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Rabai al-Madhoun wins International prize for Arabic fiction

posted on: Apr 30, 2016

Alison Flood

The Guardian


A novel exploring Palestinian life in exile and occupation that has been praised for inventing a “new fictional form” has won the $50,000 (£34,000) International prize for Arabic fiction.

Rabai al-Madhoun’s Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba is written in four parts, each representing a concerto movement. The narrative spans the Holocaust, the Palestinian exodus from Israel in 1948, and the Palestinian right to return. Speaking for the prize’s judging panel, Emirati poet and academic Amina Thiban said it “invents a new fictional form in order to address the Palestinian issue, with questions of identity underpinned by a very human perspective on the struggle”.

“This tragic, polyphonic novel borrows the symbol of the concerto, with its different movements, to represent the multiplicity of destinies,” said Thiban. “Destinies can be considered the complete Palestinian novel, travelling back to a time before the Nakba in order to throw light on current difficulties faced by the Palestinian diaspora and the sense of displacement felt by those left behind.”

Al-Madhoun was born in Palestine, his family emigrating from Ashkelon to the Gaza Strip during the 1948 exodus. He went to Alexandria University, and later became a member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He left activism for writing in 1980. Destinies is his third novel, and marks the first time a Palestinian writer has won the Arabic award, which has gone in the past to writers from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq and Tunisia.

“As a Palestinian novelist, I was born and raised during ‘the catastrophe’ [Nakba] that spanned the period since before 1948 until now. Consequently, I never lived a normal life in my homeland. I have been, as a result, hugely concerned with the Palestinian cause,” said the author in a video interview provided by the prize. “Destinies is a novel that tackles the Palestinian exodus and follows the lives of those Palestinians who live in exile, as well as those who stayed and became citizens under the rule of the state of Israel. In general, the main theme of the novel is the diaspora and the possibilities of obtaining residency in Israel.”

Al-Madhoun, who is now a British citizen and works in London for Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper, said he makes “a habit of leaving my stories open-ended, fundamentally due to the fact that reality has never provided answers or resolutions for our big questions – the crisis continues and the Palestinians are still fighting and struggling for their rights”.

The prize, sometimes referred to as “the Arabic Booker”, is backed by the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority in the UAE. Winners are guaranteed English translations, with 2011 winner Raja Alem’s novel The Dove’s Necklace out on 2 June this year, and Saud Alsanousi’s The Bamboo Stalk published last year.