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Saudi author wins International Prize for Arabic Fiction

ABU DHABI // A historic Islamic scholar and poet is the subject of the winning novel for the 10th International Prize for ­Arabic Fiction.

Saudi Arabian author Mohammed Hasan Alwan was declared the winner of the prize, in a ceremony held in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday night, for A Small Death.

“I would like to thank the panel for this very pleasant mistake,” Alwan, 38, quipped while accepting the award.

“This is a very special moment and I would like to thank the jury, many of whom I knew a long time before they even heard of me, and the UAE and in particular Abu Dhabi for ­supporting this prize and Arabic literature.”

Alwan’s lyrical fifth novel is a mostly fictional account of the life of Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi, who lived from 1165 to 1240.

The book traces his travels across the region from Iraq and Syria to Spain.

A Small Death was chosen by the judges led by Palestinian author Sahar Khalifeh from 186 novels from 19 countries.

As well as the US$50,000 (Dh183,000) cash prize, Alwan’s novel will be offered additional funding from the award for an English translation to be published later.

The authors of the five other novels that made the short list were each awarded $10,000.

“With striking artistry and in captivating language, it sheds light on Ibn Arabi’s view of spiritual and temporal love in their most refined forms,” Khalifeh said in her judge’s address.

“It is a deep and dense novel that I feel only comes around once in every 20 to 30 years.”

Supported by the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, the prize is like coming full circle for Alwan.

After publishing his acclaimed 2002 debut The Ceiling of Sufficiency followed by Sophia (2004) and The Collar of Purity (2007), Alwan was selected in 2009 for the first IPAF Nadwa, an annual writing workshop in Abu Dhabi for promising regional literary talents.

This was his second time on the prize’s shortlist after his novel The Beaver made it to the last six in 2015. Its French edition went on to win the best Arabic novel translated into French for that year.

He returned to the capital as a mentor as part of last year’s Nadwa. He will make his first public appearance as prize winner at today’s opening day of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

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