Algeria has its first winner of the coveted International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Novelist Abdelouahab Aissaoui has deservedly taken the title for his work, The Spartan Court. The announcement came during the organizations’ virtual ceremony streamed on their YouTube channel yesterday, April 14.
Sponsored by the Department of Culture and Tourism in Abu Dhabi and run in conjunction with the Booker Prize Foundation, the IPAF is one of the most generous literary awards in the world and sees Aissaoui take a cash prize fund of USD 50,000 (AED 183,600) and a guaranteed English translation of his book, which will come out next year.
The Spartan Court follows the interconnected lives of five characters in Algiers from 1815 to 1833. The first, Dupond, is a French journalist covering the colonial campaign against Algeria, the second, Caviard, is a former soldier in Napoleon’s army who finds himself a prisoner in the city and later becomes a planner for the campaign. The other three Algerian characters have different attitudes to the Ottoman and French colonial powers. Ibn Mayyar thinks that politics is a means of building relationships with the Ottomans and even the French, whilst Hamma al-Sallaoui believes that revolution is the only means of achieving change. The fifth character, Douja, is suspended somewhere between all these: she witnesses the transformation of Algiers helplessly and is forced to become a part of it, for one must live according to the city’s rules, or leave.
Image courtesy of IPAF
While expressing his gratitude for being awarded the prize, Aissaoui also acknowledged his understanding of the responsibility that comes with the title: “Winning the prize is a great prospect and dream to which every novelist with a project aspires,” he said. “But it also means greater responsibility and it raises expectations of readers – those interested in literature and critics – when they read the successful book and future works by the writer.”
The IPAF also confirmed that last year’s winning book, The Night Mail by Lebanese author Hoda Barakat, will be published in English this coming October. And the English translation of 2018 shortlisted novel The Frightened Ones, by Syria’s Dima Wannous, will be released before the end of this month.