Libyan, 31, wins top Arabic fiction prize with debut novel

TRIPOLI (AFP): Libyan author Mohamed Alnaas became the youngest winner of the prestigious International Prize for Arabic Fiction with his debut novel “Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table” on Sunday.

Alnaas, 31, will receive $50,000 and funds will also be provided to translate his book into English, organisers said on their website.

The prize, along with a further $50,000 divided between five other shortlisted novelists, is publicly funded by Abu Dhabi, one of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.

Published by Rashm, with support from the Libyan Arete Foundation, the winning novel explores gender roles in the male-dominated closed society of a Libyan village.

It recounts the story of Milad, who strives to live up to the definition of ideal masculinity but is deemed to have failed as “a man” after taking on a home role typically reserved for women while his partner, Zeinab, works and supports the family.

Born in 1991, Alnaas published a short story collection, “Blue Blood”, in 2020, but “Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table” is his first novel. 

He is the first Libyan author and youngest writer to win the prize, which was launched in 2007.

The novel “offers a deep and meticulous critique of prevailing concepts of masculinity and femininity and the division of work between men and women, and the effect of these on both a psychological and social level”, said Shukri Mabkhout, chair of the prize’s panel of judges.

“It falls into the category of novels which question cultural norms about gender.”

Alnaas’ novel was chosen from a shortlist of six.

The five other short-listed authors, from Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, will each receive $10,000, the organisers said.

Oil-rich Abu Dhabi, the richest of the UAE’s seven emirates, has taken steps to become a cultural hub including hosting the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum.

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