Sunday, February 19, 2012

'Emerging Arab Voices' - NADWA 1

Founded in Abu Dhabi in 2007, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) is entering its sixth round this year. In 2009, the IPAF extended the activities of their remit and created a workshop, entitled “nadwa,” to recognize and support younger writers toward developing the future generation of authors, while highlighting the importance of translation of Arabic literature into other languages. The 2009 inaugural edition of “nadwa” produced a bilingual book, entitled “Emerging Arab Voices.” 

The book includes eight short stories and excerpts from novels-in-development. The aim of “nadwa” was to have a balanced representation of men and women from across the Arabic speaking world for a literary workshop. The result brought: Tunisian translator, writer and critic Kamel Riahi; Lebanese culture journalist and novelist Lana Abdel Rahman; Sudanese journalist and writer Mansour el-Sowaim; Egyptian journalist and novelist Mansoura Ez-Eldin from the Delta in Egypt; Saudi columnist Mohammed Hassan Alwan; Cairo-born, award-winning writer Mohammad Salah Al-Azab; Yemeni writer and professor of architecture Nadiah Al-Kokabany; and Emirati editor of Al-Ittihad newspaper Nasser al-Dhaheri.

The group spent 10 days on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi where they partook in writing, reading, critiquing and reviewing each other’s work. By 2011, “Emerging Arab Voices” was published, bringing together the stories that were produced in the workshop in Arabic, along with their English translation.

There is a thread that goes through all of the stories. On the most part, they similarly deal with ideas of nostalgia and the passing of time and generations. The stories are each filled with dimensions of personality and intrigue, both good and bad. While some of the stories eloquently express ideas that are clearly inspired by the authors’ hometowns, others do not reach expectations.

Tunisian writer, Kamel Riahi’s story, “The Gorilla” is so deeply allegorical that it is difficult to really capture a narrative, as it is poeticized to the point of incoherence. Unfortunately, the words seem to be haphazardly put together, like a collage of sentences and images that don’t allow the reader to constitute a coherent idea.

Award-winning Egyptian novelist Mohammad Salah Al-Azab’s inclusion is a chapter from a forthcoming novel. Entitled “Temporary Death,” the story conjures rather unsettling imagery. While some referred to his story as “daring” in the surreal mixture of an ageless child, a source of eternal youth and sexual desire, it is a peculiar story that is told in plain and uncomplicated terms. The end result is more strange than interesting.

Mansoura Ez-Eldin’s “Déjà Vu” attempts to capture an elusive moment of memory replay but doesn’t quite capture the reader’s imagination. The bewilderment expressed over this banal instant drowns it in disinterest.

On the other hand, Lana Abdel Rahman’s “Letters to Yann Andrea” is inspirational by the author’s demonstrated love for literature. Set in Beirut during the summer of 2006, the narrator writes letters to Yann, demonstrating a therapeutic thought process between her situation in war, ravaged surroundings and her curiosity about the loneliness of French writer, Marguerite Duras.
Nadia Al Kokabany writes about her city in “My Own Sana’a.” It is a beautifully written, soft and eloquent piece bringing together the romance of love and dreams to the personal nostalgia and separation from a historical home city.

Saudi columnist Mohammed Hassan Alwan’s extract for a forthcoming novel is entitled “The Beaver.” An internal relay of his own memories of his childhood is warm, heartfelt and smoothly written. He thinks of his sister and their fragile, cold relationship with their mother, giving it the tangible description of “paper affection.” The excerpt explores the gender roles of people within his family, particularly the women, contemplating them in his decision to move to the bigger city, Riyadh.

Among the intentions of the book is to encourage translations of Arabic literature into English. At present, only two to three percent of the English book market is made up of translations, so the shortage of Arabic books into English is something both ends of the process need to support. “Nadwa” and the IPAF’s initiative is a timely and necessary one that will hopefully serve as an influencing push for more people to look at this gap in cultural exchange between the Arabic and English speaking world.

Since the publishing of the 2009 “nadwa” stories in “Emerging Arab Voices,” two more workshops have taken place in Abu Dhabi. The results of the 2010 and 2011 “nadwa” workshops are currently under discussion and in development.

About the Prize

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) is an annual literary prize run with the support of the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by the Emirates Foundation in Abu Dhabi.
The Prize was launched in Abu Dhabi in April 2007 with an intention to address the limited international availability of high quality Arab fiction. The initiative was based on a suggestion by Egyptian publisher Ibrahim el Moalem and British publisher George Weidenfeld that a prize modelled on the successful Man Booker Prize would encourage recognition of high quality Arabic fiction, reward Arab writers and lead to increased international readership through translation. At its launch, Jonathan Taylor, the IPAF Chairman, said: “I believe that this Prize will reward and bring recognition and readership to outstanding writers in Arabic. I look forward to seeing more high-quality Arabic fiction being accessible to a wider world.”

The Prize is the first of its kind in the Arab world in its commitment to the independence, transparency and integrity of its selection process.

Each year a panel of five judges, made up of literary critics, writers and academics from the Arab world and beyond, is selected by the Board of Trustees. Publishers can submit three of their novels from the previous year. The Judges read all the novels submitted, usually in excess of 100 in total, and together decide a longlist, shortlist and winner. To ensure complete integrity, the names of the Judges are not revealed until the shortlist announcement. This integrity of the judging process is of fundamental importance for the Prize. The Judges can have no regard to external influences and opinions, nor to issues of nationality, religion, politics, gender or age.

On the Prize, Jonathan Taylor comments: “Impact is the essence of a successful literary prize. It needs to be discussed; argued about; criticised; and even sometimes praised! There may be lively disagreement about who is included and who is excluded from the longlist and the shortlist. And the eventual winner may provoke fierce debate as well as great acclaim.”

The winner announcement takes place in Abu Dhabi in March, when the shortlisted finalists each receive $10,000 US Dollars and the winner an additional $50,000 US Dollars. Authors can look forward to increased book sales both within the Arab world and internationally through translation

Shortlist 2012

The Unemployed

Nasser Iraq

The Unemployed tells the story of a young, educated Egyptian man from a middle-class family who, like so many others, is forced to look for work in Dubai due to the lack of opportunity in Cairo. In Dubai, he discovers an astonishing world filled with people of all nationalities and he experiences mixed treatment from his friends, relations and acquaintances. And then, just as he falls in love with an Egyptian girl, he finds himself imprisoned for the murder of a Russian prostitute…
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Toy of Fire

Bashir Mufti

Toy of Fire is the story of a meeting between the novelist, Bashir Mufti, and a mysterious character called Rada Shawish, who presents Mufti with a manuscript containing his autobiography. Shawish’s goal in life has always been not to turn out like his father, who ran an underground cell in the seventies and committed suicide in the eighties. However, circumstances have driven him to follow in his father’s footsteps, resulting in him becoming a leading member of a secret group of his own.
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The Vagrant

Jabbour Douaihy

The Vagrant provides a realistic, engaging portrayal of the Lebanese civil war through the eyes of a young man who finds himself uprooted by the conflict. The hero represents the crisis of the Lebanese individual imposed upon by a sectarian reality. We follow his struggle to belong as he faces unfamiliar situations and conflicts in a society that considers him an outsider.
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The Druze of Belgrade

Rabee Jaber

After the 1860 civil war in Mount Lebanon, a number of fighters from the religious Druze community are forced into exile, travelling by sea to the fortress of Belgrade on the boundary of the Ottoman Empire.  In exchange for the freedom of a fellow fighter, they take with them a Christian man from Beirut called Hana Yaaqub; an unfortunate egg seller who happens to be sitting at the port. The Druze of Belgrade follows their adventures in the Balkans, as they struggle to stay alive.
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The Women of al-Basatin

Habib Selmi

The Women of Al-Basatin is an intimate portrayal of the daily lives of a modest family living in the Al-Basatin district of Tunis in Tunisia. Through the stories of this small matriarchal environment, we observe the contradictions of the wider Tunisian society, exposing a world in flux between burdensome religious traditions and a troubled modernity.
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Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge

Ezzedine Choukri Fishere

Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge is a novel about alienation in its various forms and senses: the hero who doesn’t belong; his second wife, torn between professional ambition and a desperation to give her husband the impression she belongs in his world; his son, with whom he has limited communication; his granddaughter, uncertain where she belongs, and his Egyptian friend, who discovers that neither his children nor his Cuban-American-Lebanese wife belong to his world. All these characters are linked by their relationship with the protagonist, who draws them together by inviting them to his granddaughter’s birthday party, at which he intends to convey some sad news.
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