This year “The Italian” by Shukri Mabkhout has been awarded the eighth International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
Mabkhout dedicated his award to the women of Tunisia and his family. “I would like to dedicate this prize to the women of our country, who have had to fight against injustice and oppression. I dedicate this [award] to my three daughters,” he said at his acceptance speech.
Set in Tunis, The Italian tells the story of Abdel Nasser, nicknamed “the Italian” due to his good looks. Against the backdrop of the protagonist’s political and amatory exploits, the book sheds light on Tunisia’s recent complex history, in particular the troubled transition from the Bourguiba era to the government of Ben Ali in the late 1980s.
In a recent interview published at the International Arab Prize Fiction’s website Shukri Mabkhout explained why he wanted to write the novel by referring to the events of the Arab Spring.
He said “Two years into the revolution... I remembered a recent period of Tunisia’s history that is similar in its fears, changes and conflicts to what I was witnessing and living: it was the period of transition from the reign of Bourguiba to that of Ben Ali following the 1987 coup."
Mabkhout, who has just turned 53, was born in Tunis in 1962 and currently resides there, where he is president of Manouba University.
The Italian was selected as the best work of fiction published within the last year, out of 180 entries from 15 countries across the Arab World.
Chair of Judges, and a well-known Palestinian poet, Mourid Barghouti explained why they chose The Italian: ”The novel brilliantly depicts the unrest both of the small worlds of its characters and the larger one of the nation, as well as exploring themes of personal desire, the establishment, violation and opportunism. Whilst it lifts the lid on Tunisian society, the book may also surprise many of its Arab readers who may recognise aspects of their societies in its pages too.”
He added "Gripping the read from the first line to the last, The Italian is a work of art and an important contribution to Tunisian, and Arab, literary fiction."
The winner of the competition receives $50,000 (183,657 Tunisian Dinars). The winning entry is also translated into English in order to broaden the book’s reach and audience.