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Rudaw

Culture & Art

Renowned Kurdish novelist Bachtyar Ali receives prestigious literature award

By Rudaw 12/12/2017
Kurdish novelist and intellectual Bachtyar Ali attends the Nelly-Sachs-Preis in Germany's Dortmund on December 10, 2017. Photo: Ali's Facebook page
Kurdish novelist and intellectual Bachtyar Ali attends the Nelly-Sachs-Preis in Germany's Dortmund on December 10, 2017. Photo: Ali's Facebook page
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The renowned Kurdish novelist Bachtyar Ali received a prestigious prize for literature in Germany's Dortmund, becoming the first writer to receive the award who writes in a non-European language.

Two of Ali's novels, ‘The Last Pomegranate of the World’ and ‘The City of White Musicians,’ have been translated into the German language, among others.

Ali writes in the Sorani dialect of the Kurdish language, but many of his writings have been translated into several other languages, including English and Persian. 

Germany's Dortmund city presents the Nelly-Sachs-Preis every two years. Ali received the award for 2017 on Sunday with a €15,000 award.

It was the first time the prize has been presented to someone who doesn't write in a European language, a statement on the novelist’s official page read.

"The fact that a Kurdish writer has been able to receive the prize while only two of his novels have been translated is a milestone in the course of the prize and also shows the talent of the writer," the statement added.

The prize is named after the German-Swedish writer Nelly Sachs who penned her experiences about being Jewish during the Nazi period in Germany.

Ali understands that the award is given to a kind of literature that helps to bring peoples together, the statement explained.

Ali, a native of Sulaimani, addressed the crowd that attended the award ceremony where he spoke about his background as a Kurdish writer from the Kurdistan Region, and his self-exile life in Germany, local media in Dortmund reported.

The award is presented by the local government in Dortmund. Some of those who received the prestigious award were later able to receive Nobel Prize for literature like Nelly Sachs, herself.

Dortmund mayor Birgit Jörder joked that not every writer is guaranteed to receive the Nobel Prize, but that one can hope.

Ali, 51, said in his acceptance speech that the award shows support for literature originating in the East, and for those people who are concerned about the survival of their language. 

While Kurdish people in Turkey and Iran do not receive public education in their native language, the people of the Kurdistan Region have had Kurdish education since at least 1970s and in Syrian Kurdistan, known as Rojava, since the establishment of the Kurdish enclave in 2011.

‘The Last Pomegranate of the World’ was translated into German in 2016 when it was described as the best translated novel by a German publisher.

"Late, but not too late ‘The Last Pomegranate of the World’ is now translated into German," literary critic Stefan Weidner in the newspaper the Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote at the time. "We should have read this a long time ago. I see immediately why the author is an icon in his native country."

After decades of solitary confinement in a desert prison, former Peshmerga fighter Muzafer Subhdam is released. He is obsessed with the idea of his lost son Saryasi whom he left behind as an infant and now wishes to find. The book is the story of this search.

‘The City of White Musicians’ tells the story of a survivor of the Kurdish genocide, Anfal, who is then helped by an Iraqi army general, who has a dark past of committing atrocities. The general rescues the Anfal survivor and takes him to the only person he trusts, a prostitute in southern Iraq.

Ali was born in Sulaimani in 1960. He studied ecology at both Sulaimani and Salahaddin University. He left university after he was injured in demonstrations in 1983. He left the Kurdistan Region shortly after the Kurdish civil war in 1994, and then headed to Germany. 

Bachtyar Ali signs copies of his novel ‘The City of White Musicians' on the day he received the award in Dortmund. Photo: Ali's Facebook page

 

Although Ali is also an essayist, poet and intellectual, he is more known for his novels. He has published 11 novels so far. 

Sherko Bekas, the iconic Kurdish poet, once said that a phenomenon like Ali is born only once a century.

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