It was third time lucky for Jordanian author Ibrahim Nasrallah, who had previously been short listed and long listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. On Tuesday night he was declared the 2018 winner in a ceremony held in Abu Dhabi.
His novel, The Second War of the Dog, set in a futuristic world that charts the transformation and corruption of a society driven by greed, won the 11th edition of the Ipaf award.
"Nothing comes from nothing," said Nasrallah, as he accepted his prize. "That goes for The Second War of the Dog; it didn't come from nothing. It came from the suffering that we have been subjected to in this region and this era of occupation by both a direct enemy and an indirect enemy, as well as the enemy within."
Nasrallah's novel exposes the ugly transformations of society by focusing on Rashid, a main character who goes from being an opponent of the regime to becoming a materialistic and unscrupulous extremist, uncomfortably revealing the tendency towards savagery inherent in societies and human beings.
“It is a novel about blind extremism and violence,” said Nasrallah.
Writing this book and examining how greed can intensify in an individual and how human values can be so easily ignored, said Nasrallah, was not a healing experience.
“As a writer, when you come out of such a writing experience, you feel you have added another burden to your frail frame because you have become conscious of this catastrophe we live in and conscious of the suffering of human beings and nature.”
Nasrallah has been shaking the world since 2006, when he left previous careers as a teacher and a journalist to embrace writing full time — and photography and art on the side. He has since published 14 poetry collections and 16 novels, including his epic fictional project of eight novels covering 250 years of modern Palestinian history.
Four of his novels and a volume of poetry have been translated into English, including the IPAF shortlisted novel of 2009, Time of White Horses, as well as Lanterns of the King of Galilee, longlisted in 2013.
Ibrahim Al Saafin, Jordanian writer, poet, playwright, critic and academic and chair of the panel of judges, applauded Nasrallah's use of fantasy and science fiction techniques. "The Second War of the Dog is a masterful vision of a dystopian future in a nameless country," he said. "With humour and insight, it exposes the tendency towards brutality inherent in society."
This is certainly intentional, said Nasrallah, and he maintains that what the novel suggests could very well happen: if we continue on our current path, we will reach a future where we would become mostly annihilistic. “The novel was written to provoke the reader, to worry the reader, to even, sometimes, make them breathless. As writers, we write to shake the world and not to embody its shallowness,” he said.
Al Saafin headed a panel of judges that included Algerian novelist and translator Inam Bioud, Sudanese-English novelist Jamal Mahjoub, Palestinian writer Mahmoud Shukair and Slovenian writer and translator Barbara Skubic. The judges chose The Second War of the Dog out of 124 entries from 14 countries.
As well as the US$50,000 (Dh183,700) cash prize, Nasrallah's novel will be offered additional funding from the award for an English translation to be published.
The authors of the five other novels that made the shortlist were each awarded $10,000 (Dh36,700).
Often described as the “Arabic Booker”, the Ipaf is supported and mentored by the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi.
Nasrallah and the five shortlisted authors — Amir Tag Elsir from Sudan, Aziz Mohammed from Saudi Arabia, Shahad Al Rawi from Iraq, Walid Al Shurafa from Palestine and Dima Wannous from Syria — will take part in a discussion event on Wednesday at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. It will be Nasrallah’s first public appearance as an Ipaf winner.