A Mask, the Colour of the Sky wins 2024 International Prize for Arabic Fiction


Sunday 28 April 2024: A Mask, the Colour of the Sky by Basim Khandaqji was today named as the winner of the 2024 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) in an announcement by Chair of Judges Nabil Suleiman during the annual award ceremony in Abu Dhabi (also streamed online).

The judges selected the winning book from 133 submitted titles as the best novel published in Arabic between July 2022 and June 2023. The owner of its Lebanon-based publishing house Dar al-Adab, Rana Idriss, accepted the award in Abu Dhabi on behalf of Khandaqji.


The “mask” of the book’s title evokes the blue identity card belonging to an Israeli found by the protagonist Nur – an archaeologist living in a refugee camp in Ramallah – in the pocket of an old coat. He adopts this mask, and what follows is an experimental and multi-layered narrative which sets out to reclaim elements of history and place with vivid and memorable characterisation.


Nabil Suleiman, Chair of the 2024 Judges, said:


A Mask, the Colour of the Sky fuses the personal with the political in innovative ways. It ventures into experimenting with new narrative forms to explore three types of consciousness: that of the self, the Other, and the world. It dissects a complex, bitter reality of family fragmentation, displacement, genocide, and racism. The strands of history, myth, and the present day are delicately woven together in a narrative that pulses with compassion in the face of dehumanisation, and is stirred by a desire for freedom from oppression, both at an individual and societal level. A Mask, the Colour of the Sky declares love and friendship as central to human identity above all other affiliations.


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


The protagonist in A Mask, the Colour of the Sky embarks on a journey in which the self, under the guise of the Other, faces that same Other in cleverly woven encounters, whilst on a mission to rescue Mary Magdalene from the narrative of The Da Vinci Code. An archaeology of victimhood emerges, and the trauma of modern Palestine unravels. A Palestinian woman from Haifa in Israel, who tenaciously holds to her own national narrative, helps the protagonist to revert to his unmasked self. After careful scene setting, the novel gathers pace quickly, ensnaring the reader in its galloping storylines and unexpected subtle humour.


Imprisoned since 2004, Khandaqji has written poetry collections – including Rituals of the First Time (2010) and The Breath of a Nocturnal Poem (2013) – as well as three earlier novels, The Narcissus of Isolation (2017), The Eclipse of Badr al-Din (2019) and The Breath of a Woman Let Down (2020).


Alongside Khandaqji, the 2024 shortlist features novels by Raja Alem (Saudi Arabia), Rima Bali (Syria), Osama Al-Eissa (Palestine), Ahmed Al-Morsi (Egypt) and Eissa Nasiri (Morocco).

The panel of five judges was chaired by Syrian writer Nabil Suleiman. Joining him on the panel were Palestinian writer, researcher and academic Sonia Nimr, Czech academic František Ondráš, Egyptian critic and journalist Mohamed Shoair, and Sudanese writer and journalist Hammour Ziada.

The aim of IPAF is to reward excellence in contemporary Arabic creative writing and to encourage the readership of high-quality Arabic literature internationally through the translation and publication in other major languages of novels recognised by the prize (whether as winners, or on shortlists or longlists).