Libyan writer Ibrahim al-Koni recently donated his $100,000 Arab Novel Prize to the Twareg of Mali and Niger. This was the same prize that Ibrahim Nasrallah turned down in previous years. Ibrahim al-Koni was born among the Tamasheq-speaking Twareg people, learnt Arabic when he was twelve, studied comparative literature at the Maxin Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow, and his impressive body of work draws on, “Sufi mysticism, Russian existentialism, American transcendentalism, old world mythology, German romanticism, and more.”
“Unlike most Arab novelists who still tend to be read as national writers (Egyptians, Lebanese, Iraqis and so on), Al-Koni is one of a few whose reception has effectively transcended the national borders that divide the Arab world.
The irony of this, of course, is that Al-Koni’s mother tongue is Tamasheq (not Arabic) and he writes largely about Twaregs, not Arabs. While it would be a mistake for us to draw a sharp line between these two peoples, for centuries this is precisely what the Arabic literary tradition did. In the accounts of pre-modern North African travelers and geographers, Twareg culture and society is presented as radically other. Indeed, Arab writers tended to draw sharp lines between Arabo-Berber-Muslim culture of the Maghreb, and that of the Twaregs—a people whose political structure is matrilineal and whose conversion to Islam was at times thought to be less than complete and sincere.”
(information quoted from Arablit)
Forthcoming al-Koni in English (June 2011):
>>The Animists, by Ibrahim al-Koni, trans. Elliott Colla
AUC Press blurb: In a remote Saharan valley, a mysterious caravan approaches from the south. In its train, it brings gold and slaves but also marvelous, dangerous things—ancient pagan heresies and a scorching, unceasing southern wind. And more. For the first time in desert memory, a caravan has come to settle permanently, to build a city of walls and roofs in a land where men have always lived freely as nomads.
Renowned as Ibrahim al-Koni’s masterpiece, The Animists is an epic story of the many winds sweeping north and south across the Sahara—of the struggles between devils and humankind, worldly traders and Sufi ascetics, monotheists and animists, nomads and city dwellers, life and death. Al-Koni’s depiction of the Saharan crossroads is at its richest in this novel—nowhere else is his portrayal of humanity’s spiritual and existential battles so complex and compelling, nowhere else are his unique storytelling skills so evidently displayed.