The International Prize for Arabic Fiction shortlist includes a Palestinian author who is incarcerated.

One of the six contenders for the 2024 International Prize for Arabic Fiction is Palestinian novelist Basim Khandaqji’s most recent book, A Mask, the Colour of the Sky. Khandaqji is currently incarcerated.

The central theme of A Mask, the Colour of the Sky is Nur’s life as an archaeologist living in a Ramallah refugee camp. The narrative centres on Nur’s finding of an Israeli citizen’s blue ID card concealed in an old coat pocket. Intrigued, Nur adopts the identity of the card’s owner in order to access West Bank excavation sites and learn more about his captor.

“This is the first time in the history of the Prize that a novel from (literally) behind the walls of an Israeli jail reaches out to readers on the other side,” Professor Yasir Suleiman, Chair of the Board of Trustees, said after unveiling the shortlist.

Khandaqji, born in Nablus in 1983, was arrested in 2004 at the age of 21 by Israeli authorities on terrorism charges and convicted of three life sentences for his participation in the planning of a suicide bombing that killed three people in Tel Aviv.

Khandaqji finished his education in prison and has since written at least six books, including four novels and two collections of poems.

As reported by Arabic lit in an interview with the IPAF organizers, Khandaqji’s brother said that A Mask, the Color of the Sky was written between June and November 2021, “in difficult circumstances.” He added, “Basim was inside various prisons, moving from one prison to another because of the arbitrary measures taken by the prison service administration. Occasionally he would lose some of the information he had collected because a prison guard destroyed it.”

With regard to his writing rituals, his brother answered:

Writing rituals? No rituals apart from writing from 5 to 7am, that is what Basim told me on one of the monthly visits which last only 45 minutes. He writes before the prison administration counts the prisoners, and before the prison guard starts making a racket, which he is adept at finding new ways of doing. In these two hours, Basim writes approximately two pages, and very often the papers are taken from him and destroyed by the guard. Here of course I don’t mean that this happens only to Basim. It happens to all the prisoners who are writing while in detention.

It is improbable that Khandaqji will win the $50,000 reward this year, even if he is chosen as the winner. “If it decided that a terrorist should be rewarded with a prize, it would be impossible to receive it,” the Israel Prison Service informed Israeli media. Given that Khandaqji’s family stated in January that they haven’t been able to get in touch with him recently, it’s possible that the author isn’t even aware of his nomination.

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction, sometimes known as “the Arabic Booker,” was founded in 2007 with the goals of fostering a worldwide readership for Arabic literary works and recognising quality in modern Arabic literature. It is currently recognised as the most prominent literary award in the Arab world.

The winner, who will be revealed on the eve of the Abu Dhabi Book Fair in late April, will receive an additional $50,000 in addition to the $10,000 paid to each of the six finalists. The winning novels’ English translation expenses are also covered by the prize.

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *