Omani author Zahran Al Qasimi with his award-winning book. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Omani author Zahran Al Qasimi has been awarded the 16th edition of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) 2023 for his novel “The Water Diviner”.

Announced on Sunday, May 21, during a virtual event in Abu Dhabi, the award makes Al Qasimi the first Omani to emerge the winner.

IPAF revealed the award-winning novel, has been published by Rashm, under the stewardship of the chair of judges, Mohammed Achaari.

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With the accolade comes a cash prize of $50,000 and funding for the translation of the novel into English, an initiative designed to promote the book on a global scale and boost its sales.

Mohammed Achaari, Chair of the 2023 Judges, spoke highly of Al-Qasimi’s novel, stating: “Zahran Al Qasimi’s ‘The Water Diviner’ embarks on an untrodden path in modern fiction, examining the relationship of water with the natural environment and the existence of people in harsh landscapes. The novel seamlessly intertwines reality and mythology, deploying a meticulous narrative structure and nuanced poetic language to bring forth captivating characters. The water diviner, the protagonist, stands as an essential figure in people’s lives, stirring both reverence and apprehension. ‘The Water Diviner’ immerses readers in a world seldom traversed in Arabic literature: the realm of riverbeds and aflaj, the water channels in Oman, and demonstrates how these natural elements dictate the dynamics between individuals, their environment, and their culture.”

The Chair of the Board of Trustees, Professor Yasir Suleiman, commended “The Water Diviner” for its intricate exploration of the socio-environmental dynamics within Omani village society. The novel revolves around the life of the water diviner and the community’s dependency on the unpredictable nature of water. Written in a captivating language imbued with local dialects, the novel engrosses readers with its narrative flow and poetic rhythm.

The narrative takes readers to an Omani village where the protagonist, Salem bin Abdullah, works as a water diviner, searching for hidden springs deep within the earth. At the heart of the narrative is the aflaj, the irrigation system integral to village life in Oman and often the muse for many stories and legends. Al-Qasimi explores water’s dichotomy as a source of life and a potential harbinger of peril and death through scarcity or flooding.

Al Qasimi emphasises the significant role of female characters in his narrative. He states, “Historically, women gave life to humanity; they initiated change in civilizations and agriculture; they caused many important historical transformations. So, I tried to focus on that in the book — on how women also caused changes in the life of the main protagonist”.

“The Water Diviner” outshone shortlisted novels from Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Oman, Libya, and Egypt, including “The Highest Part of the Horizon” by Saudi author Fatima Abdulhamid, published by Masciliana in the UAE. All shortlisted authors will receive a $10,000 prize.

Born in Oman’s Dima Wattayeen, Zahran Al Qasimi has made a remarkable contribution to contemporary Arabic literature with his fourth novel. His previous works include “Mountain of the Horseradish Tree” (2013), “The Sniper” (2014), and “Hunger for Honey” (2017), alongside published collections of poetry, short stories, and nonfiction.

The judging panel for the IPAF consisted of Reem Bassiouney, Fadhila El Farouk, Tetz Rooke, and Aziza Al Ta’i, alongside Achaari. Their collective decision has brought an Omani author into the global spotlight, showcasing the diversity and richness of Arabic literature.