x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Khaled Khalifa favourite for International Prize For Arabic Fiction

The IPAF shortlist has been announced. We look at the favourites to win, headed by the Syrian novelist Khaled Khalifa.

The award-winning Syrian novelist Khaled Khalifa is the obvious favourite for the seventh International Prize For Arabic Fiction, as judges announced an intriguing shortlist on Monday featuring everything from a Moroccan prison novel to a Cairo-set psychological thriller.

Khalifa, whose No Knives In The Kitchens Of This City is a searing indictment of the Syrian regime seen through 40 years in the life of a middle-class Aleppo family, also won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal For Literature in December. Khalifa was shortlisted in 2008 for In Praise Of Hatred, a novel banned in his native Syria.

Also enjoying a second IPAF appearance is the Iraqi author Inaam Kachachi, who was shortlisted in 2009 for The American Granddaughter. Like that book, Tashari is a timely and thoughtful look at the Iraqi diaspora across the decades.

Encouragingly, the many initiatives set up in recent years to promote Arab literature appear to be bearing fruit. Kachachi’s book was supported by the Arab Fund For Arts And Culture, while IPAF must be delighted by the presence of a 2012 graduate from its “nadwa” writers workshop, Ahmed Saadawi — who also appeared on the much-heralded Beirut39 list in 2009. Frankenstein in Baghdad is perhaps the most inventive of the six books, a gruesome fantasy where a man puts together the body parts of bombing victims and fashions a creature to take revenge.

The popular vote, meanwhile, may well be for best-selling Egyptian writer Ahmed Mourad’s The Blue Elephant, the thrilling tale of a psychiatrist whose life spirals into intrigue when a patient and old friend is accused of murder.

Youssef Fadel’s colourful life — from political prisoner in 1970s Morocco to playwright, screenwriter and Grand Atlas Prize winner in 2000 — all informs A Rare Blue Bird That Flies With Me, a desperately sad mystery of a missing pilot eventually found by his wife 16 years later.

Fellow sixtysomething Moroccan Abdelrahim Lahbibi rounds off the list with his third novel The Journeys Of ‘Abdi, Known As Son Of Hamriya. A researcher finds an old manuscript about a man’s journey from Morocco to Saudi Arabia and tries to make it into a thesis — it’s probably the most academic of the books here, but it’s a neat look at Arab society.

• The winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2014 will be announced at an awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi on April 29. Visit www.arabicfiction.org

artslife@thenational.ae