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Wed 16 Mar 2011 12:56 PM

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Moroccan, Saudi authors share Arab fiction award

Both books will be translated into English, which is likely to boost readership and global recognition

Moroccan, Saudi authors share Arab fiction award
Both books will be translated into English, which is likely to boost readership and global recognition (Getty Image - for illustrative purposes only)

A Moroccan and a Saudi author shared the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction on Monday, the first time the annual award has been given jointly to two people in its four-year history.

Morocco's Mohammed Achaari won for "The Arch and the Butterfly," in which 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. He shared the prize with Saudi Arabia's Raja Alem, whose "The Dove's Necklace," explores the "sordid underbelly" of life in the holy city of Mecca, according to organizers of the award which is funded by the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy.

The honour 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.

Both books will be translated into English, which is likely to boost readership and global recognition.

"They are two wonderful novels with great literary quality and they both deal with important and realistic problems in the Middle East, problems which have been reflected on banners during the recent protests that have shaken the Arab world, demanding change," said Iraqi writer Fadhil Al-Azzawi, chair of the judging panel.

The remaining four nominees included two Egyptian authors writing about Arabs who live abroad -- Khalid al-Bari's "An Oriental Dance" and U.S.-based Miral al-Tahawy's "Brooklyn Heights."

Morocco's Bensalem Himmich imagined an innocent man's experience of extraordinary rendition in "My Tormentor," and Sudan's Amir Taj al-Sir's "The Hunter of the Chrysalises" told of a former intelligence agent who comes under police scrutiny.

The previous winners of the award are "Sunset Oasis" by Bahaa Taher (Egypt), "Azazel" by Youssef Ziedan (Egypt) and "Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles" by Abdo Khal (Saudi Arabia).

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