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Maghreb countries dominate the six-strong shortlist for the 14th International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), with two entries from Tunisian writers and one each from Algeria and Morocco. The list is as follows: The Eye of Hammurabi by Abdulatif Ould Abdullah (Algeria, published by Dar Mim; Notebooks of the Bookshop Keeper by Jalal Bargas (Jordan, published by The Arabic Institute for Research and Publishing); Calamity of the Nobility by Amira Ghenim (Tunisia, published by Dar Mesaa); The Bird Tattoo by Dunya Mikhail (Iraq, published by Dar al-Rafidain); File 42 by Abdelmajid Sebbata (Morocco, published by Al-Markz al-Thaqafi al-Arabi); and Longing for the Woman Next Door by Habib Selmi (Tunisia, pubished by Dar al-Adab).

Each of the six shortlisted authors will receive $10,000, with the winner announced on 25 May receiving an additional $50,000.

The chair of the judges, Lebanese poet Chawi Bazih said: “The most obvious thing revealed by an in-depth examination of the six shortlisted novels is how the authors move away from the limits of the ego and are resourced by their ancestral roots, mother countries and collective memory. Their subjects may not be entirely new, since the Arab present is an exact copy of its past. However, what makes these works unique is something other than their subjects. It is their stylistic richness and power to astonish readers, making them catch their breath; their well-constructed, suspenseful plots; their successful deployment of folklore and the collective imagination, and their deft use of language, both flowing and tight.”

Professor Yasir Suleiman CBE, professor of Modern Arabic Studies at the University of Cambridge and Chair of the Board of Trustees for the prize, said: “The novels in this shortlist enact complex and unsettling conversations between the past and the present to questions notions of belonging, identity and the cacophonous rhythms of the homeland refracted through different registers, characters and story lines. Whether writing from home or from the diaspora, intra-culturally or inter-culturally, our writers coalesce on a vision of the contemporary Arab world which, in spite of its geographic scatter, seems to display troubling philosophical coherence. This is a strong shortlist that readers of the Arabic novel will remember and cherish for a long time.”

In fulfilling its ambition to increase the international reach of Arabic fiction, the prize provides funding for the English translation of its winners.   Last year the prize was won by The Spartan Court by Algerian writer Abdelouahab Aissaoui.