The 15th edition of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction has been won by Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table, the debut novel by Mohamed Alnaas – the first Libyan author to win the prize, and at 31 the youngest winner to date.
In addition to the $50,000 prize, funding will be provided for an English translation of Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table. Alnaas can expect to see both an increase in sales and international recognition.
Written in a confessional form, the novel questions static ideas of gender and champions the individual – two concepts that aren’t always associated with Arabic fiction. Shukri Mabkhout, chair of the IPAF 2022 Judges, commented on a “plethora of detail … deftly unified by a gripping narrative” and said “this offers a deep and meticulous critique of prevailing concepts of masculinity and femininity and the division of work between men and women, and the effect of these on both a psychological and social level.
“It falls into the category of novels which question cultural norms about gender. However, it is embedded in its local Arab context and steers away from any ideological treatment of the issues, as such a treatment would be contrary to the way in which fiction can present multiple points of view.”
Prof Yasir Suleiman, chair of the IPAF Board of Trustees, was equally enthusiastic: “Sometimes wistful but always lyrical, the narrative succeeds in evoking a conflicted cultural fabric that fuses time with place in a Libyan milieu that speaks to and for Arabs everywhere”.
Born in 1991, Mohamed Alnaas (right) has a degree electrical engineering but now sees himself as a journalist and writer – his short story collection Blue Blood was published in 2020 and Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table followed a year later. He wrote it in just six months during lockdown and while Tripoli was under bombardment, and called the exercise his “refuge from insanity” amid the news of Covid and war.
The shortlisted six finalists — Khalid Al-Nassrallah, Tareq Imam, Reem al-Kamali, Bushra Khalfan and Mohsine Loukili — will each receive $10,000.
The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, part of DCT Abu Dhabi, and was originally mentored by the Booker Prize Foundation in London. The prize is also supported by the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which is currently running.