Shortlist announced for 2021 International Prize for Arabic Fiction


Monday 29th March 2021: The Eye of Hammurabi by Abdulatif Ould Abdullah, Notebooks of the Bookseller by Jalal Barjas, The Calamity of the Nobility by Amira Ghenim, The Bird Tattoo by Dunya Mikhail, File 42 by Abdelmajid Sebbata and Longing for the Woman Next Door by Habib Selmi have today been announced as the shortlisted works for the 14th International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF). Each of the six shortlisted authors will receive $10,000, with the winner announced on 25th May receiving an additional $50,000.
The shortlist was revealed by this year’s Chair of Judges Chawki Bazih, who appeared alongside Fleur Montanaro, the prize’s Administrator, at an online event hosted on the prize’s Facebook page. They were then joined in a live press conference by Yasir Suleiman, Chair of the Board of Trustees, and the judging panel. 
The shortlisted authors for IPAF’s 14th edition range in age from 31 to 70 and represent Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. Collectively, the writers address important issues facing the Arab world today including narratives exploring crimes committed against humanity amidst war and conflict, to the importance of one’s homeland, relationships, memory and identity. The shortlist also highlights the enduring power of literature for both author and reader.   
The shortlist was chosen by a panel of five judges chaired by Lebanese poet and author Chawki Bazih. Judging alongside Bazih are Mohammed Ait Hanna, a Moroccan writer, translator and lecturer of Philosophy at the Regional Centre for Teaching Careers and Training in Casablanca; Safa Jubran, a lecturer of Arabic Language and Modern Literature at the University of San Paolo in Brazil; Ali Al-Muqri, a Yemeni writer twice longlisted for IPAF in 2009 and 2011 respectively; and Ayesha Sultan, an Emirati author, journalist, founding director of Warrak Publishing House and Vice President of the Emirates Writers Union.
Those on the 2021 shortlist who have been recognised by the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in previous years include Jalal Bargas (longlisted in 2019 for Women of the Five Senses) and Habib Selmi (shortlisted in 2009 for The Scents of Marie-Claire and again in 2012 for The Women of al-Basatin). 
Authors who have been shortlisted for the prize for the first time are Abdulatif Ould Abdullah, Amira Ghenim, Dunya Mikhail and Abdelmajid Sebbata. 
The 2021 shortlist, listed in alphabetical order by author surname, is as follows:



Country of origin


Abdulatif Ould Abdullah

The Eye of Hammurabi


Dar Mim

Jalal Barjas

Notebooks of the Bookseller


The Arabic Institute for Research and Publishing

Amira Ghenim

The Calamity of the Nobility


Dar Mesaa

Dunya Mikhail

The Bird Tattoo


Dar al-Rafidain

Abdelmajid Sebbata

File 42


Al-Markez al-Thaqafi al-Arabi

Habib Selmi

Longing for the Woman Next Door


Dar al-Adab


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

Chawki Bazih, Chair of the 2021 Judges, said:

“The most obvious thing revealed by an in-depth examination of the six shortlisted novels is how the authors move away from the limits of the ego and are resourced by their ancestral roots, mother countries and shared memory. Their subjects may not be entirely new, since the Arab present is an exact copy of its past. However, what makes these works unique is something other than their subjects. It is their stylistic richness and power to astonish readers, making them catch their breath; their well-constructed, suspenseful plots; their successful deployment of folklore and the collective imagination, and their deft use of language, both flowing and tight.”

Professor Yasir Suleiman CBE, Chair of the Board of Trustees, said:

“The novels in this shortlist enact complex and unsettling conversations between the past and the present to questions and notions of belonging, identity and the cacophonous rhythms of the homeland refracted through different registers, characters and story lines. Whether writing from home or from the diaspora, intra-culturally or inter-culturally, our writers coalesce on a vision of the contemporary Arab world which, in spite of its geographic scatter, seems to display troubling philosophical coherence. This is a strong shortlist that readers of the Arabic novel will remember and cherish for a long time.”

Key Dates:

  • The 2021 judges will come together in an online panel event to discuss this year's shortlist on 18th May 2021. The event will be chaired by Moroccan writer, broadcaster and Prize trustee, Yassin Adnan
  • The winner of the 14th IPAF will be announced in an online ceremony on 25th May 2021

In fulfilling its ambition to increase the international reach of Arabic fiction, the prize provides funding for the English translation of its winners. Winning novels published in English include Hoda Barakat’s The Night Mail (translated as Voices of the Lost, Oneworld); Rabai al-Madhoun’s Fractured Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba (Hoopoe); Shukri Mabkhout’s The Italian (Europa Editions); Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad (Oneworld, UK, and Penguin Books, US); Saud Alsanousi’s The Bamboo Stalk;  Mohammed Achaari’s The Arch and the Butterfly; Raja Alem’s The Dove’s Necklace (Duckworth, UK, and Overlook Press, US); Abdo Khal’s Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles; Youssef Ziedan’s Azazeel (Atlantic Books); and Bahaa Taher’s Sunset Oasis (Sceptre).

2020 saw the publication in English of several novels recognised by the prize, including 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; and The Girl with the Braided Hair by Rasha Adley (longlisted as Passion in 2018), translated by Sarah Enany and published by Hoopoe.

2021 will see the translation into English of The King of India by Jabbour Douaihy (shortlisted in 2020), translated by Paula Haydar; Summer with the Enemy by Shahla Ujayli (shortlisted in 2019), translated by Michelle Hartman; and All the Women Inside Me by Jana Elhassan (shortlisted in 2013 as Me, She and the Other Women), translated by Michelle Hartman. All three will be published by Interlink Books (USA).