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‘The Water Diviner’ wins Arabic Booker


Muscat- ‘The Water Diviner’ by Omani author Zahran al Qasimi has won the Arab Booker Prize 2023. Six Arab novels competed for the coveted Arab Booker, shortlisting for which was announced in March.

The announcement of this prestigious award was made on May 21, Sunday, during the book launch event in Abu Dhabi.

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) aims to recognize excellence in contemporary Arabic literature and promote the demand for reading Arabic literature globally by translating and publishing the winning novels in major languages.

Besides Zahran al Qasimi’s ‘The Water Diviner’, other competing novels included ‘Mina’ by Siddik Hadj Ahmed from Algeria; ‘Qurena Eduardo Concerto’ by Najwa Binshatwan from Libya; ‘Days of the Rising Sun’ by Miral al Tahawy from Egypt; ‘The Stone of Happiness’ by Azhar Zarzis from Iraq; and ‘The Horizon: Al Ala’ by Fatima Abdel-Hamid from Saudi Arabia.

The award in the 16th edition of the IPAF has put Zahran al Qasimi in the global spotlight, showcasing the diversity and richness of Arabic literature.

The panel for the IPAF comprising Reem Bassiouney, Fadhila el Farouk, Tetz Rooke, Aziza Al Ta’i, and Mohammed Achaari, unanimously selected ‘The Water Diviner’ for its innovative exploration of the relationship between water and the natural environment, particularly in challenging areas.

The novel skillfully weaves together reality and myth, employing a tightly woven narrative and transparent poetic language while presenting captivating characters that simultaneously play vital roles in people’s lives and elicit aversion and fear. Through this work, the author acquaints readers with the unfamiliar setting of Oman’s valleys and falaj, delving into the influence of natural elements on human connections with their surroundings and culture.

‘The Water Diviner’ transports readers to an Omani village where the protagonist, Salem bin Abdullah, works as a water diviner, venturing deep into the earth to uncover hidden springs. At the core of the story lies the ‘Aflaj’, an irrigation system that is integral to village life in Oman and often serves as inspiration for various tales and legends. Al Qasimi explores water’s dual nature as both a life-giving force and a potential harbinger of danger and death through scarcity or flooding.

Notably, Al Qasimi places great emphasis on the significant role of female characters in his narrative. He highlights how women have historically been instrumental in giving life to humanity, initiating changes in civilisations, and driving significant historical transformations. This theme resonates throughout the book, focusing on how women also bring about transformative shifts in the life of the main protagonist.

Born in Dima W’attayeen, Oman in 1974, Zahran al Qasimi is an accomplished poet and novelist. Prior to ‘The Water Diviner,’ he published three novels: ‘Mount Al Shua’ (2013), ‘The Sniper’ (2014), and ‘The Hunger of Honey’ (2017). Additionally, he has authored ten collections of poetry, along with ‘Sirat Al Hijr 1’ (Short Stories, 2009) and ‘Sirat Al Hijr 2’ (Texts, 2011).

Al Qasimi’s win marks a significant milestone, as he became the first Omani novelist to receive the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. ‘The Water Diviner’ was published by Dar Rashem in Saudi Arabia, solidifying its recognition and reach across the Arab world and beyond.

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