Egyptian author Youssef Ziedan wins the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s Anobii First Book Award

Dr Youssef Ziedan’s debut novel, Azazeel, was announced today as the winner of the 2012 Edinburgh International Book Festival’s Anobii First Book Award as voted for by readers and the Book Festival audience. Youssef Ziedan is one of Egypt’s most highly respected scholars in Arabic and Islamic studies and a prolific author of more than 50 books. Despite the widespread uproar Azazeel has caused throughout the Middle East, sparking numerous debates about blasphemy and religious tolerance, the novel won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2009 and is Ziedan’s first novel to be translated into English.

This is the third year the Book Festival has run its First Book Award and the first with title sponsors, Anobii, the new social network for booklovers. The Anobii First Book Award encourages the Book Festival audience to discover the wealth of new novelists featured in the Festival Programme each year and vote for their favourite. Every one of the 46 adult and young adult writers who brought their debut novel, novella or short stories to Edinburgh in August, including those whose work was published in English for the first time, was eligible for the award.

Almost 3000 votes were cast from readers in over 50 countries from Argentina to Yemen, both through the Book Festival website and on ballot cards submitted during the Festival in Charlotte Square Gardens in August. Every title entered in the award received at least one nomination, and Azazeel was a clear favourite receiving over 20% of the votes cast. Before I Go to Sleep by S J Watson was voted second favourite with 8.4%, and Wasted in Love by Alan Wilson a close third with 7.8%. For the first time Young Adult authors were eligible for the Award and the most popular of these was Slated by Teri Terry.

Set in the 5th century AD, Ziedan’s exquisitely crafted tale follows Hypa, a Coptic monk on his journey from Upper Egypt to Alexandria and then Syria during a time of massive upheaval in the early Church. Embarking on this physical and spiritual journey, Hypa encounters the harsh temptations of the devil, Azazeel. Although often able to resist, his will occasionally bends to the strength of his desires, learning along the way that physical pleasure and spiritual enlightenment can often be two sides of the same coin.

Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said “In this, the third year of our First Book Award, our partnership with Anobii has enabled all our 46 debut novelists to reach a wider audience, and we are thrilled that this is reflected in the number and geographical location of our voters. I am particularly pleased that an international author has won this year – Youssef Ziedan’s Azazeel has been a major talking point in Egypt, and now it has become a worthy winner of this international literary award.”

A spokesperson from Atlantic Books who published Azazeel in the UK, said “We’re thrilled that so many readers voted for Azazeel, the first of Youssef Ziedan’s novels to be published in the UK, to win the Anobii First Book Award. Following on from his fantastic event at the Book Festival this August, this is more great news from Edinburgh.”

Mark Bennett, Interim CEO Anobii, said, “We are delighted to see the results of the First Book Award and congratulate Youssef Ziedan. At Anobii we recognise the value of social book recommendations so it was great to see that so many readers voted in the award to uncover and celebrate a distinct new voice within the wealth of literature featured at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year.”

The Anobii sponsorship of the First Book Award has been matched by a New Arts Sponsorship grant from the Scottish Government in conjunction with Arts & Business Scotland.

Some of the debut authors celebrated in the Anobii First Book Award will be appearing in an event as part of the first Book Week Scotland on Thursday 29 November at 8.30pm at Summerhall, Edinburgh. Audiences can expect choice words from the authors about their first novels (and first times) as well as books, music and dancing. For further information visit the Book Festival website and to book tickets to the event visit Tickets are free but need to be booked in advance.

The debut fiction eligible for the 2013 Anobii First Book Award will be announced with the Edinburgh International Book Festival programme in June 2013. Further details of the 2012 Anobii First Book Award can be found on the Book Festival website.

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