Last night in Abu Dhabi, Lebanese author Rabee Jaber was awarded the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, given for the past five years for novels originally written in Arabic. The forty-two-year-old author took the award, also known as the Arabic Booker (it is sponsored by major literary prize underwriter Man Booker), for his historical novel The Druze of Belgrade.
Still unpublished in English, a state that is likely to change shortly if the fate of past honorees' work serves as any indication, Jaber is a well-known author in his native Lebanon. He has published seventeen novels and, in 1992, won the country's Critics Choice Award for his debut, Master of Darkness.
Jaber received fifty thousand U.S. dollars, and each finalist received ten thousand dollars. The shortlisted authors were Jabbour al-Douaihy of Lebanon for The Vagrant, Ezzedine Choukri Fishere of Egypt for Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge, Nasser Iraq of Egypt for The Unemployed, Bachir Mefti of Algeria for Toy of Fire, and Habib Selmi of Tunisia for The Women of al-Basatin.
The award was presented at the launch of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. The winner and shortlisted authors will appear in conversation tomorrow evening at the festival to discuss risk-taking in Arabic fiction.
Past winners of the Arabic Booker include Saudi novelist Raja Alem (The Doves' Necklace) and Moroccan author Mohammed Achaari (The Arch and the Butterfly), who split the award last year, as well as Egypt's Bahaa Taher (Sunset Oasis) and Youssef Ziedan (Azazel), and Abdo Khal of Saudi Arabia (Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles).