• Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction has Named an Imprisoned Palestinian Author to its Shortlist

Imprisoned Palestinian author Basim Khandaqji's novel shortlisted for International Prize for Arabic Fiction, defying barriers with literary brilliance.
on Mar 01, 2024
The International Prize for Arabic Fiction has Named an Imprisoned Palestinian Author to its Shortlist | Frontlist

A Mask, the Colour of the Sky, the latest novel by imprisoned Palestinian novelist Basim Khandaqji, has been chosen one of six finalists for the 2024 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

A Mask, the Colour of the Sky is about Nur, an archaeologist who lives in a refugee camp in Ramallah. The plot revolves around Nur discovering a blue ID card belonging to an Israeli citizen tucked inside the pocket of an old garment. Nur, intrigued, takes the identity of the card's owner in order to obtain access to dig sites in the West Bank and learn more about his oppressor.

"This is the first time in the history of the Prize that a novel from (literally) behind the walls of an Israeli jail reaches out to readers on the other side," remarked Professor Yasir Suleiman, Chair of the Board of Trustees, upon the announcement of the shortlist.

Khandaqji, born in Nablus in 1983, was arrested by Israeli police in 2004 at the age of 21 on terrorism charges and sentenced to three life terms for his role in the planning of a suicide explosion that murdered three people in Tel Aviv.

Khandaqji completed his schooling while imprisoned and has since published at least six books, four novels and two collections of poems.

As ArabLit reported earlier this month, in an interview with the IPAF organisers, Khandaqji's brother stated that A Mask, the Colour of the Sky was written between June and November 2021, "in difficult circumstances." He continued, "Basim was inside numerous jails, travelling from one to another as a result of the prison service administration's unlawful methods. Occasionally, he lost some of the material he had gathered because a prison guard destroyed it."

Even if Khandaqji is chosen as this year's winner, he is unlikely to be awarded the $50,000 reward. The Israel Prison Service told Israeli media that "if it decided that a terrorist should be rewarded with a prize, it would be impossible to receive it."

Indeed, the author may be unaware of his nomination, as Khandaqji's relatives stated in January that they had been unable to contact him in recent months.


The Seventh Heaven of Jerusalem, by Palestinian author Osama Al-Eissa, was also shortlisted for this year's prize. The novel is set in Jerusalem in the 1970s, when the city's residents confronted the challenges of war and starvation.
The International reward for Arabic Fiction, also known as "the Arabic Booker," was established in 2007 to recognise excellence in modern Arabic literature and foster a global readership of Arabic literary works. It is currently largely considered as the Arab world's most distinguished literary reward.

Previous winners include Hoda Barakat (2019, The Night Mail), Ahmed Saadawi (2014, Frankenstein in Baghdad), and Mohammed Achaari (2011).

Each of the six finalists will get $10,000, with the winner being announced on the eve of the Abu Dhabi Book Fair in late April and receiving an additional $50,000. The reward also includes the costs of translating the winning novels into English.

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