Hoda Barakat with (left) Abdullah Majid Al Ali, acting executive director at the National Library at the Department of Culture and Charafdine Majdouline, chair of the 2019 judging panel. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The best in Arab fiction were awarded in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday with this year’s International Prize for Arab Fiction (IPAF) going to Lebanese author Hoda Barakat for her novel The Night Mail.

Supported by the Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi in partnership with the Booker Prize Foundation, the IPAF was first launched in 2008 with the goal of promoting Arab fiction both regionally as well as globally, and has since become one of the Arab world’s most coveted literary awards. This year’s edition received 134 submissions from 19 countries across the Arab world.

The six finalists included four women for the first time, with the shortlisted writers coming from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Morocco. A cash prize of $10,000 (Dh36,729) is awarded to all finalists, with the winner receiving $50,000 (Dh183,645)

“I am very happy to win this prize, as a writer it’s always a happy feeling to win any prize because of my writing. The fact that I write in Arabic and I am awarded this honour because I write in my mother tongue makes this recognition more important than any other prize,” said Barakat during her acceptance speech at the award ceremony.

“I have read all the other shortlisted novels and they are all excellent books. I believe the artistic movement when it comes to Arabic fiction is going through a very important and significant time,” she added, praising her fellow finalists.

“In certain circumstances Arabic novels are not easy to write, but I believe we should encourage more writers, authors and publishing houses to develop Arabic fiction,” she said.

Professor Yasir Sulaiman, chair of IPAF’s Board of Trustees praised the six finalists and their writings, and said they highlighted the creativity and talent of the Arab world.

“This is a truly excellent list, it provides readers with a set of engaging works that will excite discussions and debate among readers young and old.

“Readers will enjoy the linguistic virtuosity and technical accomplishments displayed in the shortlisted works, as well as exquisite narration that carries the reader effortlessly through the end,” he added.

“The fact that four out of the six shortlisted authors are women is a first in the history of the prize,” he said, commenting positively on the involvement of women with this year’s prize.

The six finalists

■ Hoda Barakat, Lebanon, The Night Mail, Dar Al Adab — Winner

■ Adel Esmat, Egypt, The Commandments, Kotob Khan

■ Inaam Kachachi, Iraq, The Outcast, Dar Al Jadid

■ Mohammad Al Maazuz, Morocco, What Sin Caused her to Die?, Cultural Book Centre

■ Shahla Ujayli, Syria, Summer with the Enemy, Difaf Publishing and Al Ikhtilef

■ Kafa Al Zou’bi, Jordan, Cold White Sun, Dar Al Adab