‘A Small Death’ by Saudi writer Mohamed Hasan Alwan wins IPAF Prize

Sunday 30/04/2017
Prestigious award. Saudi writer Mohammed Hasan Alwan speaks after receiving the 2017
International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) in Abu Dhabi. (Kheridine Mabrouk)

Abu Dhabi - The winner of the 2017 In­ternational Prize for Ara­bic Fiction (IPAF) is Saudi writer Mohammed Hasan Alwan for his novel “A Small Death” (“Mawtun Saghir”). The announcement was made at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.
In addition to having his work translated into English and pro­moted internationally, Alwan received a prize of $50,000. Six shortlisted writ­ers each received $10,000.
Novelist Sahar Khalifeh, who was chairman of the judging panel, said Alwan’s novel was se­lected from among 159 books from 18 Arab countries. Professor Yasir Suleiman, chair­man of the IPAF board of trustees, in a release, said the winning en­try “captivates through the power of empathy, unadorned love and the crystal clarity of its gaze into the human soul.”
“A Small Death,” published by Dar Al Saqi, is a fictional account of the life of Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi, a Sufi Muslim scholar born in Muslim Spain in the 12th century. The novel follows Ibn Arabi’s life through his travels in Azerbaijan, North Africa, the Hijaz in the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Turkey and finally to Damas­cus, where he died. Throughout Ibn Arabi’s odyssey he encounters a seemingly endless variety of peo­ple and events, through which he comes to deepen and broaden his understanding of the human spirit and the world.
After being short­listed for the prize, Alwan talked about his work in a docu­mentary produced for IPAF. He said: “It might seem odd to choose to write a novel about Ibn Arabi with all those extreme Eastern concepts, while residing in this dis­tant cold corner of the world in Can­ada. I often think about this. So, at first, I directly linked it to me feeling nostalgic, then I real­ised that be­ing exposed to what is seemingly foreign or dif­ferent is what drives me to recon­nect with myself, as well as with my heritage and old culture.”
Alwan was born in Riyadh in 1979 and lives in Toronto. Before “A Small Death”, Alwan published four other novels: “The Ceiling of Sufficiency” (2002), “Sophia” (2004), “The Collar of Purity” (2007) and “The Beaver” (2011). “The Beaver” (“Al-Qundus”) was shortlisted for the IPAF Prize in 2013. The French version of the novel was awarded in 2015 the Paris Arab Institute prize for best novel translated into French from Arabic.
In 2014, Alwan published a non-fiction book in Arabic, “Migration: Theory and Key Factors.” In 2010, he was selected as one of the best 39 Arab authors under the age of 40 and his name was included in the “Beirut 39″ anthology.
The six novels shortlisted for the 2017 prize were by Ismail Fahd Is­mail from Kuwait, Najwa Binshat­wan from Libya, Elias Khoury from Lebanon, Saad Mohammed Raheem from Iraq, Mohammed Abdel Nabi from Egypt and Alwan.
The 2017 IPAF Prize judging panel included Khalifeh, Syrian translator Saleh Almani, Egyptian novelist Sa­har El Mougy, Libyan academic and critic Fatma Salem Al Haji and Brit­ish researcher Sophia Vasalou.