AMMAN: Jordanian writer Jalal Barjas has won this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) for his novel “Notebooks of the Bookseller.”
The novel is set in Jordan and Moscow between 1947 and 2019, and tells the story of Ibrahim, a bookseller and avid reader, who loses his stall and finds himself homeless. After suffering from schizophrenia, Ibrahim embarks on a crime spree, carrying out a series of thefts, robberies and murders under pseudo names, and attempts to commit suicide before he meets a woman who changes his fate.
“It is the painful, fragmented tale of marginalized people who are ignored or invisible to others, while a corrupt ruling class thrives. Against this background, the importance of the house is highlighted, as a symbol of the homeland,” Prof. Yasir Suleiman CBE, chair of the IPAF board of trustees said. “Barjas’s novel audaciously tackles a difficult reality not just in Jordan but the Arab world as a whole.”
The jury this year was chaired by the Lebanese poet Chawki Bazih, who said “the author presents us with the darkest portraits of homelessness and poverty, where meaning has been lost and hope torn up by the roots, turning life into a realm of nightmares.”
However, Bazih added, the novel does not preach despair, but it is the author’s way of saying that in order to find new dreams and stand on more solid ground, it is necessary for one to reach the deep roots of pain.
Barjas thanked the IPAF, which he said “has opened all these beautiful paths to readers so my words could reach them.”
“Through these words, I endeavoured to sow joy into the field of humanity,” he said.
The prize winner was awarded $50,000, and his novel will receive funding to be translated into English and is expected to gain international recognition.
Barjas, 50, is a poet and novelist who has also worked in the field of aeronautical engineering.
He has written articles for Jordanian newspapers and headed several cultural organizations.
He is currently head of the Jordanian Narrative Laboratory and presents a radio program called “House of the Novel”.
His published works include two poetry collections, short stories, travel literature and novels.
The IPAF, which was launched in 2007, is an annual literary prize and is currently sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Center, at the emirate’s Department of Culture and Tourism, and has been mentored by the Booker Prize Foundation in London.