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The Italian by Shukri Mabkhout was yesterday, Wednesday 6 May 2015, announced as the winner of the eighth International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF).
The Italian, published by Dar Tanweer Tunis, was named winner by this year’s Chair of Judges, award-winning Palestinian poet and writer Mourid Barghouti, at a ceremony in Abu Dhabi. In addition to winning $50,000, Shukri Mabkhout is guaranteed an English translation of his novel, as well as an expected increase in book sales and international recognition.
Set in Tunis, The Italian tells the story of Abdel Nasser, nicknamed ‘the Italian’ due to his good looks. Against the backdrop of the protagonist’s political and amatory exploits, the book sheds light on Tunisia’s recent complex history, in particular the troubled transition from the Bourguiba era to the government of Ben Ali in the late 1980s. In a recent interview, Mabkhout told how he was inspired to write the novel by the events of the Arab Spring: ‘Two years into the revolution... I remembered a recent period of Tunisia’s history that is similar in its fears, changes and conflicts to what I was witnessing and living: it was the period of transition from the reign of Bourguiba to that of Ben Ali following the 1987 coup.’
Mabkhout, who has just turned 53, was born in Tunis in 1962 and currently resides there, where he is President of Manouba University. A well-known academic and intellectual, he has written several works of literary criticism, but this is his first novel.
The Italian was selected as the best work of fiction published within the last 12 months, selected from 180 entries from 15 countries across the Arab World. On behalf of the 2015 judging panel, Mourid Barghouti comments:
‘The whole of Shukri Mabkhout's debut novel is as astonishing as its first chapter: piquing the reader’s interest through a mysterious event in the opening scene, the book gradually reveals the troubled history of its characters and a particular period in Tunisia’s history. The hero, Abdel Nasser, is complex and multi-faceted and even the minor characters are convincing and we believe the logic of their actions. However, his most striking creation is that of Zina, Abdel Nasser’s wife: skilfully rendered as a blend of confidence and diffidence; harshness and love; strength and fragility. She is a highly individual character who, rather than being pre-conceived, clearly developed during the act of writing.
‘The novel brilliantly depicts the unrest both of the small world of its characters and the larger one of the nation, as well as exploring themes of personal desire, the establishment, violation and opportunism. Whilst it lifts the lid on Tunisian society, the book may also surprise many of its Arab readers who may recognise aspects of their societies in its pages too. Gripping the read from the first line to the last, The Italian is a work of art and an important contribution to Tunisian, and Arab, literary fiction.’
The five other shortlisted finalists were also honoured at the ceremony alongside the winner; each of the finalists, including the winner, receives $10,000.
The six names on the shortlist were announced in February 2015, at a press conference at the Royal Mansour Hotel, Casablanca, in partnership with the Ministry of Culture of Morocco and the Casablanca International Book Fair, by the judging panel. The judges are: Mourid Barghouti (Chair), an award-winning Palestinian poet and writer; Ayman A. El-Desouky, an Egyptian academic, lecturer on Modern Arabic and Comparative Literature at SOAS; Parween Habib, a poet, critic, and media expert; Najim A. Kadhim, an Iraqi critic and academic, Professor of Comparative Literature at Baghdad University; and Kaoru Yamamoto, a Japanese academic, translator and researcher.
The Prize is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) in the UAE.
Professor Yasir Suleiman, Chair of the Board of IPAF Trustees, comments:
‘The Italian is an accomplished novel. It never lets go of the reader who willingly follows its intriguing characters on their converging and diverging journeys through a world full of incremental surprises. Set in Tunis in the second half of the twentieth century, the novel meanders in multiple directions to create a complex picture of a world that resonates in the present. Mabkhout is a master of suspense. He does so in standard Arabic that is full of vitality and pathos, thereby defying the unfair criticism that the Arabic language is a bookish and fossilised mode of expression at odds with the modern world. Mabkhout is not only a great narrator; he is also a master of an elevated language that breathes life into every word he pens.’
Shukri Mabkhout was born in Tunis in 1962. He holds a state doctorate in Literature from the Arts College of Manouba, Tunisia, and is head of the Manouba University. He is on the editorial board of several refereed journals, including the magazine published by the Institute of Arabic Literature in Tunis (Ibla) and Romano Arabica published by The Centre for Arab Studies in Bucharest, Romania. He is the author of several works of literary criticism. The Italian is his first novel.
At the heart of The Italian is Abdel Nasser (nicknamed 'the Italian') and his mysterious assault on the Imam, his neighbour, during his father’s funeral procession. The book’s narrator attempts to uncover the motivations behind the attack, re-constructing his friend Abdel Nasser’s troubled history from childhood. It looks at Abdel Nasser’s time as a left-wing student at the University of Tunis, during the final years of the Bourguiba era and the beginning of Ben Ali's, through to the period of radical changes that subsequently rocked Tunisian society, when the dreams of a generation were torn apart by the fierce struggle between the Islamists and the Left. The novel reveals the mechanisms of control and censorship exercised through the press as well as the fragility of human beings, their secret histories and buried wounds.
Delivering on its aim to increase the international reach of Arabic fiction, the Prize has guaranteed English translations for all of its winners: Bahaa Taher (2008), Youssef Ziedan (2009), Abdo Khal (2010), joint winners Mohammed Achaari and Raja Alem (2011), Rabee Jaber (2012), Saud Alsanousi (2013) and Ahmed Saadawi (2014).
Since 2008, the winning and shortlisted IPAF books have been translated into over 20 languages.
The 2014 winner, Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi, has secured English publication with Oneworld in the UK and Penguin Books in the US. It is set to be published in Autumn 2016. Saud Alsanousi’s 2013 winning entry The Bamboo Stalk (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing) was published in the UK in April 2015.
For further information about the Prize, please visit www.arabicfiction.org or follow the Prize on Facebook.
ABU DHABI INTERNATIONAL BOOK FAIR
The 2015 winner announcement took place on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2015. Shukri Mabkhout will take part in his public event at the book fair on Thursday 7 May:
Meet the Winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2015
Date: Thursday 7 May 2015
Venue: Discussion Sofa, Hall 12K50, Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, ADNEC
Host: Mr Achraf El Bahi
_Further information on the above events, as well as additional events at the fair, can be found on the book fair’s website: www.adbookfair.com
The 2015 shortlist is as follows:
A Suspended Life by Atef Abu Saif from Palestine, published by Al-Ahlia
Floor 99 by Jana ElHassan from Lebanon, published by Difaf Publications
Diamonds and Women by Lina Hawyan Elhassan from Syria, published by Dar al-Adab
The Italian by Shukri Mabkhout from Tunisia, published by Dar Tanweer, Tunis
Willow Alley by Ahmed el-Madini from Morocco published by Al-Markez al-Thaqafi al-Arabi
The Longing of the Dervish by Hammour Ziada from Sudan, published by Dar al-Ain
The first eight winners of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction are:
2008: Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher (Egypt)
2009: Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan (Egypt)
2010: Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles by Abdo Khal (Saudi Arabia)
2011: The Arch and the Butterfly by Mohammed Achaari (Morocco) and The Doves' Necklace by Raja Alem (Saudi Arabia)
2012: The Druze of Belgrade by Rabee Jaber (Lebanon)
2013: The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi (Kuwait)
2014: Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (Iraq)
The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is awarded for prose fiction in Arabic and each of the six shortlisted finalists receives $10,000, with a further $50,000 going to the winner. For further information about the Prize, please visit www.arabicfiction.org or follow the Prize on Facebook.
An independent Board of Trustees, drawn from across the Arab world and beyond, is responsible for the overall management of the Prize. The Trustees are, in alphabetical order: Marie-Thérèse Abdel-Messih, Professor of English & Comparative Literature at Cairo University, and Director of the MA Programme in ‘Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies’, Kuwait University (on secondment); Nujoom Alghanem, poet, script writer & a multi-award-winning Emirati filmmaker; Rasheed El-Enany, Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature and Dean of Social Sciences and Humanities at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies and Professor Emeritus of the University of Exeter; Amina Hachimi Alaoui, founder of Yanbow publishing house, Morocco; Khaled Hroub, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Northwestern University in Doha and Director of the Cambridge Arab Media Project (CAMP) at the University of Cambridge; Maher Kayyali, General Manager of the Arab Institute for Research & Publishing, Beirut and Amman; Michel S. Moushabeck, Founder and President of Interlink Publishing Group, Inc., writer, editor, and musician, USA; Zaki Nusseibeh, Advisor, Ministry of Presidential Affairs; Margaret Obank, Publisher and Editor, Banipal magazine of Modern Arab Literature, UK; Mohammed Rashad, Director of the Egyptian Lebanese Publishing House and Maktabat Al-Dar al-Arabiyya lil Kitab; Ahdaf Soueif, bestselling author and political and cultural commentator; Yasir Suleiman, Professor of Arabic, University of Cambridge, UK; Evelyn Smith, Company Secretary, Booker Prize Foundation, UK; Jonathan Taylor CBE, Chairman, Booker Prize Foundation, UK. The Prize’s Administrator is Fleur Montanaro.
In addition to the annual Prize, IPAF supports an annual nadwa (writers’ workshop) for emerging writers from across the Arab world. The inaugural nadwa took place in November 2009 and included eight writers, who had been recommended by IPAF Judges as writers of exceptional promise. The result was eight new pieces of fiction which have been published in English and Arabic by Dar Al Saqi Books in Emerging Arab Voices: Nadwa 1. Five further workshops have taken place in Abu Dhabi, in October 2010 and 2011 and November 2012, 2013 and 2014. A second book, Emerging Arab Voices: Nadwa2, published by Arab Scientific Publishers, was launched at Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2012. All six nadwas were run under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region, UAE. A number of former nadwa participants have gone on to be shortlisted and even win the Prize, including Lina Hawyan Elhassan from the 2015 shortlist and 2014 winner Ahmed Saadawi
The Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) conserves and promotes the heritage and culture of Abu Dhabi emirate and leverages them in the development of a world-class, sustainable destination of distinction which enriches the lives of visitors and residents alike. The authority manages the emirate’s tourism sector and markets the destination internationally through a wide range of activities aimed at attracting visitors and investment. Its policies, plans and programmes relate to the preservation of heritage and culture, including protecting archaeological and historical sites and to developing museums, including the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Zayed National Museum and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. TCA Abu Dhabi supports intellectual and artistic activities and cultural events to nurture a rich cultural environment and honour the emirate’s heritage. A key authority role is to create synergy in the destination’s development through close co-ordination with its wide-ranging stakeholder base.
The Prize is also supported by the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair and Etihad Airways.
Etihad Airways began operations in 2003, and in 2014 carried 14.8 million passengers. From its Abu Dhabi base, Etihad Airways flies to 111 existing or announced passenger and cargo destinations in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas. The airline has a fleet of 116 Airbus and Boeing aircraft, and more than 200 aircraft on firm order, including 69 Boeing 787s, 25 Boeing 777-X, 62 Airbus A350s and eight Airbus A380s.
Etihad Airways holds equity investments in airberlin, Air Serbia, Air Seychelles, Aer Lingus, Alitalia, Jet Airways and Virgin Australia, and is in the process of formalising an equity investment in Swiss-based Etihad Regional, operated by Darwin Airline. Etihad Airways, along with airberlin, Air Serbia, Air Seychelles, Alitalia, Etihad Regional, Jet Airways and NIKI, also participate in Etihad Airways Partners, a new brand that brings together like-minded airlines to offer customers more choice through improved networks and schedules and enhanced frequent flyer benefits. For more information, please visit: www.etihad.com
Notes to Editors
Spokespeople for the Prize are available for comment. To arrange an interview, please contact Four Colman Getty:
Rosie Beaumont-Thomas (London): 0044 (0)20 3697 4330 / Rosie.Beaumont-Thomas@fourcolmangetty.com
Katy MacMillan-Scott (UAE): 0044 (0) 7786 567 887 / Katy.Macmillan-Scott@fourcolmangetty.com
For further information on TCA Abu Dhabi, please contact:
Eman Mohammed Turki, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority:
firstname.lastname@example.org / +971 2 5995203