Jokha Alharthi is the first Arabic author to win the prestigious Man Booker International prize. Hailing from Oman, this author’s book Celestial Bodies has found a place in many people’s hearts. The book was translated to English by Marilyn Booth and was published by Sandstone Press. Notably, Jokha Alharthi will share the prize money of £50,000 equally with her translator. Alharthi is also the first female writer from Oman to be translated into English, reports Irish Times.

Celestial Bodies was selected from an almost entirely female and independently published shortlist to win the award, which goes to the finest work of translated fiction from around the world, says a report by The Guardian. Historian and the chair of the judges, Bettany Hughes said that Celestial Bodies is “a book to win over the head and the heart in equal measure, worth lingering over.”

Interweaving voices and timelines are beautifully served by the pacing of the novel. Its delicate artistry draws us into a richly imagined community – opening out to tackle profound questions of time and mortality and disturbing aspects of our shared history. – Historian Bettany Hughes on Celestial Bodies

Set in the village of al-Awafi in Oman, the story revolves around 3 sisters – Mayya, Asma and Khowla. The book captures Oman’s evolution into a modern society and how it left the practice of slave-owning behind. It deals with sensitive topics such as slavery, abuse and racism.

The story surrounds these women along with their family who witness their country evolve. Mayya, marries Abdallah after a heartbreak; Asma, marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla, rejects all offers while waiting for her beloved, who has moved to Canada.  The Omani society, in which slavery thrives, is shown to be slowly changing and redefining itself. A part of the novel is narrated by Abdallah, Mayya’s husband. This helps the reader pick up on the ‘hidden and unspoken atrocities’ taking pace due to slavery in Oman.

The style is a metaphor for the subject, subtly resisting cliches of race, slavery and gender. The translation is precise and lyrical, weaving in the cadences of both poetry and everyday speech. Celestial Bodies evokes the forces that constrain us and those that set us free. – Betty Hughes

Born in 1978 in Oman, Alharthi’s  previous works include two collections of short fiction, a children’s book, and three novels in Arabic. She secured a PhD in Classical Arabic Poetry from Edinburgh. Also fluent in English, she currently teaches at the Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat.

After her book was long-listed for this prize, she had said, “I hope this helps international readers discover that Oman has an active and talented writing community who live and work for their art. They take on sacrifices and struggles and find joy in writing, or in art, much the same way as anywhere else. This is something the whole world has in common.

Omanis, through their writing, invite others to look at Oman with an open mind and heart. No matter where you are, love, loss, friendship, pain and hope are the same feelings and humanity still has a lot of work to do to believe in this truth.”

The book’s translator Marilyn Booth was born in Boston in the year 1955. She was a fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford, and that is where she is currently based.

The prize given out in 2019 marks the end of the Man group’s 18 year long sponsorship. The next five years though, shall be sponsored by Crankstart. The prize will now be known as the International Booker prize and the Booker prize.

Pic credit – Irish Times

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Kavya Shah is an intern at SheThPeople.Tv

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