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Published in The Saudi Gazette on 16 - 03 - 2011

‘The Dove's Necklace' is much more than a novel: Arabic Booker-winning Saudi author Raja Alem
ABU DHABI: The famous female Saudi author Raja Alem was named Monday joint-winner of the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction – the “Arabic Booker” - for her novel “The Dove's Necklace”. She shared the prize with the Moroccan author Mohammed Achaari in Abu Dhabi.
This is the first time the annual award has been given jointly to two people in its four-year history.
They will share US$50,000 (Dh183,650) while their novels will be translated into English, opening them to a bigger international readership. Both novels are on topical and sensitive themes.
According to the International Prize for Arabic Fiction's organizers the first novel, “The Dove's Necklace,” explores the “sordid underbelly” of life in the holy city of Makkah. The novelist describes her work, as more than a novel about her home city of Makkah. Instead, she says it is a rare journey into a life far removed from the city's historical role.
The second, “The Arch and the Butterfly”, deals with extremism and terrorism and its destructive effect upon Arab society itself, rather than on the West. In this novel, a father receives a letter from Al-Qaeda informing him that his son, who he believed was studying in Paris, died fighting Western forces in Afghanistan.
The award, known as the “Arabic Booker”, has helped introduce works by Middle Eastern authors to the international literary stage. It is funded by the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy and is also supported by the Booker Prize Foundation, the charity behind the Man Booker Prize for English language fiction, and by the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. Winners were chosen from a shortlist of six authors, all of whom received $10,000. The extra $50,000 normally given to the winner was split equally between Achaari and Alem. This year was no different as the six shortlisted authors set their unique gazes on topics ranging from the timely to the universal.
Traditionally the winner is awarded $50,000 but, as this year sees two winners, the prize money will be split between them. Both winners are guaranteed an English translation of their winning novels. Winners of the prize can also look forward to increased book sales and international recognition.
Both books will be translated into English, which is likely to boost readership and global recognition.
The committee of judges for this round includes the Iraqi critic, Fadhil Al-Azzawi, the Bahraini researcher and critic Munira al-Fadhel, with the Moroccan writer and critic Said Yaktine.

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