Thursday, March 13, 2008

Arab Literary Prize

While the Muslims were erecting streetlights in Córdoba bathing was a once in a lifetime experience for the barbarians living in present day England. Yes, it’s true. The Arabs were once renowned for their culture and sophistication.

Although this might sound politically incorrect, nowadays when one sees the word “Arab,” literature isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. Sure, they produced The Arabian Nights (which is at the top of my list of books to read), but that was well over a millennia ago. Since then roughly 10,000 books have been translated into Arabic- the amount of books Spain translates in a year.

But this wayward story might soon change course with this year’s inaugural International Prize for Arabic Fiction. The prize is managed from Abu Dhabi (in the Untited Arab Emirates) with some sort of link to the Booker Prize Foundation, a prestigious British literary award.

This year’s prize- the very first- was won by Egyptian author Baha Taher for his book Sunset Oasis. Taher was awarded $10,000 (along with the five other finalists), and Sunset Oasis, along with every other book to win the prize, will be translated into English.

This bodes well for the future. I am a big fan of literature, not because I like to over-analyze everything, but because I think literature can (potentially) shed light on the human predicament and questions we ask- both individually and as a society. By reading another society’s literature we can begin to grasp who they are.

I’m looking forward to reading Taher, along with other authors to win the prize, in order to expand my knowledge of the Middle East- something I (probably we) know next to nothing about.

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