CAIRO: Historian and novelist Youssef Ziedan won the second International Prize for Arabic Fiction – the Arabic Booker prize – on Monday for his best-selling novel “Azazeel (Beelzebub).
Ziedan is the second Egyptian to win the prestigious award following Bahaa Taher who won it last year for “Sunset Oasis.
Funded by the Emirates Foundation, the prize is awarded in association with Britain s Booker Prize Foundation. Ziedan will receive $60,000 and a guarantee that his work will be translated into English.
“The choice was not easy, because of the distinctly high quality of all six shortlisted novels, announced the Chair of Judges, Lebanese literary scholar Youmna Al-Eid, in the awards ceremony held in Abu Dhabi.
Joumana Haddad, the prize’s administrator, said that “in its second year, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction has matured and grown. It is better established, its vision is clearer, and it is fulfilling its potential as a critical conscience and voice of authority with respect to the contemporary Arabic novel.
This year, the shortlisted novels offered a variety of issues and narrative styles. Topics tackled by the shortlisted novels include the Palestinian struggle in Ibrahim Nasrallah’s “The Time of White Horses ; the Iraq war in Inaam Kachachi’s “The American Granddaughter ; cross-cultural relationships in Al-Habib Al-Salmy’s “The Scents of Marie-Clarie , and freedom of expression in Fawwaz Haddad’s “The Unfaithful Translator.
“Azazeel had emerged as a strong contender to win the coveted prize, thanks to its intriguing subject matter conceived with a unique literary approach, thoughtful language and accurate historical detail.
Set in fifth century Upper Egypt, Alexandria and northern Syria, “Azazeel tells the story of an Egyptian Coptic monk battling his demons as the church proceeds to assert its dominance over the old receding religions.
The Egyptian Coptic Church has criticized the novel for allegedly attempting to destroy Christian doctrine, but was unsuccessful in its attempts to ban it.
The Egyptian Coptic Church imagined for years that the centuries that preceded the arrival of Islam (in 640 AD) are a history private to the Coptic Church, and I cannot accept that, and I see no meaning or logic to it, Ziedan had said about the Church’s position.
Currently the director of manuscripts and acquisitions at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Ziedan has published nearly 50 non-fiction books and 80 research papers.
His first acclaimed fictional work “Zel Al-Afaa (Shadow of the Serpent) – about the transformations of the female image throughout Egyptian history – went under the radar when released in 2006, scoring modest sales.
In “Azazeel Ziedan chose a more Sufi-like approach, portraying the devil as an organic part of the human being, who speaks the voice of reason.
“Beelzebub is the isolated part of the human being. This part or this real human being has been obscured by religious structures. Religion provides us with a puritanical dream, which can never be realized because it goes against human nature, Ziedan was quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times blog Babylon and Beyond.