Mohammed Asan Alwan
Is this your first visit to the Sharjah International Book Fair?
No, this is my second. My first one was in 2013 after my fourth
novel, The Beaver, was shortlisted for the international prize
for Arabic fiction (Arabic Booker). I was featured in one of the
events and enjoyed meeting a terrific audience.
What are you hoping to gain from the visit?
SIBF is one of the most important cultural events in the Arab
world. Being there is always a source of joy for me. I hope to
attend as many literary events as possible and meet the writers
whose works I enjoy reading.
This year, you won the $50,000 International Prize for
Arabic Fiction. What has been the impact of winning the
The impact on my personal life was simple and direct: writing
should be my full time job from now on. I am doing that now,
especially after finishing my PhD.
The subject of your winning novel, A Small Death, is Sunni
scholar Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi (1165-1240). What drew you
There are many sides of Ibn Arabi’s life that could arouse interest.
In my case, I was mainly obsessed by his travels. It is not that he
was just a constant traveler, but that he couples his travels with
philosophical views that are hard to resist. When I was learning
about the tens of cities he had been to, I asked myself: what did
he see? imagining an answer led to writing my novel.
He is a controversial figure in some quarters. How did you
want readers to react to him, and what has been the reaction
to your novel in the Arab world?
I wanted to project his life as a human being, not a holy figure
or a controversial subject. My novel tells his story from a
very personal prospective. What kind of a life did he live? his
milestones? fears? love life? family issues? All of these aspects
of his life were mostly absent from history books. I wanted to fill
this gap with fiction. The reaction to the book was in line with
my intention, and many readers echoed that in their comments,
despite their initial opinion about him.
In part, the prize aims to encourage English translations. Is
one in the pipeline?
There are efforts under way to get that done. A translator was
commissioned to translate a sample of the book to include it in
my communication with interested publishers.
You live for a good part of each year in Toronto. How has
your exile affected your writing about your heritage and
I am not in exile. I enjoy living between Saudi and Canada.
Traveling and living abroad keeps the mind active and
observant. This is important to me as a writer.
You have a BA in computing and a PhD in marketing—not
a traditional education for a novelist. Was fiction writing
always part of your plans?
Part of my academic path was chosen because I didn’t believe
that writing could be a financially stable job. However, I like
what I have studied. I believe that any kind of knowledge can
be relevant to my writing if I know how to deploy it.
Mohammed Hasan Alwan won the 2017 International
Prize for Arabic Fiction for his novel A Small Death. He
has previously been shortlisted for the award, with his
novel Al-Qundus, with which he won the 2015 Arab
World Institute’s Prix de la Littérature Arabe. In 2009-
10, Alwan was chosen as one of the 39 best Arab authors
under the age of 40 by the Beirut39 project.
Born in Riyadh, Alwan studied Computer Information
Systems at King Saud University. He obtained an MBA
from the University of Portland, Oregon in 2008, and a
Ph.D from Carleton University, Ottawa in 2016.