Edwar Al-Kharrat: poet of the Arabic novel
LAST Wednesday (20 February), the fourth Cairo Arab Novel Conference, a four-day event, closed with the announcement of this round's recipient of the Cairo
Fiction Award. Egyptian novelist Edwar Al-Kharrat received the award from Minister of Culture and head of the Supreme Council for Culture, Farouk Hosni. It was an honour that was well deserved by one of Egypt's most influential fiction writers, who over the past 50 years has produced an impressive body of short stories and novels all employing his unique voice and language. A highly self-conscious writer, Al-Kharrat's poetic language has even earned him the title of the "novelists' poet" as Ibrahim Fathi, a member of the jury for this year's award, once wrote in a study of Al-Kharrat's work.
"Al-Kharrat's work, whether fictional or in the form of literary criticism," Fathi wrote, "has made a major contribution to the reconsideration of literary genres, Al-Kharrat himself being a leading advocate of cross-generic writings. Al-Kharrat, and all those influenced by him, have called for rigid rules concerning characterisation, plot and narrative to be left behind in favour of the intermixing of the different genres of the novel, the short story and poetry."
"Furthermore, he has always tried to redefine reality from within the prism of his own individual poetic world, insisting that his method of construction is closely linked to classical literary traditions that are deeply enshrined in Arab culture. That culture, Al-Kharrat has pointed out, constitutes an abundant repository of non-realist collective imagination, drawing upon old folk tales, the Arabian Nights and religious rituals that challenge worldly reality."
Al-Kharrat is the first Egyptian recipient of the Cairo Fiction Award, given in the Conference's first round to the Saudi novelist Abdel-Rahman Mounif in 1989 and then turned down by Egyptian novelist Sonallah Ibrahim in the Conference's second round in 2003. The Conference's third award was given to the Sudanese novelist Tayeb Saleh in 2005.
Many of Al-Kharrat's novels have been translated into English and other languages, including Rama and the Dragon, City of Saffron, and The Stones of Bobello, and the present award can only stimulate further translations.