x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Rabee Jaber adds 'Arab Booker' prize to accolades

The winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, who received his award on Tuesday night in the capital, talks to Saeed Saeed.

Rabee Jaber, right, is presented the IPAF award by Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan.
Rabee Jaber, right, is presented the IPAF award by Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan.

Rabee Jaber claimed the fifth annual International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) on Tuesday night at a ceremony in Abu Dhabi's Rocco Forte Hotel. As well as the US$50,000 (Dh184,000) in prize money, Jaber's award-winning novel, The Druze of Belgrade, will receive an English translation and publication at a later date. Here is a breakdown of the award night and the significance of the prize to the Arabic literary world.

The winner

A story of war, exile and imprisonment, The Druze of Belgrade is a historical novel tracing the plight of Druze fighters surviving the 1860 civil war in Mount Lebanon and their subsequent relocation to Belgrade. Among the hardened group is Hanna Yacoub, a Christian egg seller from Beirut who joined the expedition after being part of a prisoner release deal. The book chronicles Yacoub's 12-year imprisonment and the suffering he experiences in Belgrade and other parts of the Balkans. Published by Al Markez Al Thaqafi Al Arabi in Casablanca, the book is widely available in Arabic with an English translation to be published at a later date.

The book

Born in Beirut, 40-year-old Rabee Jaber is the present editor of Lebanon's Al Hayat newspaper's weekly cultural supplement, Afaq. A prolific author, he has published more than 15 novels including the 2010 IPAF-shortlisted America. His first novel, Master of Darkness, scooped the Critics' Choice Prize in 1992. His novels have already crossed borders with The Journey of the Granadan and Berytus: A City Beneath the Earth published in German and French.

What the judges said

"Our task as judges was far from being easy," said the Syrian writer and head judge Georges Tarabichi. "We spent hours in discussion until we agreed upon our choice of the winning novel. The fact was, nearly all the six shortlisted novels stood on the same footing in terms of their points of strengths and weakness. Should the IPAF internal rules have permitted, we would have chosen more than just one novel to win the award. Our final choice was relative but not absolute. We found ourselves invited to a dining table that had many delicious dishes on such a rich menu that one would not ask for more. We had six dishes that were equally delicious that none of them had a better taste than the others. I do apologise if this example was not eloquent enough for such an event, but this is the reality."

What the winner said

"With the book, I wanted to pose the question that in a tough world, how much can we humanly endure?" said Jaber. "I have written a big collection of books but for me I always view reading as important as writing. When I read, it is one of the only times that I truly feel that I exist. It makes me feel psychologically balanced."

The prize

Launched in 2007 in Abu Dhabi, the IPAF is a prestigious Arabic literary award that grew to become the highlight of the Arabic literary calendar. The annual prize is run with the support of the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by the Emirates Foundation in Abu Dhabi. The idea was spawned through a suggestion by the leading Egyptian and British publishers Ibrahim El Moalem and George Weidenfeld to create an award that would increase the profile of Arabic literature in the western world.

Each year, the prize's board of trustees chooses a new five-person judging panel made up of literary critics, writers and academics from the Arab world. The judges read the 100-plus novels submitted by the publishers before choosing a longlist, shortlist and winner. To ensure the integrity of the prize, the identities of the judging panel are not disclosed until the shortlist announcement. Previous judges included Arabic literary luminaries Fadhil Al Azzawi, Taleb Alrefai, Youmna El Eid and Feissal Darraj

For more information on the award, go to www.arabicfiction.org

sasaeed@thenational.ae

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