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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 June, 2004, 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK
Prison novel wins literary prize
Tahar Ben Jelloun
Ben Jelloun's novel was translated from French
Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun has won one of the world's richest literature prizes.

Ben Jelloun's novel, This Blinding Absence of Light, won the 100,000 euro (65,700) International Impac Dublin Literary Award 2004, on Thursday.

The prize is the biggest for a single work of fiction in English.

The panel of judges chose the novel, about an underground prison in the deserts of Morocco, from an international shortlist of 10.


Nominations for the prize were made by more than 162 libraries from 47 countries, with Dublin City Public Libraries administering the prize.

A total of 35 nominated titles were in translations, including This Blinding Absence of Light, which was translated from French by Linda Coverdale.

Ben Jelloun, who was born in 1944 in Fez, Morocco, emigrated to France in 1961.

The 100,000 euro prize money will be divided between Ben Jelloun, who gets 75,000 euros, and Coverdale with 25,000 euros.

Describing Ben Jelloun's book as "a masterpiece among novels", the judges praised its "searing simplicity, beauty" and "clarity of language".

The novel, based on fact, tells of one man's 20 years spent in the appalling conditions of an underground prison in the deserts of Morocco.


"The story about the hellholes and the survivors - the living cadavers - is a moving description of both unlimited evil and the power of human spirit to survive," said a spokesperson for the jury.

"We admired the novel's beauty and clarity of language, its formal restraint which gives it subtle power, its commitment to its terrible subject, its passionate evocation of the human soul and the will to survive."

Ben Jelloun was presented with his prize money during a ceremony in Dublin's City Hall on Thursday.

Other shortlisted novels included The Book of Illusions, by Paul Auster, The White Family, by Maggie Gee, and House of Day, House of Night by Olga Tokarczuk.

The judging panel included award-winning novelist Anita Desai, broadcaster John Quinn and Norwegian poet Knut Odegard.

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