IPAF shortlist for 2018 prize

International Prize for Arabic Fiction logo


Shortlist Announced for International Prize
for Arabic Fiction 2018 | #ArabicFiction2018


  • Two debut novelists make the shortlist for the $50,000 prize for the first time
  • Shahad Al Rawi’s Baghdad Clock has already been translated into English and will be published in June


Amir Tag Elsir, Aziz Mohammed, Ibrahim Nasrallah, Shahad Al Rawi, Walid Shurafa and Dima Wannous have been shortlisted for the 11thInternational Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF). The books of the six authors were revealed by the 2018 chair of judges, Ibrahim Al Saafin, during a press conference held at the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation in Amman, Jordan, on 19 February.

Two debut novelists, who are the youngest authors from the longlist, – Saudi Arabian Aziz Mohammed and Iraqi Shahad Al Rawi – make this year’s shortlist. Al Rawi’s Baghdad Clock has already been translated into English and will be published in June by Oneworld Publications.

They are competing with two previously shortlisted authors: Sudanese Amir Tag Elsir (2011, The Grub Hunter) and Palestinian/Jordanian Ibrahim Nasrallah (2009, Time of White Horses), who have also both served as mentors on the Prize’s Nadwa – an annual writing workshop for talented, emerging writers. Completing the list are Palestinian Walid Shurafa and Syrian Dima Wannous, who are recognised by the Prize for the first time. Wannous’ The Frightened Ones is currently being translated into English, due for publication in 2019.

The 2018 shortlist, with author names in alphabetical order, is as follows:



Country of origin


Amir Tag Elsir

Flowers in Flames


Dar Al Saqi

Aziz Mohammed

The Critical Case of "K"


Saudi Arabia

Dar Tanweer, Lebanon

Ibrahim Nasrallah


The Second War of the Dog


Palestine/ Jordan

Arab Scientific Publishers

Shahad Al Rawi

Baghdad Clock 



Dar al-Hikma, London

Walid Shurafa

Heir of the Tombstones



Al Ahlia

Dima Wannous

The Frightened Ones



Dar al-Adab


The 2018 chair of judges, Ibrahim Al Saafin, said:

"The six novels on the shortlist delighted the judges with their fresh exploration of social, political and existentialist themes. Narrative techniques were varied, from the form of diary entries and a novel within a novel, to several authors taking inspiration from the fantasy genre. They allude to the challenging new realities of the Arab world, from Syria to Sudan, but transcend the factual and prosaic."

This year’s six novels, selected from the longlist of 16, and published between July 2016 and June 2017, display the best of contemporary Arabic literature. Flowers in Flames tells the story of women in Sudan who have become objects of pleasure under the rule of an extremist group, and in Baghdad Clock, a young Iraqi girl and her best friend watch their lives change beyond recognition in war-torn Baghdad. Meanwhile, Heir of the Tombstones focuses on an Israeli artists’ village to explore the plight of the Palestinian people. The Critical Case of "K" takes the form of a diary of a frustrated writer inspired by Kafka, who finds out he has cancer, while The Frightened Ones features a novel about a woman dominated by fear, reflecting the mind-set of its narrator. Finally, The Second War of the Dog is set in a future world to chart the transformation and corruption of a society driven by greed.

Alongside chair Ibrahim Al Saafin, a Jordanian academic, critic, poet, novelist and playwright, the 2018 judges are: Inam Bioud, an Algerian academic, translator, novelist and poet; Jamal Mahjoub, a Sudanese-English writer and novelist; Mahmoud Shukair, a Palestinian short story writer and novelist; and Barbara Skubic, a Slovenian writer and translator.

Yasir Suleiman, chair of IPAF trustees, said: “The Arab novel continues to reflect, and reflect upon, its social and political milieu using the cataclysmic events of the present as its substance or backdrop. This is true of most of the novels in the shortlist for this year. Weaving their own tapestries in ruptures of different sorts, these novels root themselves in the trials and tribulations of the human ‘soul’ as it contends with its own destiny.”

The evening of the announcement on 19 February, in Amman, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction and the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation (AHSF), hosted a panel discussion on the impact of the Prize over the last decade, including the current state of Arabic literature and translation, and on this year’s shortlist. The panel, moderated by Muwafaq Malkawi from the Foundation, were: chair of IPAF trustees Yasir Suleiman; 2018 chair of judges Ibrahim Saafin; 2017 chair of judges Sahar Khalifa; and former IPAF shortlisted author and Nadwa participant Shahla Ujayli.

The winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2018 will be announced at a ceremony in the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday 24 April, the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. The six shortlisted finalists will receive $10,000, with a further $50,000 going to the winner. 

Last year’s winner of the Prize was A Small Death by Mohammed Hasan Alwan.

Fulfilling its ambition to increase the international reach of Arabic fiction, the Prize provides funding for English translation for its winners. This year has seen the publication of 2014 winner Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad by Oneworld in the UK and Penguin Books in the US. The novel has been widely and positively reviewed: “brave and ingenious,” by The New York Times and “hallucinatory and hilarious . . . and remarkable” by the Guardian. Its translation rights have been sold for a further 12 languages including Cantonese and Mandarin.

Forthcoming in 2018 is the English publication of 2016 winner Rabai al-Madhoun’s Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and Al Nakba by Hoopoe Fiction. Other winners already available in English include Baha Taher’s Sunset Oasis in 2009 and Youssef Ziedan’s Azazeel in 2012. English translations of Abdo Khal’s Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles and Mohammed Achaari’s The Arch and the Butterfly were published in 2014. Saud Alsanousi’s The Bamboo Stalk was published in 2015 and Raja Alem’s novel, The Dove’s Necklace in 2016.

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is an annual literary prize for prose fiction in Arabic. It is run with the support, as its mentor, of the Booker Prize Foundation in London and sponsored by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi).


For further information about the Prize, please visit

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IPAF Shortlist 2018
– biographies and synopses


Flowers in Flames by Amir Tag Elsir

Biography: Amir Tag Elsir is a Sudanese writer, born in Sudan in 1960, who now works as a doctor in Qatar. At an early age he wrote poetry and in the 1980s began to write novels. He has published 24‫ ‬books, comprising novels, biographies and poetry, including the novels The Dowry of Cries, The Copt’s Worries, The French Perfume (all 2009), and The Crawling of the Ants (2010). His novel The Grub Hunter (2010) was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2011 before being translated into English and Italian. His novel 366 (2013) was longlisted for the Prize in 2014 and was among the winners of the 2015 Katara Prize for the Arabic Novel, and The Resort of the Enchantresses(2015) was also longlisted for the 2017 Prize

Synopsis: Khamila has inherited her Italian mother's beauty and her father's wealth. Nearly 20, she returns from Egypt, where she has been studying aesthetics, to her cosmopolitan home town 'Al-Sur'. Suddenly, scrawling appears on the wall that has been carried out by a group calling themselves 'Remembrance and History', who declare war upon infidels and take over the town, slaughtering its inhabitants. The women become objects of pleasure for the princes of the religious revolution, flowers of many colours eaten by the flames. An era has ended and a new one has begun. Khamila, whose name is now 'N'anaa'a, waits to be married off to one of the princes, perhaps even their leader: 'the Pious One', himself.


The Critical Case of "K” by Aziz Mohammed

Biography: Aziz Mohammed is a Saudi Arabian writer, born in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, in 1987. He has written poetry and short stories, as well as film reviews for cultural magazines and specialist online websites. His first novel The Critical Case of "K" was published in 2017.

Synopsis: After reading Kafka, "K" decides to write a diary too, but he is constantly frustrated by his limited abilities, boring life, and desire to protect his privacy. When he receives news that turns his life upside down, he is torn between a sense of devastation and a feeling that he has found the way out of his writing predicament.


The Second War of the Dog by Ibrahim Nasrallah

Biography: Ibrahim Nasrallah was born in 1954 to Palestinian parents who were uprooted from their land in 1948. He spent his childhood in the Alwehdat Palestinian Refugee Camp in Amman, Jordan and began his working life as a teacher in Saudi Arabia. After returning to Amman, he worked as a journalist and for the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation. Since 2006, he has been a full-time writer and has published 14 poetry collections and 16 novels, including his epic fictional project of eight novels covering 250 years of modern Palestinian history. Four of his novels and a volume of poetry have been translated into English, including: Time of White Horses, which was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2009 and for the 2014 Middle East Monitor Prize for the Best Novel about Palestine; and Lanterns of the King of Galilee, longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2013. He has won eight literary prizes. He is also an artist and photographer and has had four solo exhibitions of his photography.

Synopsis: This novel exposes the ugly transformations of society and reality using the techniques of fantasy and science fiction. It focuses on the corrupt main character, who transforms from an opponent of the regime to an unscrupulous extremist, as it reveals the tendency towards savagery inherent in societies and human beings. Greed intensifies and human values are ignored, until everything is permissible, even the buying and selling of people's bodies and souls.


Baghdad Clock by Shahad Al Rawi

Biography: Shahad Al Rawi is an Iraqi writer, born in Baghdad in 1986. She completed secondary school in Baghdad before moving with her family to Syria, where she obtained an MA in Administration. She is currently studying for a PhD in Anthropology and Administration and lives in Dubai. Baghdad Clock, her first novel, was published in 2016 and has been translated into English for Oneworld Publications, which owns the English rights to the book and is due to publish this year.

Synopsis: 1991: Two young girls meet and become best friends in a Baghdad bomb shelter where they have taken refuge from Allied aerial attacks. They share their hopes and dreams, interwoven with fantasy and illusion. A stranger arrives from the mysterious future of the city bearing prophecies, causing families to flee the city en masse, leaving it empty. When a third girl joins them, the friends begin to write a secret history of their neighbourhood, to save it from oblivion. The novel follows the girls through childhood, adolescence and university, until the war and the fall of Baghdad, which triggers a new wave of departures from the capital.


Heir of the Tombstones by Walid Shurafa

Biography: Walid Shurafa is a Palestinian writer, born in Nablus, Palestine, in 1973. He teaches Media and Cultural Studies at Birzeit University in Palestine and wrote his doctoral thesis on the discourse of Edward Said. He published his first play, entitled The People's Court, in 1991, while still at secondary school. He has two published novels: Coming from the Resurrection (2013) and Heir of the Gravestones (2017). His interests lie in visual culture and orientalism.

Synopsis: From his prison cell on Mount Carmel, Palestinian Al-Wahid remembers his childhood during the June 1967 war, and how his father and grandfather were forcibly evicted from their village 'Ain Hawd', which the Israelis turned into an artists' village and renamed 'Ain Hood'. Suleiman, the grandfather, builds a new house in Nablus which resembles the old one. When he dies, Al-Wahid returns from his university studies abroad and tries to visit the house in the village. However, the artist living there refuses him entry. He sits in a nearby cafe, and then discovers the old sign belonging to his grandfather's house in the toilet. When he removes it, he gets into a fight with the police and accidently kills one of them…


The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous

Biography: Dima Wannous is a Syrian writer, born in 1982. She studied French Literature at Damascus University and the Sorbonne. Her short story collection Details was published in 2007 and was translated into German. Her first novel, Chair, was published in 2008. She has written for newspapers such as Al-Safir, Al-Hayat, the Washington Post and the online outlet Jadaliyya. In 2009, she was selected among the 39 most talented Arab writers under the age of ‫40 ‬by the Beirut39 project. She currently works as a researcher and presenter of the "I'm From There" programme on the Syrian Orient TV channel based in Dubai. The Frightened Ones is currently being translated into English by Elisabeth Jaquette, due for publication in 2019.

Synopsis: Suleima feels anxious as she looks at the pile of papers sent to her by Naseem, the handsome man with the bulging muscles. As she devours them, lingering on every word, she finds that she is reading an unfinished novel, or biography, about a woman dominated by fear, just like her. What did Naseem mean by it? Had he himself been overwhelmed by fear and unable to finish it, and did he now want her to write the ending?


Published Date - 26/02/2018