Saudi author wins Arab prize for palace satire

Tue Mar 2, 12:12 pm ET

LONDON (Reuters) – Saudi novelist Abdo Khal won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction Tuesday for “Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles,” about the seductive yet destructive allure of the world of the palace.

The award, worth $10,000 to each of the six nominees and another $50,000 to the winner, honors works of prose fiction in Arabic, and the exposure it brings can mean publishing deals in English and other languages.

“The winning novel is a brilliant exploration of the relationship between the individual and the state,” said Kuwaiti writer Taleb Alrefai who chaired the judging panel.

“Through the eyes of its two-dimensional protagonist, the book gives the reader a taste of the horrifying reality of the excessive world of the palace.”

The other shortlisted writers were Rabai Al-Madhoun (“The Lady from Tel Aviv,” Mansoura Ez Eldin (“Beyond Paradise”), Rabee Jaber (“America”), Mohamed Mansi Qandil (“A Cloudy Day on the West Side”) and Jamal Naji (“When the Wolves Grow Old”).

Dubbed the “Arab Booker” because it is supported by Britain’s Booker Prize Foundation, the award is in its third year.

Last year’s winner was Egyptian writer and scholar Youssef Ziedan, whose bestselling novel “Azazeel” (Beelzebub) had angered the Egyptian Coptic Church.

Spewing Sparks, published by Al-Jamal Publications, casts a satirical eye on power and limitless wealth.

Set in Saudi Arabia, the narrative follows Tarek, a young man who leaves his family in a poor community in Jeddah to work for a rich businessman living in a palace.

Tarek is lured by the corrupt and affluent lifestyle, and in his role as servant carries out his master’s wishes which include punishing his enemies by tortuous means.

Khal was born in 1962 in Al-Majanah, Saudi Arabia, and is based in Jeddah. He is known locally and in the wider Arab world for a number of novels including “Cities Eating Grass,” “Immorality,” “The Mud” and “Death Passes from Here.”

According to the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature website, Khal left the village where he was born at an early age with his family in search of a better life.

“Like their maker, Khal’s heroes come from marginal groups and struggle for salvation,” it said.

The award was announced at a ceremony in Abu Dhabi on the first day of the 2010 Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

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