ABU DHABI // Abdo Khal said winning an award as significant as the International Prize for Arab Fiction "is like a medal on your chest". Khal left the Beach Rotana hotel last night with the prize that is effectively the Arab Booker, named after the famous Britsh award, becoming the first Saudi to win the annual competition.
Khal's novel, Tarmi Besharar, is a controversial story about the destructive impact that power and limitless wealth has on society. The title has been translated as Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles, and is also known as She Throws Sparks. It comes from a Quranic verse and is a reference to hell. Khal uses the metaphor to describe the situation of people in a kind of living hell. Set in Jeddah, he compares part of the town to heaven and part of it to hell and then writes a graphic account of sex, repression, love and despair.
After picking up his award Khal said he believed he won because he followed a "new approach" in his writing style. "Although I was chosen among the finalists, I did not expect to win," he said. He won a total of US$60,000 (Dh220,000). The IPAF, now in its third year, is run with the support of the UK's Booker Prize Foundation and is funded by the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy. It was launched in Abu Dhabi in 2007 to recognise and reward contemporary Arabic writers and to encourage more readers internationally through translation of the texts.
An independent board of trustees, drawn from across the Arab world, is responsible for the overall management of the prize, nominating different and impartial panelists each year. Jonathan Taylor, chairman of the IPAF board of trustees said "the prize has recognised and rewarded another outstanding novel", adding the award "is having an unprecedented impact in the Arabic world and beyond". Judges examined 113 entries and whittled them down to six short-listed titles, which were announced in Beirut in December.