Canadian-based Saudi Author wins International prize for Arabic fiction


A novel about the life and adventures of an Andalusian adventurer and Sufi numinous, Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi, has received the 2017 most prestigious prize in Arabic fiction.

Saudi author, Mohammed Hasan Alwan won the $50,000 [£39,000] International prize for Arabic fiction for his fictional account of the life of Sunni scholar Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi titled A Small Death. The novel follows him from Muhyiddin’s birth in Muslim Spain in 1165 to his death in Damascus in 1240, taking in journeys from Andalusia to Azerbaijan, and his reflections on the violence witnesses in Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia (Hejaz precisely), Syria, Iraq and Turkey.

Mohammed Hasan Alwan was born in Saudi Arabia on the 27th of August 1979 but now lives in Toronto, Canada. He studied at King Saud University and graduated in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information System. The author of five novels, Alwan received the award at a ceremony in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday night. In 2015, the French translation of his book had once won him the Arab World Institute’s Prix de la Littérature Arabe .

The author said he believes his physical disconnection from his home country significantly contributed to his emotional literary and linguistic attachment to his culture and heritage. This thereby added more feathers to his writing prowess.

“Whilst residing in this distant cold corner of the world in Canada, I realized 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,” said Alwan

Chair of judges Sahar Khalifeh said of A Small Death: “With striking artistry and in captivating language, it sheds light on Ibn ‘Arabi’s view of spiritual and temporal love in their most refined forms.”

The International prize for Arabic fiction, which has been running for 10 years, provides a boost in sales and recognition for Arab authors by providing additional funding for an English translation of the winner each year. Thirty-three of the prize’s winning and shortlisted novels have been translated into 24 languages over the last decade. The 2016 winner Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba by Palestinian author Rabai al-Madhoun will be published in English for the first time this autumn.

A Small Death was picked from a six-book shortlist trimmed down from 186 novels from 19 countries. The other shortlisted writers – Najwa Binshatwan (Libya), Ismail Fahd Ismail (Kuwait), Elias Khoury (Lebanon), Mohammed Abdel Nabi (Egypt) and Saad Mohammed Raheem (Iraq) – receive $10,000.

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