A Small Death by Mohammed Hasan Alwan was announced as the winner of the 10th International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) at the start of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.
A Small Death follows the life of the philosopher-poet Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi from his birth in Muslim Spain in the 12th century through travels in Azerbaijan, Morocco, Egypt, the Hijaz, Syria, Iraq, and Turkey until his death in Damascus.
When he was shortlisted, Alwan was interviewed on film for IPAF. “It might seem odd to choose to write a novel about Ibn ‘Arabi with all those extreme eastern concepts, whilst residing in this distant cold corner of the world in Canada,” he said. “I often think about this. So, at first, I directly linked it to me feeling nostalgic, then I realised that being exposed to what is seemingly foreign or different is what drives me to reconnect with myself, as well as with my heritage and old culture.”
Chair of the judges Palestinian novelist Sahar Khalifeh spoke of the novel’s “striking artistry” and “captivating language … The life of Ibn ‘Arabi, the man, evolves and takes shape against the background of a tumultuous historical period filled with wars and conflicts”.
Alwan was born in Riyadh but now lives and works in Toronto. A Small Death is his fifth novel; his 2011 novel The Beaver was shortlisted for the 2013 IPAF, and its French translation by Stéphanie Dujols went on to win the 2015 Arab World Institute’s Prix de la Littérature Arabe.
The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is recognised as the leading prize for literary fiction in the Arab world. It is run with the support, as its mentor, of the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) in the UAE.
A Small Death was selected by the IPAF judges from a longlist of 186 novels from 19 countries.
In addition to the $50,000 rpize, funding will be provided for the English translation of A Small Death and Alwan can expect an increase in book sales and international recognition.
The five shortlisted finalists, Najwa Binshatwan, Ismail Fahd Ismail, Elias Khoury, Mohammed Abdel Nabi and Saad Mohammed Raheem receive $10,000 each.