Culture ministry felicitates award-winning novelist Al Qasmi

Oman Sunday 23/July/2023 19:55 PM
By: Times News Service
Culture ministry felicitates award-winning novelist Al Qasmi

Muscat: It has been two months since novelist Zahran Al Qasmi made the Sultanate of Oman proud with his novel 'The Water Diviner'.

The novel won the 2023 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), plus translation, and a cash award of US$50,000 at an award ceremony in Abu Dhabi, UAE in May. The novel, published by Dar Rashm, was named as the winner by the jury chair, Mohammed Achaari.

Al Qasmi is the first Omani winner and joins an illustrious list of Omani writers that include Jokha Al Harthi, who won the International Booker Prize along with Marilyn Booth for Celestial Bodies in 2019. The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth (MCSY) acknowledged the contribution of Al Qasmi and felicitated him for winning the 2023 International Prize for Arabic Fiction on Sunday.

A statement from the Oman News Agency (ONA) said: “The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth honored the Omani writer, Zahran bin Hamdan Al Qasmi, after his novel ‘The Water Diviner’ won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for the year 2023.”

Sayyid Saeed bin Sultan Al Busaidi, Undersecretary at the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth for Culture felicitated Al Qasmi at his office on Sunday.

Al Qasmi's honor comes as an affirmation of the ministry's interest in felicitating the achievers, and recipients of regional and international awards in the cultural, sports and youth fields.

The winning entry was the fourth novel from the Omani author and is the 16th winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Al Qasmi's International Prize for Arabic Fiction underlines the progress made by Omani writers in recent times with two of the world's most prominent honors in contemporary fiction awarded in a space of five years.

'The Water Diviner' - its title was listed by the prize for its longlist on January 24 and its shortlist on March 1 as 'The Exile of the Water Diviner' - is Al Qasmi's work that is said to be "steeped in the world of aflaj," an irrigation system that has much to do with Omani village life.

On the winning entry, the jury chair Mohammed Achaari said, “The Water Diviner by Zahran Al Qasmi explores a new subject in modern fiction: water and its impact on the natural environment and the lives of human beings in hostile regions. 

He added: “The Water Diviner’ transports us to the world of Oman’s riverbeds and the aflaj - water channels - showing how natural forces influence the relationship between individuals, environment, and culture.

“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, which plays an essential role in people’s lives, yet simultaneously inspires their fear and revulsion.”

Achaari’s fellow jurors for this year’s prize were Egyptian novelist and academic Reem Bassiouney, Algerian novelist, researcher, and journalist Fadhila El Farouk, Swedish university professor and translator Tetz Rooke, Omani writer and academic Aziza Al Ta’e.

Al Qasmi’s book has been praised not only for its literary value and for its focus on the ground-water culture of Oman.

The inaugural edition of the prestigious award was in 2008 with Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher (Egypt) winning it.

While the International Prize for Arabic Fiction has been mentored by the Booker Prize Foundation in London, in a disclaimer about a frequently heard inaccuracy, the IPAF organisers have said, “Although the prize is often referred to as the ‘Arabic Booker,’ this is not instigated nor endorsed at all by the International Prize for Arabic fiction or the Booker Prize Foundation, two completely separate, independent organisations.

“The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is not in any way connected with the Booker Prize.”

Born in Oman in 1979, Al Qasmi is an author of four published novels and 10 poetry collections.

Al Qasmi was among six Arab writers shortlisted for the award. The shortlisted authors received US$10,000 each, with a further $50,000 going to the final winner.

Created in 2007, IPAF is aimed at boosting the international reach of Arabic fiction by funding English translation for its winners. The prize is currently sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre.