The Controversial Arabic Booker Winner

Image from arablit.files.wordpress.comThe 3rd Arabic Booker has been announced and the winner is Saudi writer, Abdo Khal (left) for his book  “Throwing Sparks as Big as Castles”. The book is about the excesses of the royal family and the books title is from a Quranic description of hell. Like all great fiction it is not so fictional. Brian Whitaker’s blog has a great low down and links to the book that is well worth a visit. Also the Arabist gives a nice take on the book also complaining of the titles translation. Abdo Khal certainly appears to quite the character. Like all good Arab stereotypes he was a Suadi preaching Jihad. Here is an interesting extract from an article from the Art Fuse Blog where journalist Johnathan Levi went to meet Khal:

“I was out in the streets preaching, ‘you’ve got to believe in jihad or you’re going to hell.’ I really believed it. I even went home and tore up all the pictures and smashed the TV.” But Abdo’s spiritual leader was someone slightly more frightening than Elmer Gantry or Jerry Falwell. Juhaiman Al Otaibi was a militant fundamentalist who, at the end of 1979, in the company of 200 followers, attacked the Grand Mosque in Mecca and took hundreds of hostages, protesting the corruption of the royal family. It took two weeks for the government to retake the holy places. 250 people died, 600 were wounded. 68 terrorists were beheaded in the aftermath. Juhaiman was one. Abdo could have been another.

Now of course he is the Arab worlds new international literature star.

Novels have an important role to play in political discourse and it is pleasing to see the Arabic Booker getting more prominent each year. The fact that this book is speaking out again the “excessive world of the palace” should give hope to all who want to see people take on the big men of the Arab world.


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