Book Fair construction and a Frankenstein in Baghdad: LAF’s Alexandra Büchler reports from the 2014 Abu Dhabi International Book Fair…
The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF) opened today, Wednesday 30th April, and day zero was marked by the usual semi-organised chaos of half set-up stands, plastic sheets underfoot, books spilling from stacks of cartons, people climbing up ladders and the all-pervasive smell of fresh paint and adhesive. And I love it, this last minute mayhem that miraculously turns into order at the strike of midnight.
International Prize for Arabic Fiction awarded to Iraqi novelist Ahmed Saadawi
As every year, the eve of ADIBF opening was dedicated to the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) Awards. IPAF, established seven years ago, is one of the most prestigious international literary prizes which keeps the finger on the pulse of fiction from around the Arab world by awarding novels published in the previous year. The shortlist of six included two authors from Iraq, two from Morocco, one from Syria and one from Egypt. In addition to its monetary value – the winner received 50,000 USD and the runners up 10,000 each – the prize represents a major endorsement, and is as important for the winning novelist as it is for their publisher. The most distinguished publishers of the Arab world feature on the final list and the prize secures the winner translation into English and other languages.
The winner of IPAF 2014 is Frankenstein in Baghdad by the Iraqi novelist Ahmed Saadawi who first came to the attention of the wider English-speaking readership through the Beirut39 project ran by the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts in 2010 and through the London-based Banipal magazine’s issue 37 dedicated to Iraqi authors. The novel revolves around a chillingly surreal metaphor: a rag-and-bone man collects body parts from the streets of Baghdad to reassemble them into a monster creature, an Iraqi Frankenstein, born of the violence that has become synonymous with the city.
The other shortlisted novels are no less disturbing: in her novel Tashari, Inaam Kachachi, the only woman on the shortlist, deals with an exiled Iraqi family whose members are scattered around the world, while the Syrian author Khaled Khalifa’s novel No Knives in the City’s Kitchens explores the disintegration of Syrian society under the impact of an oppressive regime.
Morrocco’s Youssef Fadel set his novel A Rare Blue Bird That Flies with Me in the era referred to as “the years of cinders and lead”, while The Blue Elephant by the youngest contender, Egypt’s Yussef Fadel, is set in a hospital for the criminally insane.
The last shortlisted author, Morrocan novelist Abdelrehim Lahbibi, looks to history and the literary devices of the 19th century to examine Muslim society in The Journeys of Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya.