Well, we won’t know until 16 March 2009, when the winner will be announced in Abu Dhabi one day before the start of the city’s International Book Fair.
Out of 131 submissions from 15 countries, six literary works have been shortlisted by the international panel of experts of Arabic literature coming from Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, the UAE and Germany:
Hunger by Egyptian novelist Mohammed Al Bisatie
The Unfaithful Translator by Syrian author Fawwaz Haddad
The American Granddaughter by Iraqi writer Inaam Kachachi
Time of White Horses by Ibrahim Nasrallah from Jordan
The Scents of Marie-Claire by Tunisian author Al-Habib Al-Salmi
Beelzebub by Egyptian writer Yusuf Zeydan
While these six great writers have to wait for three months for the ceremony at which the prestigious literary prize will be awarded together with $60,000, international readers have already won. The shortlisted candidates can expect their works to be translated and thus gain a wider readership, just like the winner of the inaugural prize „Sunset Oasis“ by Egyptian novelist Bahaa Taher, which is currently being translated into English and six other languages.
"I think this shows we are succeeding in bringing Arabic writers to a wider readership, and perhaps in a way [the prize] contributes a bit to understanding that the Arabic world isn't just Islamic fundamentalists, but is a culture and civilisation which goes back for centuries and centuries," said Jonathan Taylor, chair of the prize's board of trustees. And gaining international appeal is what the prize funded by the Emirates Foundation together with the Booker Prize Foundation is all about. The shortlist has been announced in London and covered by international media. "The purpose of the prize is to recognise and reward high quality Arabic fiction, and to bring it to a wider audience through securing translations," he said.
But where are all the outstanding female authors that the Arab world has to offer? Only 17 submissions came from women, a lower proportion than last year, and Inaam Kachachi is the only one of them who made it onto the shortlist. Let’s hope that we will get closer to Taylor’s optimistic figure, “We want to get 50/50“, next year.
Have your say! Follow the links above to tell us what you think about the shortlisted books. Have you read anything by Ibrahim Nasrallah, whose writing is frequently challenged by censorship in Jordan? Do you want to know more about Inaam Kachachi or Yusuf Zeydan?
And don’t forget to read about the other 10 longlisted novels:
The Bottle and the Genie, Mohammad Abu Maatouk
The Tobacco Guard, Ali Badr
The Man From Andalucia, Salem Hameesh
Prayer For The Family, Renée Hayek
Confessions, Rabih Jaber
Platoon Of Ruin, Abdel Kareem Jouaitly
The Tumour, Ibrahim Al Koni
Black Taste, Black Odour, Ali Al Muqri
Intensive Care, Izzedin Shukri
Ma’ Al Sama’, Yehya Yekhlef
And for some insight into the reality of publishing in the Arab world, don't miss this article by Rasheed El-Nany, one of the judges for the 2009 Arabic "Booker", in the National (UAE).