Jordanian author Jalal Barjas wins top Arabic fiction award

The novelist and aeronautical engineer won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his novel “Notebooks of the Bookseller”.
Wednesday 26/05/2021
Jalal Barjas winner of the Abu Dhabi book award. (Twitter)
Jalal Barjas winner of the Abu Dhabi book award. (Twitter)

ABU DHABI--Jordanian author Jalal Barjas won a prestigious Abu Dhabi-funded prize for Arabic fiction Tuesday for his novel “Notebooks of the Bookseller”.

Barjas will receive $50,000 and funds will also be provided to translate his book into English, the organisers of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction said on their website.

Barjas is a 51-year old Jordanian poet and novelist, who works in the field of aeronautical engineering.

Published by The Arabic Institute for Research and Publishing, “Notebooks of the Bookseller” recounts a book lover’s experience with schizophrenia and the crimes he commits when he assumes the identities of characters in novels he reads.

Barjas has published two collections of poetry as well as a series of novels and short stories that have won several awards.

“The author presents us with the darkest portraits of homelessness and poverty, where meaning has been lost and hope torn up by the roots, turning life into a realm of nightmares,” said Chawki Bazih, chair of the prize’s panel of judges.

“Despite this, the novel does not call for despair. Rather, through it, the author is saying that reaching the depths of pain is a necessary condition for finding new dreams and standing up once more with hope on firmer ground.”

Set in Jordan and Moscow between 1947 and 2019, Notebooks of the Bookseller tells the story of Ibrahim, a bookseller and voracious reader, who loses his shop and finds himself on the street. Experiencing schizophrenia, he assumes the identities of the protagonists of the novels he loved, to commit a series of crimes of burglary, theft and murder.

“Notebooks of the Bookseller” was chosen from a shortlist of six novels. The five other authors, from Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia will each receive $10,000, the organisers said.

Jalal Barjas said through his words he “endeavoured to sow joy into the field of humanity.”

One of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi has become an increasingly significant cultural hub and hosts the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum.