Celebrations at the Winner Ceremony of the 16th International Prize for Arabic Fiction
Omani author Zahran Alqasmi’s fourth novel The Water Diviner, which was published by Dar Rashm, was announced on Sunday night as the 16th winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
The announcement was made by the Chair of Judges, Moroccan novelist Mohammed Achaari, at a ceremony in Abu Dhabi. Earlier in the ceremony, IPAF Trustee and Moroccan writer Yaseen Adnan gave a welcoming speech after which each of the six shortlisted authors were honoured as short films were screened in which they read from and talked about their novels. Each of the finalists received $10,000.
In his opening speech, IPAF Chair of the Board of Trustees Yasir Suleiman discussed the success of the Prize which is now considered the top award for an Arabic novel in the world, highlighting the reasons behind this success. He also congratulated trustee HE Zaki Nusseibeh and Jonathan Taylor, the first Chair of Trustees of the Prize, and said that the Board of Trustees had decided last summer to honour them both for their invaluable roles in launching the prize and fostering it over the years.
IPAF Administrator Fleur Montanaro shed light on the Prize’s work apart from awarding the best novel every year, which includes organizing an annual nadwa for budding Arab writers. Montanaro announced that the Prize will launch another nadwa for literary publishers, highlighting the importance of editorial work in producing and refining a literary text. She also congratulated Mohammed Alnaas, whose novel Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table won the prize in 2022, on the forthcoming English translation of his novel by publisher Harper Via.
In a press conference following the ceremony, Achaari expressed his joy in discovering the works submitted for the prize, which revealed wonderful experiences and new shifts in content and style, explaining that they reflected the plurality, richness and aspirations of the Arab world. He also said that the shortlisted novels indicate that Arab fiction writers are preoccupied with the questions of the present and with changing the future, and that they take seriously their modernizing role in the Arab world.
Speaking about the winning novel, Achaari described its language as beautiful, sensitive and poetic, its plot as clever, strong and smooth, and its characters and human relationships as unforgettable. He also said that The Water Diviner was different from the familiar tradition of Arabic fiction – a priority for the prize as it seeks to present readers with a variety of literature from the Arab world.
Judge Fadhila El Farouk said that the issue of water is a universal concern due to climate change, which gives the novel a global dimension in addition to its local particularities.
Alqasmi said that though the irrigation system is central to the novel, it is also about a centuries-old societal system. It sheds light on the life of a village and how it is impacted by the abundance or scarcity of water.
In response to a comment that last year’s winning novel was about bread, while this year’s is about water, Alqasmi said that Arabic – and also global – fiction is perhaps saturated with political themes, and it is now focusing on the ordinary person and everyday issues.
Alqasmi, is the first Omani to win the prize. In addition to winning $50,000, Alqasmi is guaranteed funding for the English translation of The Water Diviner. Alqasmi can also expect an increase in book sales and international recognition.