The 2016 International Prize for Arabic Fiction — the ninth edition of the prize — is under way.

159 novels by authors from 18 countries were submitted this year.

The longlist of 16 novels competing for the prize has been revealed. See the full details here.


Mohamed Rabie

Mercury is a dark fantasy which imagines “the counter revolution" in Egypt as a reality in a nightmarish future. The eponymous hero of this fantasy novel is an officer who witnessed the defeat of the police in Cairo on the 28 January 2011. Over a decade later, Egypt is occupied by a mysterious power and the remnants of the old police force are leading the popular resistance, fighting among the ruins of a shattered Cairo. It is a daily hell of arbitrary killing, an intensified version of the sporadic massacres witnessed since the famous revolution in January.

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A Sky Close to our House

Shahla Ujayli

A Sky Close to Our House spans the second half of the 19th century to the present, featuring characters from different backgrounds who meet in Amman, Jordan, the city at the heart of the story. It is here that Jaman Badran, a Syrian immigrant, gets to know Nasr Al-Amiri, a Palestinian-Syrian who has come to Amman for his mother’s funeral. They soon discover that their grandparents were neighbours in Aleppo. Through the dramatic fall of families in Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Serbia and Vietnam, A Sky Close to Our House shows how wars can change concepts of identity and nation, and create new destinies for large numbers of people; it also underlines that mass tragedy does not in any way negate the significance of individual suffering.

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Taleb Alrefai

Here is an unflinching portrayal of the suffering endured by a young, single Shiite woman from Kuwait who falls in love with a married Sunni man with children. The title of the novel alludes to the significance of the many places in the story. 'Here' is the office where the narrator works and the flat where the heroine, Kawthar, chooses to live alone. It is the home of her Shiite family, who refuse to let their daughter marry a Sunni man, and it is also Kuwait, a country still clinging to its traditions.

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Hymns of Temptation

Laila al-Atrash

In Hymns of Temptation, Rawia Abu Najma – a documentary producer who has not visited Jerusalem since the Six Day War of 1967 – obtains a special permit to return. Although she has come to sort out the affairs of an aged aunt, she secretly hopes to make a film about people's lives in the city. Through her aunt's memories and those of her friend, the wife of the custodian of the Holy Mosque, a forbidden and passionate love affair between her aunt and the priest Mitri al-Haddad comes to light. She also uncovers old disagreements between the Greek Orthodox Church, Muslims and Arab Christians in Jerusalem. Hymns of Temptation charts the social development of Jerusalem and the struggle of different peoples to control it, describing life from the period of the Ottomans and the British Mandate at the end of the 19th century to after the Israeli occupation. It is a novel of people living through times of sweeping moral, political and social change.

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Tareq Bakari

Numedia tells the life story of Murad, written by his former girlfriend Julia, a Frenchwoman. An orphan, Murad is cursed by the people of his village. Ostracised, insulted and beaten, he turns to love in an attempt to take revenge on fate: first with Khoula, who becomes pregnant; then Nidal, his classmate and fellow comrade in resistance; then Julia, seen as the French coloniser, and with his final love Numedia, the mute Berber. The rich story of Numedia unfolds against the backdrop of the real-life historical, political and religious landscape of Morocco.

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The Temple of Silken Fingers

Ibrahim Farghali

The Temple of Silken Fingers is narrated by a manuscript which is abandoned at sea by its author. The manuscript relates what happens as it tries to reunite with its author, as well as revealing the author’s past life in the UAE, Egypt and Germany. Weaved together with this are the adventures contained within the manuscript’s pages: a story of copyists fleeing a city called the City of Injustice, which is dominated by extremists ruled by the head of a censorship bureau. On its journey, the manuscript is discovered by a number of new readers: the author’s friend, pirates and an Ethiopian girl.

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People of the Palms

Janan Jasim Halawi

People of the Palms holds a spotlight on the inhabitants of the palm groves and marshlands of Basra, Iraq. The book pulsates with stories of life and death. As Basra reels with destruction and death, the terrified Ramzi and Ahlam cut a path through the devastated city, fleeing from soldiers. Their story is just one amongst a collection of disparate tales about characters from Basra's underworld: Jodi, a worker in an old people's home, killed by the police for helping the mad Muhaidi; Johnny, the sea smuggler, forced to act as an informer for the police; Jawad, a communist, who kills the local Islamic leader, Jaafar, after he declares Communists to be apostates; Badea, an ordinary girl driven to prostitution by poverty and murdered, and Alawi, the rebellious loner who kills her murderer.

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Mariam's Journey

Mahmoud Hasan al-Jasim

Mariam's Journey opens with the lines: “I am writing this story for you, Mariam. You will read the story and know and pass on the truth of what happened to us.” This is the story told by Sara Toni Jabbour to her daughter, Mariam. Sara, a Christian woman, moves to the Syrian city of Raqqa and marries Mariam’s father, a Muslim man. When fundamentalist Salafi groups sweep through Raqqa, Sara is forced – as a Christian married to a Muslim – to retreat to her family’s village. However, with Shabiha thugs in control of the area, she flees into the unknown with Mariam only to then face merciless people smugglers. Wanting to leave her daughter a true and undistorted account of their life as a family, Sara records for Mariam the joys of life with her husband and the torment of life without him. Through the story of her journey across Lebanon, Syria and Turkey, we gain an insight into the fear experienced by those forced to leave their country.

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Desertified Waters

Hazim Kamaledin

In Desertified Waters,Hazim Kamaledin – who is both narrator and author of the novel – is murdered. Kamaledin is a filmmaker who was once famous but has been forgotten. Famous because of his film, “Desertified Waters”, which won the highest award in Saddam Hussein's Iraq: the film, intended to be critical of the regime, is cut so much by the censor that it does just the opposite. Intentionally forgotten as a result of winning the award: as those in cultural circles know the truth about how the film has been distorted, but are afraid to open up a can of worms from the past, especially since the occupation has re-imposed the forceful censorship of the past. Nobody knows the truth about his death. Some say that terrorists are responsible, others that he was a victim of a random strike at the market by the American occupying forces or those working for them.

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Letters of the Storm

Abdennour Mezzine

Letters of the Storm tells the story of a political activist in Morocco during the ‘Years of Lead’, a period of harsh governmental control between the 1960s and 1990s. Weaving together his personal life and political life, the novel examines the protagonist’s relationships before and after his initial imprisonment in Morocco and again during a second term of imprisonment in Andalusia, during which he faces psychological trauma. Central to this is the story of the activist’s love for Ghada, a woman he knew at university but lost touch with after being arrested.

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Warsaw a Little While Ago

Ahmed Muhsin

Warsaw a Little While Ago is a story of identity. It tells the story of Youzef, a Jewish musician in Poland who, having escaped death in Nazi camps, decides to emigrate, first to Israel and then to Lebanon. There he marries and has a family, before returning to Warsaw years later with his grandson, Jousef. The book tells of the amorous and musical adventures of both Youzef and Jousef who, realising his grandfather's dreams for him of being a musician, learns to play the piano. Following the Israeli attack on Beirut in 2006, Jousef also finds himself torn between staying in Warsaw and emigrating to Israel like his grandfather 60 years before. 

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The Prophecy of Saqqa

Hamed al-Nazir

The Prophecy of Saqqa is set in the 1960s, in the town of Ajayib in the hills of the Eritrean coast, where the "Ahfad", slaves to their masters the "Awtad", struggle for freedom. When a powerful Awtad asks to marry a beautiful woman from the Ahfad, they see the marriage as their chance for liberation, as prophesied. However, the Awtad look upon the proposed marriage with foreboding and do everything in their power to stop it from taking place. These events coincide with the early days of the Eritrean armed struggle for independence from Ethiopia. Its successes and failures and the divisions within the revolutionary leadership form the background to the events of the novel.

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Praise for the Women of the Family

Mahmoud Shukair

Praise for the Women of the Family is a history of the women of the Al-Abd al-Lat clan, which has left the desert and is preparing to leave its Bedouin customs behind. The women of the clan struggle with these changes and many scorn those embracing modern life: when Rasmia accompanies her husband to a party, Najma wears a dress and Sana gets a tan on her white legs, they set malicious tongues wagging; meanwhile, Wadha, the sixth wife of Mannan, the chief of the clan, still believes that the washing machine and television are inhabited by evil spirits. Set after the nakba (the Palestinian exodus from what is now Israel) in a time of political and social change, the novel witnesses the rapid advance of modernity and the seeds of conflict beginning to grow in 1950s Palestine.

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Guard of the Dead

George Yaraq

Guard of the Dead is the story of Aabir, a hospital undertaker. Working in the morgue by day and the operating theatre by night, he learns to pluck out and sell the gold teeth he finds in the corpses’ mouths. However, he lives in a state of constant dread and apprehension, his past working for a political party and as a sniper during the Lebanese Civil War hanging over him. One day, Aabir is kidnapped from the morgue. With no idea about where he is, who has taken him or why, he finds himself searching for clues about his kidnapping in his past.

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Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba

Rabai al-Madhoun

Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba is a pioneering Palestinian novel written in four parts. Each part representing a concerto movement, the novel looks at the Palestinian exodus from Israel in 1948 (known as the ‘nakba’), the holocaust and the Palestinian right to return.  Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba is a novel of Palestine from outside and from within. It examines the tragedy of everyday Palestinian life, telling the story of Palestinians living under occupation and forced to assume Israeli nationality, as well as exiled Palestinians trying to return to their now-occupied home country.

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The Black Brigade

Mohamed Mansi Qandil

The Black Brigade, set between 1863 and 1867, is a novel about love, war and destiny. The French emperor, Napoleon III, makes an agreement with Khedive Said of Egypt to transport hundreds of black slave fighters to Mexico. There, they are to be handed over to Maximilian, brother of the Austrian emperor Leopold, who travels to Mexico with his young wife Carlota amidst disturbances and revolution. The novel follows the adventures of Al-Aasi, a black slave who defies the slave traders and becomes a leader of a group of the slaves. Following a series of hardships whilst he travels from Sudan to Mexico, Al-Aasi then becomes Empress Carlota’s personal bodyguard and finally plays a role in the French Revolution and Paris Commune of 1867.

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Previous Years

You can find a complete history of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction here. Information on all the winners, shortlisted and longlisted...

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    One of the main aims of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction is to encourage the translation of Arabic literature into...

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