Lebanese Author Hoda Barakat Wins 2019 International Arab Fiction Prize for Her Novel About Immigrants

The powerful, convincing and methodical novel is about erased boundaries and old places and homes that seem to be lost forever.

Hoda Barakat has won the 12th International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) for her novel The Night Mail. The Lebanese author, who is the second woman to win the annual literary prize for prose fiction in Arabic, was presented her award at a ceremony held at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi. In addition to winning $50,000, funding will be provided for the English translation of the book, expected in 2020, helping Barakat bring in an increase in book sales and international recognition.

IPAF judges, including Saudi poet, writer, academic and researcher Fowziyah AbuKhalid, chose Barakat’s novel as the best work of fiction published between July 2017 and June 2018. Published by Dar al-Adab, The Night Mail was shortlisted with five other novels written by authors from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco and Syria. The finalists were also honoured at the ceremony and received $10,000 each.

About The Book

The Night Mail is about letter writers who are orphans of their countries with fractured destinies. Whether it was by choice or whether they were exiled or forced by circumstance to leave, they are far away from their homelands. And their letters are lost, just like them, but each is linked to another and their fates are woven together, like those of their owners.

“I just wanted to listen to the lives of those wandering across the world. I hope that this novel, somehow or other, will have given voice to brittle lives, which are judged by others without understanding them or investigating what brought them to their current state,” Barakat wrote about the book with deep questions and ambiguity during an interview with IPAF.

“Using an epistolary structure to deal with displacement and its effects on the refugee experience, the novel exposes us to the precarious nature of human existence in a world in drift,” Professor Yasir Suleiman, Chair of the Board of IPAF Trustees, said. “The protagonists’ search for a common thread unites and separates them with equal cruelty.”

About The Author

Beirut-born Barakat already has some impressive accolades on her shelf. She received the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2002 and the Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite National in 2008. Barakat, who has worked in journalism and teaching, has published six novels, two plays, a book of short stories and a book of memoirs. The Tiller of Waters won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2000. And the author, who is based in France, was long-listed for the IPAF for her fifth novel, The Kingdom of This Earth in 2013. Two years later, she was a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize.

Note:  The IPAF is sponsored by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi and is run with the support, as its mentor, of the Booker Prize Foundation in London.

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