Palestinian author Atef Abu Saif, who lives and works in Gaza’s Jabaliya refugee camp, is one of the six authors shortlisted for this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction (known as the “Arabic Booker”). The judging committee this year also included doyen of Palestinian poetry Mourid Barghouti, who chaired the panel.
Abu Saif’s entry for the prize is Suspended Life, of which he says in an interview on the award website:
There have been many stories happening before my eyes in Gaza that pose the biggest existential question about the truth of life and our relationships as human beings within the spaces available to us. I toyed with the idea a lot and searched for an answer; the idea of how we are born in wars and die in them, particularly in Gaza where the wars have been ongoing since the Nakba in 1948. The idea that friends turned into posters to be hung on the walls pained me. How can a person turn into a number in the machine of life and the industry of death?
In a twist which very much reflects the reality of life in Gaza, however, Abu Saif says that he hasn’t even seen a printed copy of his own book:
It was printed in Jordan shortly before the attack on Gaza last summer because of the siege on the Strip and because of the crisis of getting books to the West Bank. I have still not been able to see the novel. After the Arab Booker nomination, friends began to ask me about it. My son Mostafa asked me for a copy since his schoolteacher asked about it, after reading news of its reaching the longlist.
Although Suspended Life has not (yet) been translated into English, a range of Abu Saif’s work is available to English-speaking readers.
He edited, and has a tale in, The Book of Gaza, a collection of short stories by writers from Gaza, which was published in summer 2014. During the Israeli attack on Gaza which started soon after the anthology was released, Abu Saif also kept writing as a means of coping and of reaching out to global audiences to make them aware of the crimes being perpetrated.
Translations of these raw, immediate accounts appeared in publications around the world, including The Slate, Guernica, the Sunday Times, the Guardian and the New York Times. The full collection of Abu Saif’s wartime diaries will appear – also from Comma Press – later this spring, under the title The Drone Eats With Me: Diaries From A City Under Fire.