The Write Way to the Arabic Booker

Three IPFA-shortlisted Arabic authors tell us what triggered their creativity

By Anu Prabhakar (

Published: Fri 27 Feb 2009, 8:27 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 8:17 AM

The Oscars might have hogged the limelight, but denizens of the Arabic book world see their own Oscars in the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), to be awarded on March 16 in Abu Dhabi. Khaleej Times caught up with three shortlisted authors to gain a better insight into their perspectives.

Al Hafeeda Al Amrekyyia (The American Granddaughter) is the only nominated novel by a female author - Inaam Kachachi. It deals with the American occupation of Iraq. “Iraq was dispersing, collapsing and I wanted to save my memory of Iraq from burning. It might be useful for new generations, who will not see how great this country was, with its culture, tolerance and modern society.” Therefore, the book.

The occupation is presented from the point of view of a young American Iraqi woman, who returns to her country as an interpreter for the US army. The novel is based on historical facts and Kachachi tells us how she let her imagination take care of the rest. “I imagined the story of this young woman whose grandmother is in Baghdad. The grandfather used to be a colonel in the Iraqi army, who participated in the 1948 Arab War in Palestine. When the translator returns to her country, she thinks she is helping her people build democracy. But the first person who refuses to help her is her own grandmother.” Kachachi’s late grandfather was an officer in the Iraqi army, 50 years ago. Hence, she had included some of her personal memories in certain chapters of the novel.

Significantly, Fawwaz Haddad’s novel Al Motarjeem Al Kha’ain (The Unfaithful Translator) too has a translator as the main character, but one faced with issues of a different nature. As Haddad says, “The interpreter has a great role in the transfer and exchange of knowledge between different cultures, and currently, the role of translation is extremely relevant given the number of translation projects that are running in the Arab world.” The main character, accused of betrayal for failing to conform to the set views on translation, intends to defend his position on the matter. He then garners support from literary giants for his cause.

“The worst thing that can happen to culture is thoughts being exploited for domination, disinformation, isolation and marginalisation. This subjects an intellectual to humiliation, but what is more tragic is that he loses the writer in himself,” says Haddad.

Mohammad Al Bisatie’s Joo’a (Hunger) deals with the lower strata of society, those who don’t get a square meal a day. They are also hungry for knowledge. Lack of education and poverty are two factors that hinder one’s ability to gain knowledge. But knowledge can also be obtained through one’s life, which is very rich, Bisatie feels. He describes his characters as “gems” and calls them “a vital source for any writer.” Besides, “Readers will be bored if we write about the bourgeois, where characters are always concerned about ‘societal’ problems.”

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