By Louisa Ermelino
Rabee Jaber won the 2012 International Prize for Arabic Fiction on Tuesday night for his novel The Druze of Belgrade at the Rocco Forte hotel in Abu Dhabi. The event took place on the eve of the 22nd Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.
The Lebanese writer, who has been shortlisted twice before, takes home $50,000 and the guarantee of an English translation of his novel, to encourage its publication in English. The five shortlisted writers from across the Arab world–Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia–receive $10,000 in prize money. The prizes, supported by the Booker Prize Foundation and funded by the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy, is in its sixth year and all previous winners have secured English publishing deals. Three previous winners–Youssef Ziedan, Mohammed Achaari, and Abdo Khal–have books coming out this year.
The plum, of course, is to get an American deal. Now, with the Arab Spring and the increased interest in the Middle East in America and the Western world, it seems evident that this is the future for Arab writers. The six writers were present at the awards and were also featured in short video clips in which they discussed their novels on their home turf. While all the books were written before the Arab Spring, all touch on the conditions and political situations in the authors’ countries. Bashir Mefti in Toy of Fire, for example, tackles a generational story of the Algerian civil war. Habib Seimi writes about a humble Tunisian family and the devastation in tunisia of the last ten years in The Women of al-Basatin.
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