frustration and her inability to break through the social wall built around her; the laying bare of the corrupt reality and hypocrisy on social, religious, political and sexual levels."

IPAF provided synopses of the shortlisted novels:

Ave Maria by Sinan Antoon
The events of the novel take place in a single day, with two contradictory visions of life from two characters from an Iraqi Christian family, drawn together by the situation in the country under the same roof in Baghdad. Youssef is an elderly man who is alone. He refuses to emigrate and leave the house he built, where he has lived for half a century. He still clings to hope and memories of a happy past. Maha is a young woman whose life has been torn apart by the sectarian violence. Her family has been made homeless and become separated from her, resulting in her living as a refugee in her own country, lodging in Youssef's house. With her husband she waits to emigrate from a country she feels does not want her. Hope collides with destiny when an event occurs which changes the life of the two characters forever. The novel raises bold and difficult questions about the situation of minorities in Iraq, with one character searching for an Iraq which was, while the other attempts to escape from the Iraq of today.

 I, She and Other Women  by Jana Elhassan
The heroine of the novel, Sahar, feels a sense of loss and loneliness within her family, following her marriage. She had hoped to be a different kind of woman from her mother but finds herself falling into the same trap after her marriage to Sami. In constructing another self in her imagination, she finds an outlet which brings intellectual and existential fulfilment. The novel has an innovative structure, psychological and philosophical depth and a profound humanity.

The Beaver by Mohammed Hassan Alwan
The novel's hero Ghalib al-Wajzi goes from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia to Portland in the USA. He travels back in time, through the story of three generations of his troubled family: separated parents, and brothers with nothing to connect them except the house where they live. Ghalib leaves Riyadh at the age of 40. He heads to a distant city to try to restore his memory with fragmented stories, with the help of a beaver that accompanies him on his fishing journeys to the Willamette River. Throughout the novel, he contemplates his relationship with his girlfriend who visits him over many years in different towns when she can get away from her husband.

Our Master by Ibrahim Issa
The novel relates the career of Sheikh Hatim Al-Shanawi (‘our master’), the permanent guest of a television programme presented by Anwar Outhman. The charming Sheikh answers viewers' questions and becomes one of the richest people in the country through exploiting visual media to the utmost degree for his own ends. By using his natural cunning he gives replies to please everyone, including the security services, though they bear no relation to his personal convictions. The hero has varied adventures such as his relationship with Nashwa, veiled from head to toe, who he later discovers is an actress working for the secret services. The hero plunges into the depths of Egyptian society and uncovers its secrets in a witty and satirical style. The characters appear to live in a corrupt environment dominated by fear, spying and bribery, where people lie to each other and are only concerned with outward appearances and the surface of reality.

His Excellency the Minister by Hussein Al-Wad 
The novel tells the story of a Tunisian teacher who unexpectedly becomes a minister. He witnesses first hand the widespread corruption in the country, eventually becoming embroiled in it himself. It is a richly humorous novel which successfully describes many aspects of human weakness.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Arab British Centre to receive UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture in Paris 25 April

The Arab British Centre – a London-based charity promoting arts and culture of the Arab world – will receive the  UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture  from UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova at a ceremony to be held at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris at 7pm on 25 April. (The full programme is on the UNESCO website here.)

The Arab British Centre is the first-ever British recipient of the prize, which was launched in 2011. In addition the Centre is the first-ever organisation, rather than individual, to be awarded the honour.

The UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture, now in its 11th edition, recognises commitment to the dissemination of Arab culture in a global context.The official prize giving ceremony will be preceded by a series of talks entitled: “5 itineraries, 5 visions, 1 question: What is the Role of Arab Culture in Tomorrow’s World?” Five international personalities, renowned for their involvement in Arab culture, will attempt to answer this question. The ceremony will be followed by a concert by the Palestinian group Khoury Project, featuring Egyptian oud player Mohamed Abozekry.

 The Arab British Centre

The Arab British Centre is located in Gough Square, off London's historic Fleet Street, and stands next door to Dr Johnson’s House, which has been restored and opened to the public. The Centre organises and promotes cultural and artistic events relating to the Arab world, and hosts a regular programme of activities including classes Arabic calligraphy classes and the Arabic language. In addition to its regular on-site activities, the Centre has worked on a number of one-off projects in external locations, including the major 2012 project ‘Safar: A Journey Through Popular Arab Cinema’, a week-long series of popular Arab cinema which took place at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London.

An international jury of experts selected the Arab British Centre as co-winner of the prize, with Professor Mustapha Cherif of Algeria. The $60,000 prize money  is shared equally between the two laureates.

Francesco Bandarin, Assistant Director-General for Culture at UNESCO, said the international jury "recognised the dynamic efforts of The Arab British Centre in promoting different aspects of Arab Culture. The various activities and events organised, within and outside the Centre, to promote a better understanding of Arab culture and foster intercultural dialogue were highly appreciated”.

The Arab British Centre’s Chairman Virginia Forbes said: “It is a huge honour for The Arab British Centre to be awarded this prize and is testament to the hard work of our small but dedicated team. We are encouraged to redouble our efforts, presenting the best of Arab arts and culture to a British audience. With the wonderful endorsement of UNESCO, we hope that we can engage more people with all that the Arab world has to offer.”

Despite limited budgetary resources, the Arab British Centre is able to undertake its activities through working with an extensive network of partners to promote the culture and arts of the Arab world in the United Kingdom. The Arab British Centre anticipates spending it $30,000 share of the prize money in furthering this aim.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013