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Book review: The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi (translated by Jonathan Wright)

Reviewed by Krishnasruthi Srivalsan

The Bamboo Stalk

Title: The Bamboo Stalk
Author: Saud Alsanousi, translated by Jonathan Wright
Publisher: Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing
Pages: 384
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The protagonist of Saud Alsanousi’s The Bamboo Stalk is a deeply conflicted man. Jose Mendoza is raised in his mother’s country as a god fearing Catholic who was baptised in the church at the age of ten. Yet, his mother prepares him for a life in the promised ‘paradise’, his father’s country, Kuwait. Jose has a Kuwaiti passport, a Kuwaiti name – Isa al Tarouf – but as the son of his father’s Filipino maid, he’ll never be accepted by his father’s family, despite being the only male heir to carry forward the family name.

Expertly translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright, this is an immensely moving novel, weighing heavily on metaphors, that explores multiple themes like race and religion, identity and class, and highlights the often humiliating immigrant experience overseas, especially in the Gulf.

Alsanousi, a Kuwaiti journalist and novelist whose earlier work includes the novel The Prisoner of Mirrors, explores the concept of ‘the other’ in this book. Often the underdog, the ‘other’ is viewed negatively by the majority. Not being able to fit into clear boxes, the ‘other’ find themselves in a murky marshland of mixed up identities, rootless and unwanted. Blinded by one’s own prejudices, society fails to acknowledge and empathise with the ‘other’ and it is precisely for this reason that al Sanousi modelled Jose as his protagonist.

Jose’s story begins with his mother, Josephine, who leaves the squalor of poverty back home in the Philippines and goes to Kuwait in search of a better paying job. She lands at the house of the illustrious al Tarouf family whose matriarch, Ghanima, is as superstitious as she is stubborn. Joza, as Ghanima refers to the Filipino servant girl, arrives on the day a bomb explodes near the Kuwaiti Emir’s motorcade, narrowly missing him. Ever since, Ghanima has viewed Joza’s arrival as a sign of bad luck. Rashid, Ghanima’s only son, an aspiring idealistic writer, is taken by Joza’s good looks, and she agrees to a ‘temporary marriage’ which ends the day Jose is born. Josephine returns home and her son is raised with the promise that he will one day go back to Kuwait.

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Ibrahim Nasrallah wins 2018 International Prize for Arabic Fiction

The Jordanian-Palestinian author Ibrahim Nasrallah—twice before in the running for the award—has been named the winner of the 2018 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

In its annual prize ceremony on Tuesday evening (April 24) at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in the United Arab Emirates’ Abu Dhabi, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction has conferred its US$50,000 prize on Jordanian-Palestinian author Ibrahim Nasrallah for his cautionary futurist novel, The Second War of the Dog.

The book was first published in Arabic in 2016 by Lebanon-based Arab Scientific Publishers. Rights are represented by Raya Literary Agency. More information, including a sample translation, is available upon request here.

Nasrallah will participate on Wednesday (April 25) in an event with his five fellow shortlistees at the opening day here at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which runs through May 1. That prize event with Nasrallah and his colleagues is set for 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. at the Sea of Culture Foundation stand at the fair (12B36), under the patronage of the Sheikha Shaikha bint Mohammed bin Khalid Al Nahyan.

Nasrallah has said that his book is “a warning of what we could become in the future.”

The book starts at what he calls “the moment of a loss of certainty, that loss of trust in those whom you interact closely with–that neighbor, brother, father, or whoever it may be.

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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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Ipaf winner Mohammed Hasan Alwan’s A Small Death set to be a life-changer

By Saeed Saeed

Mohammed Hasan Alwan looks slightly worried as he holds a buzzing mobile phone.

“I think it is going to explode,” he says. Such is the concern when you have just been announced as the winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

The Saudi Arabian author triumphed at the landmark 10th edition of the awards, held in the capital on Tuesday evening.

The success – for his dazzling and meditative novel A Small Death – firmly positions the 38-year-old as one of the leading lights of Arabic literature.

It comes after years of being on the cusp of greatness. This was his second time on the Ipaf shortlist; his novel The Beaver made it to the last six in 2015, and was named the best Arabic novel translated into French that year.

Alwan was also selected as one of the 39 best Arabic writers by the Hay Festival and Beirut World Book Capital, with his work published in the long-running Beirut39 anthology series. Read more

Source: The National


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Emirati Ipaf nominee Sultan Al Ameemi talks about his love of words

By Rym Ghazal

‘In a small room in an unknown place, there is someone peeping through a keyhole, watching furtively the other person in an adjacent room…”

This is how the Arabic language novel Ghurfa Waheda La Takfi (One Room is Not Enough) begins, by the Emirati writer and researcher Sultan Al Ameemi. It has been nominated for the 10th edition of the prestigious International Prize for Arabic Fiction (Ipaf), with 15 competing novels from nine other countries.

Ghurfa Waheda La Takfi is an unusual novel, full of mystery, suspense and a philosophical narrative. It is also written in simple, engaging Arabic, peppered with a creative play on words – reflective of the author’s poetic background.

His novel provokes an engaged curiosity from the outset: who is the person trapped in a room watching someone else; a doppelgänger in yet another room. And who is really telling the story with its multiple narrators?

Al Ameemi, 43, is a poet and writer, as well as a researcher of local dialects, and the director of the Poetry Academy in Abu Dhabi. He has written 20 books, mostly on UAE poetry and poets, as well as three collections of short stories and a novel P.O. Box 1003 (2014). Al Ameemi is also a judge on the Abu Dhabi TV and Million’s Poet Channel Million’s Poet show.

Tell us about Ghurfa Waheda La Takfi (One Room is Not Enough), the first Emirati novel longlisted for the 10th edition of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction? Why did you write it?

I have been thinking about this concept of “talasus”, peeking or peeping into other people’s lives, for a long time. Our life revolves around talking about others, watching others and checking out people’s lives, through social media and gossip. We are curious and check people’s accounts to see what they have been up to and what did we miss out on. It is almost like an obsession, and so I started writing the book with this premise. Read more
Source: The National


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Arabic sci-fi and other literary revolutions

Once a tiny minority in Arabic literature, science fiction, horror and thrillers are getting a boost: Al Jazeera

At the end of April, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) turned seven years old. That’s when the prize named its eighth winner: the acclaimed Frankenstein in Baghdad, by Iraqi author Ahmed Saadawi.

As is tradition, Saadawi’s win was announced on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which ran from April 29-May 5. This year’s announcement was met by cheers in the Hilton ballroom and echoingdelight across social media. Saadawi was the first Iraqi to take the prize and fellow Iraqis were particularly happy. When the fair opened the next morning, copies of the winning novel sold briskly. Continue reading


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International prize for Arabic fiction turns to Iraq

Ahmed Saadawi becomes first Iraqi to win the ‘Arabic Booker’ for Frankenstein in Baghdad: The Guardian

Ahmad Saadawi

Success for ‘what’s-its-name’ … Ahmad Saadawi accepting the IPAF

Iraqi novelist Ahmed Saadawi has won the Arab world’s most prestigious prize, the International prize for Arabic fiction, beating five other writers from around the Arab world.

Thousands, or perhaps tens of thousands, waited on the IPAF announcement, which was a highlight of the Abu Dhabi festival this week. Some thought Syrian novelist Khaled Khalifa’s grim No Knives in the Kitchens of This City would take the prize, and many were rooting for popular Egyptian novelist Ahmed Mourad’s Blue Elephant.

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Ahmed Saadawi wins International Prize for Arabic Fiction for ‘Frankenstein in Baghdad’

On Tuesday night, International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) judging chair Saad Albazei announced that Iraqi author Ahmed Saadawi had won the 2014 award for his novel Frankenstein in Baghdad.

“I would like to say that this prize provides very important momentum for the Arabic novel and the Iraqi novel,” Saadawi said upon receiving the award.

Frankenstein in Baghdad was chosen from a shortlist of six by this year’s judging panel, which was chaired by Saudi academic Saad Albazei. The other novels in contention were Khaled Khalifa’s No Knives in the Kitchens of This City, Youssef Fadel’s A Rare Blue Bird That Flies with Me, Abdelrahim Lahbibi’s The Journeys of ‘Abdi, Inaam Kachachi’s Tashari, and Ahmed Mourad’s The Blue Elephant.

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International fiction prize spreads the word about Arabic literature

Whoever steps forward to collect this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction (Ipaf) at the Hilton Grand Capital Hotel tomorrow night will be gaining a lot more than simply a first prize of US$50,000 (Dh184,000).

Seven years after it was launched in Abu Dhabi, the leading literary prize for the novel in the Arab world has brought recognition and reward to the winners on a global scale. Continue reading