This year, the shortlist for the IPAF (International Prize for Arabic fiction) includes “a Syrian novel about Islamic State’s occupation of Raqqa to an Egyptian dystopian thriller” among other novels that “address the tragedy of the present-day Middle East.”
The Syrian novel is A Sky Close to Our House by Shahla Ujayli, although since we are told it “spans the second half of the 19th century to the present” it is presumably about more than the Islamic state’s occupation of Raqqa. The dystopian thriller, Mercury by Mohamed Rabie, is “a dark fantasy which imagines “the counter revolution” in Egypt as a reality in a nightmarish future.” The novel joins a growing list of dystopian novels, including Ahmed Khaled Taufiq’s Utopia.
Here are a couple of interviews with Rabie about his third novel:
Three of the novels are not so much about the tragedy of the present-day as about the tragedy of the past: Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba by Rabai al-Madhoun, Praise for the Women of the Family by Mahmoud Shukair, set just after the Nakba, and a novel set during the Lebanese civil war, The Guard of the Dead by George Yaraq.
The last reminds me of ‘s The Corpse Washer, another novel about the last rites of death set against the backdrop of war – in this case in Iraq.
Madhoun speaks about Destinies, its “musical” structure, and his recurring character Walid Dahman and whether he can ever “return” in this interview: