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Oman novelist wins top Arabic fiction prize

May 22, 2023 at 12:41 pm

Omani poet and novelist Zahran Alqasmi won the 2023 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) for his fourth novel the Water Diviner in Abu Dhabi on 21 May 2023

Omani poet and novelist Zahran Alqasmi has won the 2023 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) for his fourth novel the Water Diviner, first published in 2021.

During the awards ceremony held yesterday in Abu Dhabi, 49-year-old Alqasmi was named the winner of the $50,000 prize and the book will also receive funding for an English translation.

Set in rural Oman, the book tells the story of villager Salem Bin Abdullah who is hired by his community to find groundwater reserves. It touches on issues of water scarcity and extreme weather events such as floods.

In an interview for the prize’s website, Alqasmi spoke of his own rural upbringing as inspiration for the novel: “Anyone looking at life in the Sultanate of Oman will find that it largely depends upon an old system for providing water for drinking and agriculture, the system of the aflaj (water channels). They are a complicated social system, linked to social and class strata. Water is divided in equal shares throughout the year so that the owners of gardens can take what is due to them.”

“Since I am a son of one of these villages, since my early childhood I have known a lot about the system of aflaj and heard many astonishing stories and legends connected with this system. This enriched me as I wrote the novel,” he said.

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Moroccan author Mohammed Achaari, Chair of the Judges and 2011 IPAF winner, said of the The Water Diviner: “It is a new subject in modern fiction: water and its impact on the natural environment and the lives of human beings in hostile regions.”

“Blurring the boundaries of reality and myth, the novel’s precise structure and sensitive poetic language are the conduit for compelling characters like the water diviner, who plays an essential role in people’s lives, yet simultaneously inspires their fear and revulsion,” he said.

The Water Diviner transports us to the world, little known in the Arabic novel, of the riverbeds and the aflaj [water channels] of Oman, showing how natural forces influence the relationship between individuals, environment and culture.”

Professor Yasir Suleiman, chairman of the award’s board of trustees, also praised Alqasmi’s rich prose and use of authentic Omani colloquialisms. “The novel takes the reader into a world dominated by vulnerability and ready-made modes of thinking,” he said.

“Written in exquisite language suffused with the local cadences, the novel charms the reader with its narrative flow and poetic impulse.”

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