Sudanese author awarded Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for his novel Shawq el Darwish (Longing of the Dervish)
By Farah el-Akkad
Sudanese writer and Cairo resident Hammour Ziada won the 2014 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for his second novel Shawq el Darwish
(Longing of the Dervish). The award is given out by the AUC Press on December 11, birthday of the late Nobel Laureate, for the best contemporary novel published in Arabic but not yet translated in English.
Shawq el Darwish
is a love story about a Sudanese slave in 19th
century Sudan during the Mahdist revolution and the fall of Khartoum. “Streets have lost their glow. A weary spirit is flying above workers now,” Ziada wrote in the novel. “Maybe they have become friends with the old oppression. They are now heading to a new gate of oppression. They do not know yet what is ahead of them.”
At the award ceremony at AUC’s Tahrir Campus, the author said he was inspired to write Shawq el Darwish
just a few days before the March 2011 constitutional referendum, after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak. “I was heading home in a cab late at night when I instantly felt a sudden surge of thoughts flooding out of my head about what will happen with the Arab Spring that had recently erupted in Tunisia and Egypt. Will the people of these nations finally have a say and a voice? I wondered. I had a strong feeling that this so-called spring will take a different twist and that tyranny and oppression will not go away but will only become worse.”
The award committee called Shawq el Darwish
“a novel that illuminates the intertwining of relationships of power on the regional and local levels using a dramatically colored and wide-ranging palette of characters and events to paint a convincingly atmospheric portrait of a period and a place little known to most readers.”
Born in 1977 in Umm Durman, Sudan, Ziada has worked as a journalist in newspapers such as Al-Yawm-Al-Tali and Al-Jarida and also as a human rights researcher. He has lived in Cairo for the past five years and published his first novel Al Kung
“Like every other Sudanese, we are natural storytellers since childhood when we wait for our grandmothers’ stories every night,” he told an audience of his fellow writers and other cultural figures at the award ceremony. “Everything in Sudan is a story to be told. Everything we see and everything we do is all a blend of fantasy and reality.
“I stand before you today, ladies and gentlemen, and declare that this heritage is what caught attention of the judges of the Mahfouz Medal for Literature,” he continued. “Because what the novel Shawq el Darwish
attempts to present is part of the stories of the country of the men with burnt faces. Stories of their sufferings, dreams, ambitions, defeats, history and legends.”
Among the stories of Sudanese folklore and old traditions Ziada was inspired by the story of Wadi Abkar,
the Valley of Abkar, from which the Arabic word for genius – abkary
– comes from. “People used to think that ghosts of poets inhabited this valley and that whoever went there will go crazy,” he said, “but those who went there came back as great writers and poets."
The award, consisting of a silver medal and a cash prize, as well as translation and publication throughout the English-speaking world. Ziada said he is absolutely proud “truly honored and touched to be nominated and to actually receive an award named after such a notable author as Mahfouz. A genius who has greatly impacted the Arab world on so many levels and his works still live on.”