Literature. Lebanese Hoda Barakat wins Arab Booker

On April 23, the Arab Booker Prize was awarded to Lebanese Hoda Barakat for her novel Night courier. This is the first time in twelve years that this prestigious literary award has been awarded that a woman has been the only winner.

“This is the first time that a woman has won the full international prize for Arab fiction”, welcomes The National. On April 23, the twelfth “Arab Booker”, so nicknamed because supported by the Booker Prize Foundation in London (and funded by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority), was awarded to the Lebanese Hoda Barakat . Enough to forget the precedent of 2011, when the Saudi Raja Alem had to share the prestigious award with the Moroccan Mohammed Achaari – “A decision that had been criticized in literary circles”, recalls the Abu Dhabi daily.

Letters seeking a recipient

Hoda Barakat was born in 1952 in Bécharré, this Maronite village in the heart of the Lebanese mountains which also gave birth to the writer Gibran Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) and to the poet Venus Khoury-Ghata (born in 1937). The jury of the Arab Booker rewarded her for her novel Barid al-layl, published in 2017 by the Beirut publisher Dar Al-Adab, and translated the following year by Actes Sud under the title Night courier. “In this epistolary novel, the writer features marginalized people, whose letters are condemned to never be read by their addressee”, summed up last year L’Orient-Le Jour.

In Al-Hayat, the novelist looks back on the genesis of this book: Night courier was born from images that obsessed me, those of refugees fleeing their fate. These wanderers on their death rafts have become for the world an undesirable group, a virus threatening civilization. I am not asking that the Western world open its doors wide or that it idealize refugees, I wanted to give them a human existence, something they are often denied. ” The prize, accompanied by a check for 50,000 dollars (45,000 euros), now offers him the assurance that his novel will be translated into English.

“My reader is Arab”

Contacted by L’Orient-Le Jour after the award ceremony, Hoda Barakat reacted in these terms:

I am very happy because this award is important, it allows to be visible everywhere in the Arab world, yet I am very far from this region, both physically and mentally. […] It makes me really happy that my epistolary novel is rewarded, because my reader is Arabic, and I write in Arabic. ”

The novelist has indeed chosen the paths of exile. In 1989, she moved to France with her children, after fleeing the civil war in Lebanon. And she currently resides in the United States, where she teaches for a semester at Dartmouth University in New Hampshire. Corn “To write in Arabic, the geographical location is irrelevant”, she assured in 2018 in her interview with the Lebanese newspaper. She told about her love for her writing language: “I started to discover Arabic after school because teaching Arabic did not enhance it. He was repulsive: all subjects were taught in French and we made people hate this language on purpose, as if it was not worth studying. In addition, going from spoken Lebanese to written Arabic was complicated, there were miles, and you had to travel alone. […] What made me love Arabic was an awakening, a click. I realized in the early 1970s that this language was magnificent, thanks to everything that was written at that time. It was the time of the new Nahda (Renaissance) with authors like Youssef El-Khal or Ounsi El-Hage. I did not give up French, I just realized that I already had a language. ”

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Literature. Lebanese Hoda Barakat wins Arab Booker

Hank Gilbert