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Kuwaiti writer wins ‘Arabic Booker’ with sophomore novel

The novels shortlisted for the 2013 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

ABU DHABI: “The Bamboo Stalk” by Kuwaiti writer Saud Alsanousi won the sixth International Prize for Arabic Fiction Tuesday.

The novel was chosen as the best fiction work to be published in the last 12 months, selected from 133 submissions from across the Arab world. Alsanousi’s book tells the story of Issa, the son of a Kuwaiti father and a Filipino mother.

While his mother has depicted Kuwait as a mythical country, upon his return there as an adult, the hero finds himself caught between the ties he shares with his father’s family and the prejudices of a traditional society – which views a child of Kuwaiti-Filipino heritage as socially unacceptable.

The winner was named by this year’s IPAF jury chair, Egyptian writer and academic Galal Amin. In its statement, the jury described “The Bamboo Stalk” as a “skilfully constructed ... story of great strength and depth which questions identity in modern society.”

Born in 1981, Alsanousi is the youngest writer to win the prize. “The Bamboo Stick” is his second novel. His first, “Prisoner of Mirrors,” was published in 2010.

In addition to the $50,000 cash prize, Alsanousi is guaranteed an English translation of his novel – with the assumed increase in book sales and international recognition attendant to it.

To date, five of the six winning novels have secured deals for English-language publication. Overall, winning and shortlisted books since 2008 have been translated into over 20 languages.

‘‘The members of the judging panel are delighted that ‘The Bamboo Stalk’ has won the prize,” Amin commented at the awards ceremony. “All the judges agreed on the superior quality of this novel, both artistically and also in terms of its social and humanitarian content.”

The other finalists were Iraqi Sinan Antoon for “Hail Mary,” Tunisian Houcine el-Oued for “His Excellency the Minister,” Lebanese author Jana El Hassan for “Me, She and the Other Women,” Saudi Mohammad Hasan Alwan for “The Beaver” and Egyptian Ibrahim Issa for “Our Master.” The five were also honored at Tuesday’s ceremony, each of them receiving, like the winner, $10,000.

Joining Amin on the IPAF jury were Lebanese academic and critic Sobhi al-Boustani; Ali Ferzat, head of the Arab Cartoonists’ Association, and owner and chief editor of the independent Syrian newspaper Al-Domari; Polish academic and professor of Arabic literature at the Arts College of the Jagiellonian University of Cracow; author Barbara Michalak-Pikulska; and professor Zahia Smail Salhi, specialist in Arabic literature classical and modern and gender studies at Manchester University.

The prize is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, which marks its first year as the new sponsor of the award.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 25, 2013, on page 16.

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