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International Prize for Arabic Fiction Names Six 2018 Shortlisted Novels

Announced in Amman, the six books and their authors shortlisted for this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction are now in contention for a US$50,000 purse and English translation. They represent authors with ties to seven nations.

In a news conference Wednesday (February 21) in Jordan, jurors for the 2018 International Prize for Arabic Fiction have named their six shortlisted authors. The US$50,000 award is to be conferred at Abu Dhabi’s Fairmont Bab Al Bahr on April 24, the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

The honor is an annual literary prize for prose fiction in Arabic, a program run with the support of the Booker Prize Foundation in London and sponsored by the Department of Culture and Tourism in Abu Dhabi.

As Publishing Perspectives reported, last year’s prize went to A Small Death by Mohammed Hasan Alwan. Our interview with Hasan Alwan is here.

A point of pride for the prize’s organizers this year is the presence on the shortlist of two debut novels, The Baghdad Clock and The Critical Case of ‘K’,  by the youngest authors who made the longlist, Shahad Al Rawi and Aziz Mohammed.

The Baghdad Clock is the one shortlisted work, already set for publication in English. It’s to be released on May 3 in the UK, according to the publisher’s site, by Oneworld in a translation by Luke Leafgren.

You can read Publishing Perspectives’ coverage of the longlist here.

Shortlisted Authors for the 2018 Prize
  • Flowers in Flames by Amir Tag Elsir of Sudan (Dar Al Saqi)
  • The Critical Case of ‘K’ by Aziz Mohammed, Saudi Arabia (Dar Tanweer, Lebanon)
  • The Second War of the Dog by Ibrahim Nasrallah of Palestine and Jordan (Arab Scientific Publishers)
  • Baghdad Clock by Shahad Al Rawi of Iraq (Dar al-Hikma and Oneworld, London)
  • Heir of the Tombstones by Walid Shurafa of Palestine (Al Ahlia)
  • The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous of Syria (Dar al-Adab)

The last title, Dima Wannous’ The Frightened Ones, is to be published in English by Harvill Secker in 2019, in a translation by Elisabeth Jaquette.

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Short Story: Actors by Sowmya Suresh

Life gets exceedingly painful when the metaphorical becomes literal. The average person should want the ‘actors’ in their lives to mean ‘catalysts’ and nothing more. How else could this word apply to you in an everyday setting, except through that one lexical connotation? You especially don’t want actors you barely admire to become actual catalysts.

The first time I saw his face, he was wiping the hood of his car, a dark navy sedan, with a dirty rag. I watched as he wiped for well over twenty minutes, dipping the rag in a bucket of water that was a shade of muddy brown. I couldn’t help looking at his dark, earthy, oddly square face because he was right outside my window, blocking the until-then unrestricted view of the meadow and the lake beyond. That view was mine. Yet, here was this creature, dressed only in a pair of shorts that had seen better days. What was he showing off? His car? His skinny torso? Or his lack of cleanliness?

I sat there waiting for some other resident of our enclave to handle this atrocity. No one came. After a while I went around attending to my chores. Thankfully, I had to go to work and the eyesore was soon forgotten. However, that same evening, when I got home, a shock awaited me. This man had turned that corner into a mini haunt. He had spread out a little straw mat on the beautiful green grass by the front door of the car and had invited a few friends over for a game of cards. I looked at my watch and noted the time. It was around six and the faint light from that day’s ferocious sun was still around, refracting through hesitant clouds, casting a spectacular hue over my view.

When the chai walla showed up with a tray full of cups of hot steaming tea, I just stood there and watched, appalled. One from the group looked up at me and exclaimed, ‘She is staring!’ (or something to that effect) in a Bengali that had Marxist fingerprints. I knew enough to be able to tell the difference between Tagore’s uplifting Bengali vernacular and this filth. They weren’t entirely wrong in their assumption that I wouldn’t understand their language. If the Bengali wasn’t a phrase or a sentence that matched a piece of dialogue from a Satyajit Ray movie, it might as well be gibberish.

The man, playing ‘teen patta’ (a three-card game), sitting on a mat on lush green society-maintained grass wearing a lungi and an odd crooked smile, was pointing at me and calling me an ogler.  All I could focus on was the society-fee I had to shell out each quarter for the maintenance of the ‘common area’. What I had hoped would be taken care of by the end of the day was now settling down like a season.

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Book Review: The River’s Song by Suchen Christine Lim

Reviewed by Mitali Chakravarty

River's Song

Title: The River’s Song
Author: Suchen Christine Lim

Publisher: Aurora Metro Books
Total number of Pages: 306
Price: Pounds 9.99
ISBN: 978-1-906582-98-2

The River’s Song is an epic novel by the ASEAN award-winning writer Suchen Christine Lim about people living in and around the Singapore River, from the mid-twentieth to the start of the twenty first century. Published in 2013, it spans an era of change and development in Singapore, which could be compared with the passing of an age as in Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel, Gone with the Wind. The story begins with the portrayal of people who lived by and around the water body for generations prior to the 1977 Singapore River cleanup. The cleanup changed the way of life irreversibly for immigrants who lived by the river, as did the American Civil War for the American settlers.

Most of the river dwellers prior to 1977 are shown to be immigrants from China or Malaya. Among them are the protagonist, Ping, and her mother, the pipa songstress, Yoke Lan. Yoke Lan insists that her daughter address her as Ah-ku, aunt in Cantonese, because she does not want to divulge her maternal status to her fans and customers. Ah-ku’s attempt to rise above poverty and move to respectability defines many of her actions. Ah-ku is more passionate, more like Scarlett O’ Hara, a colourful persona vis-à-vis her timid daughter, who is befriended by Weng, a dizi player. The story revolves around Ping and Weng till Ah-ku, who disappears from Ping’s life for some years, reclaims her daughter as a poor relative. Ah-ku returns to visibility as the wife of a rich and powerful towkay (a rich businessman), moving around in more educated circles.  The ascent to a better life removes both Ah-ku and her daughter from the proximity of the river. Ultimately, Ping goes to university in USA, where she spends the next thirty years of her life away from family and friends. She flits in and out of a marriage with an Indian who wears pink pants and calls himself Jeev. She befriends braless feminists and learns to call their country her home.

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When real life outstrips fiction…

Hussainul Haq’s novel “Amawas Mein Khwab” initiates a new debate on the Hindu-Muslim relationship

At a time when people cherish to be lied to, what can scare away the spectre of an unprecedented assault on the very idea of truth? Is truth a sociological reality or an unachievable ethical reality? Does the narrative of homogeneity set in motion by new information technology produce a kind of immodesty that allows us to recognise falsehood but we still treat it as if were a reality? Does our intent on peddling fantasy as a fact correspond to “Suspended Disbelief” that Coleridge found essential for literature? These frightening and unsettling questions thrown up by the post-truth period are impeccably sewn together in a novel of a celebrated Urdu novelist and short story writer Hussainul Haq and his latest novel has been doing rounds in the Urdu knowing circles of the subcontinent.

His recently published novel, “Amawas Mein Khwab” (Dreaming in the last night before the new moon), poignantly tells a tale of Ismael Rajai, who lost all his family members in a communal riot but a marked Indian passion for free-flowing of inter-personal relationship unencumbered by religious and cultural affinity and uncontaminated by self-interest enabled him to begin a new life. Ismael, lived in Bombay, Bhiwandi and Patna, and is exposed to many cultures and as a power loom owner, teacher, a friend of a landlord, a father and a thinking human being, he tries to understand why common people do the uncommon to transform themselves. His stint as a lecturer at a college in Bihar provides him with a space where several mediations are carried out. Arousal of mass-hysteria in the name of caste and religion acquaints him with the aggressive and self-destructive potential of conflict and disharmony. His tantalising journey of a new life transcends inadequacies and presents a higher level of synthesis where being apart and being together emerge a reality as audaciously as they can.

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Book Excerpt: Pal Motors by Devraj Singh Kalsi

PalMotors cover

CHAPTER 1

There were incidents of Bibi Amrit Kaur losing her gold ring in the temple, Sardarni Nasib Virdi forgetting her purse in the market and Preet leaving her mobile phone in college, but it happened for the first time that the three residents of Bungalow number 10 lost what was precious, rather, most precious, on the same day in the house.

Nasib clashed her wrists to break the bangles into pieces. The bangles – made of solid gold – produced a jarring clink. Those around her heard it. She pitched the impact of her unbearable loss with a loud cry that choked in her dry throat. She gagged her inaudible sobs using the chunni. Sardar Pal Singh, her voice, had left her forever.

Bibi Amrit, fondly called Biji, doubled her thunderous output on realizing that she had an opportunity to overpower Nasib, to show the train of mourners that a mother’s grief was heavier than a widow’s. She wept inconsolably, beating her chest wildly to gather sympathy as the most unfortunate survivor.

Preet, who had never expressed her deepest emotions in the midst of a public gathering, appeared inhibited. Her father’s dead body lay in front of her, shrouded in white. Her mother and grandmother were engaged in a competitive tearful farewell. The daughter, too, was supposed to whip up hysteria. It was the last chance to show how madly she loved him, how terribly she would miss him. The world waiting to judge her grief was disappointed. She remained conscious of drawing public attention with her cries. Her sobs emerged irregularly like hiccups. Despite her best effort to react to the cold reality staring in the face she failed to put up an impressive debut.

Sardar Pal Singh’s funeral attracted large crowds. He was popular among all communities, cutting across age groups, in the small multi-cultural town where he was born, raised, educated, and married. Almost everyone in bustling Kendrapara knew him as the bountiful, cheerful, delightful, helpful, merciful, resourceful and respectful Sardar who owned Pal Motors – his automobile spare parts shop beside Uttam Market on Station Road.

Plenty of hands jostled to pay last respects, to establish the final physical contact, to touch the body, the feet or at least the white cotton sheet. Many showed up for the sake of attendance and melted into the crowd. Throngs of mourners waited to see the farewell and funeral proceedings in a Sikh family. Some trooped in just because they wanted to enter the bungalow that looked impenetrable like a fortress. The spiked iron gates were thrown open for trucks and general public.

Biji detested the sight of Nasib kissing her husband’s face and resting her head on his chest. She half-closed her eyes to avoid the intimate scene. When Samir trained his lens to shoot these candid moments, Biji opened her eyes and objected, “What’s the use of taking photos now?”

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The 12 worst workplaces in contemporary literature

From office drones occupying bland white cubicles of repressed misery in Corporate America to unwanted, but necessary, guest workers toiling in the hot sands of Abu Dhabi, these 12 contemporary books skewer corporate culture and reveal the inevitable result of a capitalistic society that views workers as anonymous, replaceable cogs in a never-ending pursuit of profit.

Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishan

Temporary People is a work of fiction set in the UAE, where I was raised and where foreign nationals constitute over 80 percent of the population. It is a nation built by people who are eventually required to leave,” prefaces the author. In these 28 interlinked stories and poems, Unnikrishnan combines Malayalam, Arabic, and English to encapsulate the dissonance of these displaced guest workers straddled between two countries and breaking their backs for a country that they can never call home. The displacement and dehumanization of these perpetual foreigners manifests as metamorphoses: a migrant moonlights as a mid-sized hotel, a runaway shape-shifts into a suitcase and a sultan grow “ideal” workers with a twelve-year shelf life from pods. One chapters contains only a list of occupations “Tailor. Hooker. Horse Looker. Maid.” and ends with “Cog. Cog? Cog.” With anti-migrant sentiment at an all time high, Temporary People is a timely and necessary exploration of how “temporary status affects psyches, families, memories, fables, and language(s).”

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A crash course in diversifying your bookshelf

Is your reading list looking a little monochrome? We’ve compiled 15 books to help you broaden your horizons

In the past year, I’ve made a conscious and intentional effort to read in an inclusive and representative way. For me this means reading perspectives that differ from mine, about experiences that are new to me, and learning from people who have lived in ways that offer precious teachings. It also means reading nonfiction and fiction in equal measure. Consuming the news and nonfiction about important but heavy topics can be emotionally draining; whereas poetry and comics can uplift us when we feel weltshmerz or despair.

This is why I’ve put together a list of books by writers, poets, and artists from a range of backgrounds. When read in the order presented, it creates a narrative arc of its own. The list builds from a slow crescendo of more accessible books to heavy-hitters that draw on academic and historical research, finishing with a few books that unearth the kinds of futures we want to create.

These titles will humble you and fill you with wonder. But most important, they will hopefully also inspire you to create your own stories in ways that are most representative of your experiences.

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Short story: Yellow Lightning by Soumi Das

The boy, no more than four, rose when the rooster crowed. If he did not wake up immediately, his younger brother would, and Ma would say, ‘See, Khoka, your younger brother can barely walk, and yet he is so eager to go to school.’ So little Khoka had made it a habit to talk to his pillow the night before, asking it to jerk him awake as soon as he heard the rooster, and there were days when the pillow, quite like Alladin’s genie, did so even earlier.

Ma was already up roasting a fistful of flattened rice on the iron griddle, the half burnt aroma of which filled the thatched house. God knows what time she woke up, or if she got a wink of sleep at all. Khoka had only seen her working, bustling around the house, in the kitchen, in the fields, milking the cows… But mothers are like that, he thought to himself.

He rubbed his eyes and tying his thin gamchha around his waist, went to the well to draw water for his morning bath. A bath was a must, regardless of the hour of the day – no one went to school without a bath. His teeth chattering, he lowered the metal bucket into the water, the loud clang against the wall, the only sound in the silent, cold, dark morning. Hands shaking under the weight, he poured all the water on his head, then darted in, as the sky turned a slow crimson.

As usual, Ma was waiting with his brass bowl of piping hot milk and some flattened rice soaked in it. Quietly, quickly, Khoka slurped it all up, picked up his cloth bag, and started his trek to school – alone.

This was his regular routine – the long march to the government primary school at Kulunga passing through a dense sal forest adjoining his village, Sagjor. He was the only child of his age to go to school; his neighbours – children of peasants, herdsmen – were the lucky ones who got to roam around the village aimlessly the whole day, following their parents, playing, going for a swim when they felt like. If only he had been as fortunate. Somehow he liked his walk, trudging through the jungles at that unearthly hour, the sound of his solitary footsteps on the dry bed of leaves, too early even for the birds to start chirping or crows to start cawing. He walked and walked and walked. It would take him at least two hours to get anywhere close to Kulunga, a good five to six kilometres away from his village.

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China’s fiction and nonfiction bestsellers of 2017

Fiction bestsellers in China last year were dominated by non-Chinese authors, according to OpenBook, while homegrown authors sold better in nonfiction.

One of the most reliable fixtures on the monthly fiction bestseller lists from China’s OpenBook has been Japanese author Higashino Keigo, best known for his mystery novels. In 2017, his Miracles of the Namiya General Store had its second year at the overall top of OpenBook’s China’s charts. In both 2016 and 2017, this was the biggest seller.

Keigo’s dominance doesn’t stop there. Three of his works are in the Top 5 on the annual charts, with Journey Under the Midnight Sunand The Devotion of Suspect X at Nos. 4 and 5, respectively.

The Afghan-born American author Khaled Hosseini and Scotland-based Claire McFall complete the Top 5 on the list, with Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and McFall’s Ferryman.

One of the most noticeable trends in the fiction bestseller list is the dominance of foreign authors. When Publishing Perspectives pursued the question of why so many fiction bestsellers in China are by non-Chinese authors, we were told that there are three factors in play.

  • Many Chinese readers have an interest in leading international popular titles, a factor evident in the familiar Western books on the list.
  • Television and film production, often attached to one of these titles, can be a key driver.
  • And some authors—chief among them is Japanese author Higashino Keigo—gain a kind of cult status and can generate years of sales on reputation and across many books.

OpenBook in China is similar to Nielsen in the UK or NPD in the United States, providing research and analysis on the evolving Chinese publishing industry. Below is OpenBook’s list of bestselling fiction titles in China in 2017:

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Book Review: Djinn City by Saad Z. Hossain

Reviewed by Gita Viswanath

Djinn City

 

Title: Djinn City
Author: Saad Z. Hossain
Publisher: Aleph, 2017
Pages: 447
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Saad Hossain conjures up a fantastical world of djinn in his second novel, Djinn City. As an allegory of contemporary times, the novel, peopled by strangely named characters such as Indelbed and Sikkim, psychotic men, overbearing women and drunken louts, creates a world of business conglomerates, deceit and revenge, crime and passion and existential crises. This is a world that oscillates between the human and the djinn worlds in which djinn play havoc by causing earthquakes, tsunamis and fires.

The novel opens with the motherless child Indelbed, the quintessential poor cousin in a family of diplomats, subjected to ridicule and negligence alongside denial of access to school education. His cousin Rais, the diplomat’s son, is the only one sympathetic to Indelbed. His father Kaikobad, who lives in a permanent state of inebriation, is later revealed to be an emissary to the djinn world. Kaikobad goes into coma induced through the machinations of the evil Matteras, a psychotic djinn with enormous powers. He is endowed with impressive auctoritas – a term that indicates the massive influence a djinn has on djinndom. Indelbed, a cross between a djinn mother and human father has to be sent away as he could be the next victim of the evil djinn. From then on, the novel races through complexly twisted plots narrated with elements of the bizarre, the grotesque and with dark humour.

The book ends with a Great War fought to reclaim the glory of Gangaridai in a narrative of heightened pace and descriptions of deadly weapons, airships, submarines and nuclear warheads, all of which reveals the author’s sharp understanding of technical details. At the centre of the war is Gangaridai, the seat of an ancient civilization now in a state of ruin, its population decimated in the Great War. Unlike epic wars that claim to be fought on sublime moral grounds with victory of good over evil as a given, this war ends with the retrieval of more mundane but important things for survival in the modern world. ‘This was enough to take back power, it was everything,’ (emphasis original) says the omniscient third person narrator.

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