Emirates News Agency – Notebooks of the Bookseller wins 2021 International Arab Fiction Prize

ABU DHABI, May 25, 2021 (WAM) – Cahiers du libraire by Jalal Barjas was announced today as the winner of the International Prize for Arab Fiction (IPAF). The novel, published by the Arab Institute for Research and Publishing, was named this year’s winner by Judges President Chawki Bazih in a virtual winners ceremony.

In addition to receiving $ 50,000, funding will be provided for the English translation of the Booksellers Notebooks, and Barjas can expect to see increased book sales and international recognition.

IPAF 2020 Jury President Chawki Bazih said: “Along with its rich, refined language and tight, gripping plot, this daring winning novel stands out for Jalal Barjas’ impressive ability to strip masks from the face of the tragic reality. The author presents us with the darkest portraits of homelessness and poverty, where meaning has been lost and hope torn by the roots, turning life into a realm of nightmares. Despite this, the novel does not call for despair. On the contrary, through it, the author says that reaching the depths of pain is a necessary condition for finding new dreams and for standing up with hope on firmer ground. ”

Professor Yasir Suleiman CBE, Chairman of the IPAF Board, said: “Speaking of times of unprecedented change, burgeoning corruption and simmering turmoil hissing in the background, Notebooks of the Bookseller reflects on life of those who have been left behind in an alienating and expanding cityscape, mercilessly displacing the intimacy of ancient times and the obligations of age-old norms. The novel’s intersecting tales mark multiple descents in ruthless despair. Sometimes pacy, but often slow and rich in detail, the novel paints a startling picture of the rough social and psychological divide. ”

Set in Jordan and Moscow between 1947 and 2019, Notebooks of the Bookseller tells the story of Ibrahim, a voracious bookseller and reader, who loses his shop and finds himself in the streets. In the grip of schizophrenia, he assumes the identity of the protagonists of the novels he loved, to commit a series of crimes of burglary, theft and murder. He tries to kill himself, before meeting the woman who will change his life. This story and others are told through a series of notebooks and multiple narrators whose paths sometimes collide. It is the painful and fragmented story of marginalized people who are ignored or invisible to others, as a corrupt ruling class flourishes. In this context, the importance of the house is highlighted, as a symbol of the homeland. Barjas’ novel boldly tackles a difficult reality not only in Jordan but in the Arab world as a whole.

Barjas is a Jordanian poet and novelist born in 1970. He works in the field of aeronautical engineering. For many years he wrote articles for Jordanian newspapers and headed several cultural organizations. He currently runs the Jordanian Narrative Laboratory and presents a radio program called “House of the Novel”. His published work includes two collections of poetry, short stories, travel literature and novels. His short story The Earthquakes (2012) won the Jordanian Rukus ibn Zaʼid ʻUzayzi Prize. His novel Guillotine of the Dreamer (2013) won the Jordanian Rifqa Doudin Prize for Narrative Creativity in 2014, and Snakes of Hell won the 2015 Katara Prize for Arabic Novel, in the Unpublished Novel category, and was published by Katara in 2016. Her third novel Women of the Five Senses (2017) was selected by IPAF in 2019.

Jalal Barjas, winner of the 2021 International Prize for Arab Fiction, said: “Thank you to the International Prize for Arab Fiction which opened all these beautiful paths for readers so that my words could reach them. With these words, I have strived to sow joy. in the domain of humanity. ”

Notebooks of the Bookseller was chosen by the IPAF judges as the best work of fiction published in Arabic between July 1, 2019 and August 31, 2020 from a shortlist of six novels by authors from Algeria, Iraq , Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. Shortlisted finalists Abdulatif Ould Abdullah, Amira Ghenim, Dunya Mikhail, Jalal Barjas, Habib Selmi and Abdelmajid Sebbata will each receive USD 10,000.

Some of the winning novels published in English include The Night Mail by Hoda Barakat (translated as Voices of the Lost, Oneworld); Rabai al-Madhoun’s Fractured Fates: Concerto on the Holocaust and the Nakba (Hoopoe); L’Italien by Shukri Mabkhout (Europa editions); Frankenstein by Ahmed Saadawi in Baghdad (Oneworld, UK, and Penguin Books, USA); Saud Alsanousi’s bamboo stalk; The Bow and the Butterfly by Mohammed Achaari; Raja Alem’s Dove Necklace (Duckworth, UK, and Overlook Press, USA); Abdo Khal’s spitting sparks as big as castles; Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan (Atlantic Books); and Sunset Oasis (Scepter) by Bahaa Taher.

Since the start of 2020, a number of award-winning novels have been published in English, including All the Women Inside Me by Jana Elhassan (shortlisted in 2013 as Me, She and the Other Women), translated by Michelle Hartman and published by Interlink Books (USA); The Slave Yards by Najwa Bin Shatwan (shortlisted in 2017), translated by Nancy Roberts and published by Syracuse University Press; The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous (shortlisted in 2018), translated by Elisabeth Jaquette and published by Knopf; The Critical Case of a Man Called K by Aziz Muhammed (shortlisted as the Critical Case of ‘K’ in 2018), translated by Humphrey Davies and published by Hoopoe; Rasha Adley’s Braided Haired Girl (listed as Passion in 2018) and Omaima Al-Khamis ‘The Book Smuggler (listed as Cranes’ Journey through Agate Cities in 2019), both translated by Sarah Enany and published by Hoopoe; Summer with the Enemy by Shahla Ujayli (shortlisted in 2019) and; The King of India by Jabbour Douaihy (shortlisted in 2020), translated by Paula Haydar and published by Interlink Books (USA).

This year will also see the English translation of Hot Maroc by Yassin Adnan (selected in 2017), translated by Alex Elinson and published by Syracuse University Press; and Firewood of Sarajevo by Said Khatibi (shortlisted in 2020), translated by Paul Starkey and published by Banipal Publishing.

The International Arab Fiction Prize is an annual literary award for novels in Arabic. It is currently sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Center, Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, and has been mentored by the Booker Prize Foundation in London.


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