In May 2019, Omani author Jokha Alharthi won the prestigious Man Booker International Prize for Literature in London for her novel Celestial Bodies. She became the first Arabic language writer to win the prize and the first Omani female writer to be translated into English.
Born in 1978, Alharthi was educated in Oman and the United Kingdom and obtained her Ph.D. in classical Arab literature from Edinburgh University. She has written three novels, three collections of short stories, as well as two children’s books and a collection of poetry. She is currently an associate professor in the Arabic department at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, Oman’s capital city. The book’s translator, who shared the prize’s financial reward with Alharthi, is Marilyn Booth, an author and academic, originally from the United States, who teaches Arabic literature at Oxford University.
The book brings Oman and Arabic culture sharply into focus, beginning in the 1970s when Oman began to transition into a modern, progressive country.
The publisher’s press piece tells us: “The novel explores the lives of three sisters as they witness Oman slowly redefining itself from a traditional, slave-owning society to its complex present state, where social mores parley with aspiration, technology, and oil money.”
As historian Bettany Hughes, the judges’ chair, further explains: “[Celestial Bodies] starts in a room and ends in a world.”
Alharthi adds her voice to those of other award-winning artists who have changed perceptions of the Arab world. These include the late Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz, who won the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature, and Iranian filmmaker, Asghar Farhadi, one of the few directors who has received two Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. In fact, Farhadi was included in 2012 on the annual Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world.
Alharthi’s book, Celestial Bodies, can be ordered in paperback from Amazon.
To read about our recent trip to Oman and our impressions of this country click here.