Suc­cesses

The ris­ing in­ter­na­tional pro­file of Arab fic­tion is Ipaf’s big­gest achieve­ment

The National - News - Arts & Life - - Front Page - Ben East

Browse the In­ter­na­tional Prize for Ara­bic Fic­tion’s web­site, and you will see that one of its main aims remains un­changed from when it was launched 10 years ago: “To en­cour­age the trans­la­tion of Ara­bic lit­er­a­ture into other lan­guages.”

The sub­text here was that Ipaf hoped it might dis­cover an Ara­bic-lan­guage lit­er­ary star who might be spo­ken of in the same hal­lowed terms as, say, Ja­panese writer Haruki Mu­rakami or Nor­we­gian Karl Ove Knaus­gard. So where are the 11 win­ners (2011’s prize was shared) now and has an Ipaf win in­creased their in­ter­na­tional pro­file?

It is a scrappy pic­ture. Not all the win­ners have been trans­lated into English which, although trans­la­tion into other lan­guages is also im­por­tant, is what Ipaf prom­ises to sub­sidise.

This means it is dif­fi­cult to judge what Rabee Jaber’s 2012 win for The Druze of Bel­grade has meant for him, although it is worth not­ing his book has been trans­lated into 10 other lan­guages. In fact, we are yet to see English trans­la­tions of any winning book since 2014 – although the fact that ma­jor pub­lish­ing house Pen­guin is due to pub­lish Ahmed Saadawi’s Franken­stein In Baghdad next year is sig­nif­i­cant. Last year’s win­ner, Rabai-al Mad­houn’s Des­tinies: Con­certo of the Holo­caust and the Nakba, is due for release this year.

Of course, some of the dif­fi­culty in cap­i­tal­is­ing on an Ipaf win is lo­gis­ti­cal. It takes time to trans­late and pub­lish a novel. It was ob­vi­ous that Saud Al­sanousi’s 2013 win­ner, The Bam­boo Stalk, would be one of the more pop­u­lar and ac­ces­si­ble Ara­bic nov­els in trans­la­tion, but it took more than two years from winning to pub­li­ca­tion by Blooms­bury. Its Ara­bic fol­low-up, Grandma Hessa’s Mice, has been a best­seller in the Arab world, which seems to sug­gest Ipaf might be help­ing au­thors closer to home, if not overseas.

Sim­i­larly, there was a lot of ex­cite­ment about Yousef Ziedan’s 2009 win­ner, Azazeel, be­ing picked up by a ma­jor pub­lisher – At­lantic – but it took three years to ap­pear on shelves in English. As a re­sult, any good­will, or in­deed pro­file of any sort, gen­er­ated by the award had been lost – although the his­tor­i­cally dense Azazeel was per­haps an odd choice for At­lantic any­way.

All of which is in no way a crit­i­cism of Ipaf it­self. It might have taken five years for Raja Alem’s Dove’s Neck­lace to reach English-speak­ing read­ers but when it did, her pro­file sky­rock­eted. A woman talk­ing pos­i­tively about life in Saudi Ara­bia? Yes please.

So it is per­haps more in the cu­mu­la­tive rais­ing of the pro­file of Ara­bic fic­tion that Ipaf has had the most suc­cess, rather than with spe­cific au­thors.

The fic­tion com­ing out of Iraq and Syria, whether Ipaf win­ners or not (the cur­rent in­ter­est in The Pres­i­dent’s Gar­dens by Muhsin Al-Ramli be­ing a case in point) is highly en­cour­ag­ing.

In the end, that should be what every­one cel­e­brates, rather than the per­sonal vic­to­ries of in­di­vid­ual au­thors.

art­slife@then­ational.ae

Pawan Singh / Delores John­son / The Na­tional

Saud Al­sanousi, above, 2013 win­ner, and Rabee Jaber, 2012 win­ner.

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