Ibrahim Nasrallah, a 63-year-old Jordanian-Palestinian poet and novelist, has just won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. The Second War of the Dog, his novel which was revered by critics as “a masterful vision of a dystopian future in a nameless country”, was the book that clinched the prize for him.
Along with funding for the novel to be translated into English, he received a cool $50k cheque – the shisha is on him then. After announcing the winner, Ibrahim Al Saafin, chair of judges, commented on the effective use of fantasy and science fiction techniques in The Second War of the Dog. “It exposes the tendency towards brutality inherent in society,” he says, “imagining a time where human and moral values have been discarded and anything is permissible, even the buying and selling of human souls.”
If you’ve not read the novel, why are you reading this? Read that instead if you can speak Arabic. (Editor’s note: Joking, please continue reading this article or we’ll be out of a job.) The storyline focuses on the main protagonist, Rashid, who goes “from an opponent of an unnamed regime into a materialistic and unscrupulous extremist”.
According to the judges of the prize, Nasrallah does a great job of revealing the “intrinsic savagery” of the human condition and the depths of depravity that humans are capable of plummeting to. He achieved this by creating a fantasy world where ethics and morals are sidelined as greed, excess and selfishness come to the forefront.
Chair of the board of trustees for the prize, Professor Yasir Suleiman, said that the novel “paints a chilling picture of humanity in all its destructive potential”. He also said that the “crisp language in which humour makes the moral burden of relating to the main character bearable”.
The annual prize is awarded for the best work of fiction that was originally published in Arabic. The prestigious accolade, which was launched back in 2007, was originally designed to increase the reach and influence of Arabic fiction.
Other than The Second War of the Dog, five other books were shortlisted: Amir Tag Elsir’s Flowers in Flames; Aziz Mohammed’s The Critical Case of “K”; Shahad Al Rawi’s The Baghdad Clock; Walid Shurafa’s Heir of the Tombstones; and Dima Wannous’s The Frightened Ones. All those authors received a $10,000 prize.