Cairo: On the first of March, the shortlist for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (Arabic Booker) was announced. The longlist had been announced two months ago, with 16 Arabic novels nominated.
At the helm of the 2023 prize committee is Moroccan novelist Mohammed Achaari as chair. His fellow judges will be Reem Bassiouney, novelist and linguistics professor at the American University in Cairo; Aziza al-Taie, Omani critic and novelist; Fadhila El Farouk, Algerian novelist and researcher; and Tetz Rooke, Swedish translator and academic.
According to the announcement, the following works have been shortlisted:
- “The Stone of Happiness” by Azher Jirjees, Iraq
- “The Exile of the Water Diviner” by Zahran Alqasmi, Oman
- “Concerto Qurina Eduardo” by Najwa Binshatwan, Libya.
- “Drought” by Al-Sadiq Haj Ahmed, Algeria
- “Days of the Shining Sun” by Miral al-Tahawy, Egypt
- “The Highest Part of the Horizon” by Fatima Abdulhamid, Saudi Arabia
This is the second time that novels by Najwa Binshatwan and Miral al-Tahawy are shortlisted. Azher Jirjees has previously been longlisted, while Zahran Alqasmi, Al-Sadiq Haj Ahmed, and Fatima Abdulhamid are all first-time candidates.
In each of the shortlisted novels, the authors reflect on the distinct local issues pertaining to their respective countries, along with the dreams, hopes, and challenges of each nation.
Al Majalla explores these six novels in detail.
“The Stone of Happiness” by Azher Jirjees
“The Stone of Happiness” tells the story of Kamal, who escapes from his family home as a young boy and becomes a "street child" in Baghdad. He endures a difficult journey, escaping from problems he encounters on the streets, which soon start to feel like home.
He meets “Maulana,” whom he thinks is a good man but turns out to be exploiting children, as Kamal would later discover. He then meets Khalil the photographer from whom he learns the art of photography, and thus he turns his life around.
Kamal’s arduous journey, fraught with countless dangers and difficulties, reveals a cruel face of a city swarming with militias and gangs, as ordinary citizens struggle to find a simple stone that restores their happiness and feelings of security.