An Amsterdam chapter to the IPAF



By Robbert A.F.L. Woltering, Assistant professor Arabic studies and Director ACMES, University of Amsterdam

Whilst this year’s IPAF award ceremony took place in Abu Dhabi on 26 April, a shadow event was underway in Amsterdam.

A panel of Arabists convened before an excited audience of Arabic literature fans at the University of Amsterdam to discuss the shortlisted novels, and select their favourite.

After a brief introduction by the famed literary translator Djûke Poppinga, each title was carefully discussed.

Dutch-Syrian Arabist and interpreter Rehab Chaker spoke warmly of Shahla Ujayli’s novel, A Sky Close to Our House, particularly the lively descriptions of Aleppo.

Liesbeth Zack, a linguist specialising in Egyptian dialect, expressed her mixed emotions about the explicit horrors in Mohamed Rabie’s Mercury and noted how the absence of hope seems to be the key theme in this dark novel.

Praise for the Women of the Family by the Palestinian author Mahmoud Shukair was deemed a far more traditional, even simple, novel by the panel, but also beautifully written.

Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba – also by a Palestinian author, Rabai al-Madhoun – was universally recognised as the most experimental novel on the shortlist. Arabist and historian Lucia Admiraal offered her insights on this novel and its complex narrative structure, and the panel generally agreed that the changes in perspective made this a particularly exciting novel. The novel’s references to modern Palestinian literature (The Pessoptimist) were considered a welcome extra dimension.

The case for Tareq Bakari’s Numedia was made by the Kurdish-Iraqi author Mariwan Kanie, who praised the novel for its numerous perspectives, through which the main character continues to be in the limelight. Kanie asserted that this novel, featuring a protagonist seeking to correct the image of the Orient but ending up only reaffirming its stereotypes, is a worthy successor to Season of Migration to the North.

The final book to be discussed by the panel was George Yaraq’s Guard of the Dead. Groningen-based Arabist Hisham Hamad noted that, while the novel offers few surprises, it demands appreciation for the subtle manner in which the main character’s moral metamorphosis is described.

Suspense was high at 7pm, shortly after the winner announcement in Abu Dhabi, when it was time to discover which novel the official IPAF judging panel had chosen as the 2016 winner. IPAF Trustees Michel Moushabeck and Rasheed El-Enany connected with the Amsterdam audience via a video call and broke the exciting news: the prize had been won by Rabai al-Madhoun for his novelDestinies. The novel was one of the favourites of the Amsterdam panel.