Omani Author Jokha Alharthi Wins Man Booker Prize for Literature

Author : OdishaTodayBureau | Posted on: 2019-05-23

On May 21, Jokha Alharthi became the first Arabic author to win the Man Booker International prize for her novel ‘Celestial Bodies’ which reveals her Omani homeland’s post-colonial transformation.


“I am thrilled that a window has been opened to the rich Arabic culture,” Alharthi told reporters after the ceremony at the Roundhouse in London.


She studied classical Arabic poetry at Edinburgh University and teaches at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat.


Alharthi is the author of two previous collections of short fiction, a children’s book and three novels in Arabic. She said, “Oman inspired me but I think international readers can relate to the human values in the book – freedom and love,” the 40-year-old added.


The prestigious 50,000-pound (Over 44 lakh rupees) prize, which celebrates translated fiction from around the world, is divided equally between the author and the translator.


Alharthi’s translator is an U.S. academic Marilyn Booth, who teaches Arabic literature at Oxford University.

‘Celestial Bodies’ is set in the village of al-Awafi in Oman where we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries Abdallah after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla, who is waiting for her beloved who has emigrated to Canada. The three sisters witness Oman’s evolution from a traditional, slave-owning society.


Alharthi said, “It touches the subject of slavery. I think literature is the best platform to have this dialogue.”


The jury said, “Elegantly structured and taut, it tells of Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves.”


The chair of judges, Bettany Hughes said the novel showed “delicate artistry and disturbing aspects of our shared history. The style is a metaphor for the subject, subtly resisting cliches of race, slavery and gender.”


Alharthi was up against five other shortlisted authors: France’s Annie Ernaux, Germany’s Marion Poschmann, Poland’s Olga Tokarczuk, Colombia’s Juan Gabriel Vasquez and Chile2019s Alia Trabucco Zeran. The judges said ‘Celestial Bodies’ was “a richly imagined, engaging and poetic insight into a society in transition and into lives previously obscured.”

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