Two Tunisian Novels Are Nominated for ‘the Arabic Booker.’
Moncef Louhaibi: “Whoever will win it, what matters is that the judges would be transparent.”
Dar El Janoub Editions (Sud Éditions, Tunis) has nominated the novels Achiket Adam (Adam’s Mistress) by Tunisian poet and novelist Moncef Louhaibi and Saadatouhou Essaid Elwazir (His Excellency Mr. the Minister) by Houcine El Wad (or Houcine El Oued) for The International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) known as the Arabic Booker which is among the important Arabic prizes. It aims at rewarding contemporary high quality Arabic literature and increasing the level of its international readership through translating the winning novels into other languages and publishing them. The Arabic Booker is run by an Arabic committee with the support of the Booker Prize Foundation, and the Weidenfeld Institute for Strategic Dialogue and is funded by the Emirates Foundation in Abu Dhabi. It was launched in 2007. It was awarded for the first time for Egyptian novelist Bahaa Taher for his novel Sunset Oasis in 2008. Lebanese novelist Rabee Jaber won the 2012 Prize for his novel Druze of Belgrade. A panel of judges is selected each year. Tunisian Raja Ben Slama was chosen as a judge in one of the Prizes’ edition. The prize is devoted to literary fiction. Submitting to the Prize has certain rules, for instance, the novel must be submitted by a recognized publisher, in consultation with the writer, that is to say, a self-published writer cannot submit his/her novel. Besides, only novels originally written in Arabic are eligible, that is to say Arabic translations of a book originally written in any other language are not eligible. Moreover novels written by deceased writers and manuscripts are not eligible. Only one novel is accepted per author, and the novel must respect publishing rights and copyrights of the Arab country where it has been published. Every publisher can submit more than one novel. Every publisher was allowed to submit up to three novels, but now publishers become allowed to submit up to four novels. So Dar El Janoub Editions submitted Moncef Louhaibi’s novel Adam’s Mistress and Houcine El Wad’s Novel His Excellency Mr. the Minister which were published between 2011 and 2012.
Dar El Janoub Editions said to Assabah that it chose these two titles because they were its latest publications that were issued under the series “Ouyoun El Mouassira” as usual, and after the agreement with Houcine El Wad and Moncef Louhaibi because there is a form which is required by the committee of the Prize to be sent with the novel in which it includes a biography of the writer, a synopsis of the book, and other pieces of information.
It is noted that Moncef Louhaibi’s Adam’s Mistress was awarded the Golden Comar, whereas His Excellency Mr. the Minister was not nominated for the Comar because Houcine El Wad was awarded a Golden Comar for his novel The City’s Scents.
Writer and critic Mohamed Ben Rejeb thinks that Dar El Janoub Editions did well in choosing to submit both novels because, according to him, they deserve to be nominated. He sees that the novel of Adam’s Mistress is a wonderful novel because its style is new, highlighting the total inventiveness of this style because Moncef Louhaibi wrote down his conversations with a hidden lady on the social site of Facebook, worked on them, and published them in the form of a novel. Ben Rejeb said, “Perhaps inventiveness itself is a guarantee for its nomination, but I have no idea concerning rules of this Prize because Adam’s Mistress was awarded a Golden Comar in its previous edition, however Houcine El Wad’s His Excellency Mr. the Minister is beautiful but it is classical and its strength lies in its language.”
Our interlocutor said, “I have read three Arabic novels since the beginning of Ramadan; two from Egypt and one from Syria, and it became obvious to me that although it is always unique as it gradually moves towards beauty which attracts and convinces everyone, the Tunisian novel is still stagnant in its place and does not leave it to break through into the unknown realms and walk away from old styles. Of course, I admit the existence of exceptions like poet Moncef Louhaibi’s novel of Adam’s Mistress.”
Thanks to his well-versedness in the novel in Tunisia as he has been among the patrons of the Tunisian Golden Comar for years which made him know its features and the points of its strength and weakness, Mohamed Ben Rejeb said, “It is true that the Tunisian novel invents original themes which are exemplified in the experiences of Mohamed Jaballi, Ibrahim Dargouthi, Amel Mokhtar, and Youssef Abdelati, but the audacity of the connection between the invented theme and the invented style slightly succeeds.” He explained that we did not see, in the required strength, the audacity of Alaa Al-Aswani, for example, in breaking the Egyptian novelistic dimension in the creative Tunisian novelists. He said, “Thus the problem of the Tunisian novel lies in the invention of another way of writing exactly like what Moncef Louhaibi did. It is true that Moncef chose the style offered to him by Facebook which is the distinctive moment that happens to the creators. The new style sometimes happens suddenly like Einstein’s apple.”
As for him, Moncef Louhaibi expressed his happiness to Assabah for nominating his novel Adam’s Mistress and said, “I don’t know anything about the judges, but whoever will win it, what matters is that they would be transparent.”
This article appeared in the Tunisian daily Assabah 07/08/2012 by Alia Ben Nhila.
You can read the original text in Arabic here.
Translated from Arabic by Ali Znaidi.