Shortlist announced for 2019 International Prize for Arabic Fiction in Jerusalem

Tuesday 5 February, 2019: Hoda Barakat, Adel Esmat, Inaam Kachachi, Mohammed Al-Maazuz, Shahla Ujayli and Kafa Al-Zou’bi have today been announced as the six authors shortlisted for the 12th International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF). Each of the six shortlisted authors will receive $10,000.
The books were revealed by the judging panel during a press conference held at the Palestinian National Theatre – El-Hakawati in Jerusalem. The judges who were unable to travel to Jerusalem joined via video link.
Each year, the shortlist is announced in a different centre of Arabic writing and for 2019 the Trustees of the prize chose Jerusalem, along with Ramallah and Bethlehem, for a series of events in recognition of the flourishing Palestinian literary scene. The prize has been delighted to reward a number of Palestinian writers over the years, including former winners Ibrahim Nasrallah and Rabai Al-Mahdoun.

Three female authors who have been recognised by the prize before have made the 2019 list, including Inaam Kachachi (shortlisted for The American Granddaughter in 2009 and again in 2014 for Tashari); Shahla Ujayli, the youngest on the list (a participant in the prize’s Nadwa in 2014 and shortlisted for A Sky Close to Our House in 2016); and Lebanese Hoda Barakat (longlisted for The Kingdom of the Earth in 2013).

These three authors are competing to win the $50,000 prize with the acclaimed Egyptian novelist Adel Esmat, whose 2015 award-winning Tales of Yusrus is already available to read in English; Moroccan political anthropologist Mohammed Al-Maazuz, who reaches the list with his second novel; and Jordanian writer Kafa Al-Zou’bi, who is shortlisted with her fifth novel. With four women shortlisted, this year has the highest number since the prize began in 2008 (there were two women in 2011, 2015 and 2018).

The 2019 shortlist, with author names listed in alphabetical order, is as follows:

Hoda Barakat, The Night Mail, Lebanon, Dar al-Adab
Adel Esmat, The Commandments, Egyptk Kotob Khan
Inaam Kachachi k The Outcastk, Iraq, Dar al-Jadid
Mohammed Al-Maazuzk, What Sin Caused her to Die?, Morocco, Cultural Book Centre
Shahla Ujayli , Summer with the Enemy, Syria, Difaf Publishing
Kafa Al-Zou’bi, Cold White Sun, Jordan, Dar al-Adab


Charafdin Majdolin, Chair of the 2019 judging panel, says:

“The six novels chosen are very different in their subject matter, styles and aesthetic choices. They can be described as novels about family, memory, disappointment, exile and migration and they reflect varied local environments, coming as they do from different Arabic countries. These novels convey deep, mature and powerful visions of the current Arab reality, while also employing brilliant narrative forms that will resonate with readers and professional critics alike.”

Professor Yasir Suleiman CBE, Chair of the Board of Trustees, says:

“This is a truly excellent list. It provides readers with a set of engaging works that will excite discussion and debate among readers young and old, and in the many literary salons that have sprung in the Arab world around IPAF. Readers will enjoy the linguistic virtuosity and technical accomplishments displayed in the shortlisted works, as well as exquisite narration that carries the reader effortlessly through to the end. The fact that four out of the six shortlisted authors are women is a first in the history of the prize. On this occasion, Jerusalem, a city steeped in Arab literary culture, provides a fitting scene for announcing the shortlist. Thank you to all our partners who made it possible.”

This week, to celebrate the shortlist, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction will host a series of events across Palestine in partnership with the British Council and The Educational Bookshop. This will include a reception this evening in Jerusalem and two panel discussions on this year’s shortlist, the Palestinian literature scene and the translation of Arabic novels, with IPAF judge Zhang HongYi, Chair of Trustees Yasir Suleiman, Prize Administrator Fleur Montanaro and author Walid Shurafa. The first discussion is a public event at the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah on Wednesday 6 February, and the second is a student event at Bethlehem University on Thursday 7 February.

This year’s six shortlisted novels, selected from a longlist of 16 and published in Arabic between July 2017 and June 2018, showcase the best of contemporary Arabic fiction, exploring issues of belonging, societal changes over generations of Arab families and the ongoing battle against the fundamental flaws of human nature. The Night Mail tells the stories of immigrants, exiled and homeless, who have each written a letter that is now lost like themselves. The Outcast is based on a true story and spans the history of modern Iraq tracking the life of a female journalist forced to flee her country. Cold White Sunreveals the alienation of a young intellectual Jordanian man from conservative society in Amman. In Summer with the Enemy we learn about three generations of Syrian women in Raqqa through the recounting of a historical courtship. The Commandments follows an Egyptian family and the life lessons passed down from grandfather to grandson to help him avoid temptations. What Sin Caused her to Die shares the story of a divorcee who tries to use the beauty of philosophy and music to resist her depression.

Alongside Charafdin Majdolin (Chair), a Moroccan critic and academic specialising in Aesthetics, Verbal and Visual Narratives and Comparative Studies, this year’s judging panel features Fowziyah AbuKhalid, a Saudi Arabian poet, writer, academic and researcher in social and political issues; Zulaikha Aburisha, a Jordanian poet, columnist, researcher and human and women’s rights activist; Zhang HongYi, a Chinese academic, translator and researcher; and Latif Zeitouni, a Lebanese academic and literary critic with a specialisation in Narratology.

The winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2019 will be announced at a ceremony in Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday 23 April, the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. Last year’s winner wasThe Second War of the Dog by Ibrahim Nasrallah.

Fulfilling its ambition to increase the international reach of Arabic fiction, the prize provides funding for English translation for its winners. Winning novels published in English last year included Rabai al-Madhoun’s Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and Al Nakba (Hoopoe Fiction) and Ahmed Saadawi’sFrankenstein in Baghdad (Oneworld in the UK; Penguin Books in the US), which was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018. Also available in English are Baha Taher’s Sunset Oasis, Youssef Ziedan’s Azazeel, Abdo Khal’s Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles, Mohammed Achaari’s The Arch and the Butterfly, Saud Alsanousi’s The Bamboo Stalk and Raja Alem’s novel The Dove’s Necklace.

This year sees the publication in English of several novels recognised by the prize, including Mahmoud Shukair’s Praise for the Women of the Family (shortlisted in 2016), translated by Paul Starkey, published by Interlink and out now; Sinan Antoon’s Book of Collateral Damage (longlisted in 2017 as al-Fihrist), translated by Jonathan Wright and published by Yale University Press in May; George Yaraq’s Guard of the Dead (shortlisted in 2016), translated by Raphael Cohen, and Ibrahim Abdelmeguid’s Clouds over Alexandria (longlisted in 2014), translated by Kay Heikkinen, both published by Hoopoe in May; Dima Wannous’ The Frightened Ones (shortlisted in 2018), translated by Elisabeth Jaquette and published by Harvill Secker in July; and Ismail Fahd Ismail’s The Old Woman and the River (shortlisted as Al-Sabiliatin 2017), translated by Sophia Vasalou and published by Interlink this autumn.

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is an annual literary prize for prose fiction in Arabic. It is sponsored by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) and is run with the support, as its mentor, of the Booker Prize Foundation in London.

For further information about the prize, please visit:

Facebook @InternationalPrizeforArabicFiction
Instagram @arabicfictionprize
Twitter @FictionArabic


Notes to Editors

Images of the shortlisted authors and their book jackets are available to download here. This link will be updated with images from the press conference and events in due course.

Spokespeople for the prize are available for comment. To arrange an interview, please contact Four Culture:
Hannah Davies on 44 (0) 20 3697 4251 / [email protected]
Laura Steele on 44 (0) 20 3697 4241 / [email protected]

This press release is also available in Arabic. Please request via email if required

For further information on the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, please contact: Amena Abdulla Khoori +971 2 599 5395 / [email protected]

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is awarded for prose fiction in Arabic and each of the six shortlisted finalists receives $10,000, with a further $50,000 going to the winner. For further information about the Prize, please or follow the prize on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter

The first 11 winners of the prize are:
2008: Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher (Egypt)
2009: Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan (Egypt)
2010: Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles by Abdo Khal (Saudi Arabia)
2011: The Arch and the Butterfly by Mohammed Achaari (Morocco) and The Doves’ Necklace by Raja Alem (Saudi Arabia)
2012: The Druze of Belgrade by Rabee Jaber (Lebanon)
2013: The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi (Kuwait)
2014: Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (Iraq)
2015: The Italian by Shukri Mabkhout (Tunisia)
2016: Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba by Rabai al-Madhoun (Palestine)
2017: A Small Death by Mohammed Hasan Alwan
2018: The Second War of the Dog by Ibrahim Nasrallah

An independent Board of Trustees, drawn from across the Arab world and beyond, is responsible for the overall management of the prize. Yasir Suleiman CBE, Professor of Arabic, University of Cambridge, is Chair of Trustees and Evelyn Smith, Booker Prize Foundation, is a Trustee and Company Secretary. The rest of the Trustees are, in alphabetical order: Isobel Abulhoul OBE, Director of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature; Yassin Adnan, Moroccan journalist, broadcaster and writer; Abdulla Majed Al-Ali, executive director of the National Library, Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, and Head of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair; Nujoom Alghanem, poet, script writer and a multi-award-winning Emirati filmmaker; Rasheed El-Enany, Professor Emeritus of the University of Exeter; Omar Ghobash, UAE Ambassador to the French Republic; Rana Idriss, Director of publisher Dar al-Adab, Beirut; Michel S. Moushabeck, Founder and President of Interlink Publishing Group, Inc., writer, editor, and musician, USA; Zaki Nusseibeh, Advisor, Ministry of Presidential Affairs; Margaret Obank, Publisher and Editor, Banipal magazine of Modern Arab Literature, UK; Sherif-Joseph Rizk, director of publisher Dar al-Tanweer, Egypt; Ahdaf Soueif, bestselling author and political and cultural commentator and Jonathan Taylor, President, Booker Prize Foundation, UK. The prize’s Administrator is Fleur Montanaro.

• In addition to the prize, IPAF supports an annual Nadwa (writers’ workshop) for emerging writers from across the Arab world. The inaugural Nadwa took place in Abu Dhabi in November 2009 and included eight writers who had been recommended by IPAF judges as writers of exceptional promise. The result was eight new pieces of fiction which have been published in English and Arabic by Dar Al Saqi Books in Emerging Arab Voices: Nadwa 1. Eight further workshops have taken place in Abu Dhabi, in October 2010 and 2011 and November 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. A second book, Emerging Arab Voices: Nadwa 2, published by Arab Scientific Publishers, was launched at Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2012. A number of former Nadwa participants have gone on to be shortlisted and even win the prize, including shortlisted authors Mansoura Ez-Eldin (2010), Lina Hawyan Elhassan (2015), Shahla Ujayli and Mohammed Rabie (2016), and winners Ahmed Saadawi (2014) and Mohammed Hasan Alwan (2017). The first eight Nadwas were run under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western Region, UAE. Nadwa 2017 was supported by ADMAF (Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation). A further two Nadwas were held in Jordan (2016) and Oman (2017), in partnership with the Abdul Hameed Shouman Foundation and the Muscat Cultural Club respectively. This year’s Nadwa took place from 8-15 January 2019 in Sharjah, supported by the Department of Culture — Sharjah Government.

• About the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi)
The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi conserves and promotes the heritage and culture of Abu Dhabi emirate and leverages them in the development of a world-class, sustainable destination of distinction that enriches the lives of visitors and residents alike. The Department manages the emirate’s tourism sector and markets the destination internationally through a wide range of activities aimed at attracting visitors and investment. Its policies, plans and programmes relate to the preservation of heritage and culture, including protecting archaeological and historical sites and to developing museums, including the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Zayed National Museum and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi supports intellectual and artistic activities and cultural events to nurture a rich cultural environment and honour the emirate’s heritage. A key role played by the Department is to create synergy in the destination’s development through close co-ordination with its wide-ranging stakeholder base.

• The prize is also supported by the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair

IPAF Shortlist 2019 — biographies and synopses

Hoda Barakat is a Lebanese novelist, who was born in Beirut in 1952. She has worked in teaching and journalism and currently lives in France. She has published six novels, two plays, a book of short stories and a book of memoirs, as well as contributing to books written in French. Her work has been translated into a number of languages. She received the ‘Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres’ in 2002 and the ‘Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite National’ in 2008. Her novels include: The Stone of Laughter (1990), Disciples of Passion (1993), The Tiller of Waters (2000) which won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in that year, and My Master and my Lover (2004). Her fifth novel The Kingdom of This Earth (2012) reached the IPAF longlist in 2013. In 2015, she was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, given (at that time) every two years to honour a writer’s achievement in fiction. Barakat has featured in Banipal magazine on several occasions including the publication of excerpts from A Tiller of Water in autumn 2009.

The Night Mail tells the stories of letter writers. The letters are lost, like those who have penned them, but each is linked to another and their fates are woven together, like those of their owners. The writers are foreigners, either immigrants by choice or forced by circumstance to leave their countries; exiled and homeless, orphans of their countries with fractured destinies. There are no certainties in The Night Mail. The killer is not a criminal, nor is the prostitute a whore. It is — like the times we live in — a realm of deep questioning and ambiguity, where boundaries have been erased, and old places and homes lost forever.


Adel Esmat is an Egyptian writer, born in 1959. He obtained a BA in Philosophy from Ain Shams University in 1984 and a BA in Library Science from Tanta University in 1986. He works as a librarian in the Ministry of Education. He has published a collection of short stories entitled Fragments (2015) and five novels. His novel Days of the Blue Windows (2009) was awarded the 2011 State Prize for Incentive for the Novel, while his Tales of Yusuf Tadrus (2015) won the 2016 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature and has been translated into English and published by the American University in Cairo.

The Commandments follows the Dar Selim family in Upper Egypt through several generations, beginning in 1920s Egypt, from the time of the monarchy, the 1952 July revolution and Abdel Nasser, through to Sadat, the Naksa and the 1973 October War. The grandfather Abdel Rahman gives his grandson 10 commandments to help him endure life, enjoy its pleasures and stay away from temptations. Although he may not keep them, these commandments remain an important influence throughout his life. In each chapter the grandfather presents one of them, and part of the family story is told. They represent the grandfather’s wisdom, acquired through his life, which he wishes to pass on to future generations.

Inaam Kachachi was born in Baghdad in 1952, and studied journalism at Baghdad University, working in Iraqi press and radio before moving to Paris to complete a PhD at the Sorbonne. She is currently the Paris correspondent for London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat and Kol Al-Usra magazine in Sharjah, UAE. Kachachi has published a biography, Lorna, about the British journalist Lorna Hales, who was married to the famous pioneering Iraqi sculptor Jawad Salim and a book in French about Iraqi women’s literature produced in times of war. She produced and directed a documentary about Naziha Al Dulaimi, the first woman to become minister of an Arab country in 1959. Her first novel Heart Springs was published in 2005. Her second novel The American Granddaughter, was shortlisted for IPAF in 2009 and published in English, French and Chinese. Her novel Tashari was also shortlisted for the Prize in 2014 and published in French. Inaam Kachachi has also featured in Banipal magazine, who published a chapter from Streams of Hearts in its summer 2006 issue.

The Outcast is based on a true story and spans the history of modern Iraq. Amid the upheavals of the 1940s when Iraq was ruled by a monarchy, the novel’s main protagonist, Taj al-Muluk Abdelmagid, a journalist and female owner of the first magazine in Iraq, has relationships with Nuri al-Said, the Prime Minister, and Abd al-Ilah, Regent to King Faisal II. Forced to flee due to her involvement in anti-government activity, she moves to Pakistan with her Palestinian colleague Mansour al-Badi where they work for Karachi Arabic radio, fall in love, but are forced to part. While Taj al-Muluk moves to Paris and gets married, her lover Mansour becomes an advisor to Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan President. Meanwhile, Widyan, a young violin player in the Iraqi symphony orchestra, has lost her hearing after being attacked by the son of the Iraqi President. She travels to Paris for medical treatment, where she is befriended by Taj al-Muluk. Despite the difference in their ages, they form a close friendship, bound by their sense of belonging to a country which has rejected them both, for no fault of their own.


Mohammed Al-Maazuz is a Moroccan writer and researcher, born in 1959. He obtained a doctorate in Political Anthropology from the Sorbonne University in 1991 and a doctorate in Arabic Thought (Philosophy) from Mohammed V University in Rabat, in 1999. He has published numerous books in the field of political anthropology in both Arabic and French, including Islam and Politics (2001), Aesthetics in Classical Arabic Thought (2002) and Political Preoccupations: Documenting Standpoints (2016). His 2007 novel The Flutter of Seasons won the Moroccan Book Prize of the same year.

What Sin Caused her to Die? is a call to return to philosophy, goodness and beauty in the fight against ugly distortions of human nature. Despite her divorce, Raheel is determined to remain hopeful. Having always found refuge in reading Sartre and Le Beauvoir, and contemplating the worlds of music, philosophy and human freedom, she determines to reengage with the world and resist depression through music. Her mother had tried to do the same through drawing and painting, although she committed suicide, leaving her young daughter behind. Raheel chooses to use her freedom to play and sing, sowing a last seed of hope.

Shahla Ujayli is a Syrian writer, born in 1976. She holds a doctorate in Modern Arabic Literature and Cultural Studies from Aleppo University in Syria and teaches Modern Arabic Literature and Aesthetics at the American University in Madaba, Jordan. She is the author of four novels: The Cat’s Eye (2006), which won the Jordan State Award for Literature 2009; Persian Carpet (2012); A Sky Close to Our House (2015) which was IPAF-shortlisted in 2016; and has been published in English, and Summer with the Enemy(2018). She has also published two short story collections: The Latticed Window (2005) and Bed of the King’s Daughter (2016), which won the 2017 Al-Multaqa Prize for the Arabic Short Story awarded by the American University in Kuwait. Her books of literary criticism include: The Syrian Novel: Experimentalism and Theoretical Categories (2009), Cultural Particularity in the Arabic Novel (2011) and Mirror of Strangeness: Articles on Cultural Criticism (2006). Shahla Ujayli has been featured in Banipal magazine on several occasions including the publication of a short story translated by Ayane Ezaki, A Dead Hand, in the Spring 2017 issue. She took part in the IPAF nadwa (writers’ workshop) for promising young writers,
where she worked on a passage from A Sky Close to Our House.

Summer with the Enemy tells the story of Lamees, who having fled the war in her home country, arrives in the German city of Cologne to meet Nicholas, a lecturer at the University of Munich, who welcomes her and enables her to pursue her studies in Germany. In the 1980s, Nicholas followed in the footsteps of the Arab astronomer Al-Battani and spent a summer in Lamees’ home town of Raqqa in Syria. While doing research and surveying the sky, he met and fell in love with her mother Najwa. The courtship tortures Lamees and Nicholas became her sworn enemy. Through Lamees’ voice, who is in her thirties, we hear the story of three generations of women, and learn about the history of the Arab region and surrounding areas over the course of a century.


Kafa Al-Zou’bi is a Jordanian writer, born in 1965. She obtained a BA in Civil Engineering from Saint Petersburg University, Russia, where she remained until 2006. She is the author of five novels. Her third book, Laila, the Snow and Ludmilla (2007) dealt with the collapse of the Soviet Union and questions of Arab and Russian identity, and was published in Russian in Moscow in 2010. Her fourth novel Go Back Home, Khalil (2009) was published only in Russian. Cold White Sun is her fifth novel. Kafa Al-Zou’bi writes for the Jordanian and Arab press and lives in Amman, Jordan.

Cold White Sun tells the story of a young intellectual Jordanian man, impoverished and alienated from his conservative society. Working as a teacher in the Jordanian capital, Amman, he is forced to rent a miserable, windowless room in one of the poor districts. He soon discovers that his predecessor was an old seller of lottery tickets who died in the room. His body rotted and he was only found by the neighbours because of the smell. The room seems to him to be a metaphor for his life and his mental struggles, as his existentialist questions grow ever more intense. | #arabicfiction2019