Abu Dhabi: A historical fiction novel by Lebanese author and journalist Rabee Jaber The Druze of Belgrade was named the winning entry for this year's International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF). It beat five other contenders to win the coveted literary prize.
The story revolves around a poor Lebanese Christian egg seller who is exiled to Belgrade for 12 years after being mistakenly identified as part of a Druze fighting group in 1860s Beirut
"I'm very happy to win this prestigious prize, although I hoped to win the last time I was nominated. Perhaps what helped this time around is that the main character is happier," Jaber told journalists at a conference held on Tuesday evening.
He was nominated previously for his novel America, about Syrian expatriates who travelled to America in the early 20th century.
The winner of this year's IPAF, now in its fifth edition, was announced at a ceremony earlier in the evening. The awards were presented by Shaikh Sultan Bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.
The prize is held alongside the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which will run until April 2 at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
The other contenders were The Vagrant by Jabbout Douaihy (Lebanon), Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge by Ezzedine Choukri Fishere (Egypt), The Unemployed by Nasser Iraq (Egypt), Toy of Fire by Bashir Mufti (Algeria) and The Women of Basatin by Habib Selmi (Tunisia).
According to members of the judging panel, Jaber's novel was chosen because it not only touched on the issue of mistaken identity and its consequences, but also included many thoughtful insights into the history and geography of Lebanon during that period.
"It was very difficult to choose this year's winner …our task was very difficult and we spent many hours in discussion and debate since all of the shortlisted entries stood on almost the same footing in terms of strengths and weaknesses," said Georges Tarabichi, the noted Syrian writer and critic who is the prize's chair of judges.
In addition to winning $50,000 (Dh183,000), Jaber's novel will be translated into English. All six shortlisted authors also received $10,000. "We can be proud that, over a period, we have brought recognition and reward to outstanding Arabic literary fiction," said Jonathan Taylor, the Prize's Chair of Trustees.