Omani writer Jokha Alharthi wins Man Booker International award

The Omani Jokha Alharthi won Tuesday May 21 in London the Man Booker International literary prize, which rewards a work translated into English, for “Celestial Bodies”, a novel described as “subtle”, “lyrical” and “deep” by the jury. For the first time since its inception in 2005, the Man Booker International has honored an author from the Gulf, who is also the Sultanate’s first novelist to be translated into English.

“It is a great honor,” the laureate told AFP, “delighted” that with this prize “a window has been opened on the rich Arab literature in general and the literature of Oman in particular”.
For the president of the jury, Bettany Hughes, “the book conquers minds and hearts in equal measure”. With a “delicate art”, the author “takes us into a richly imagined community allowing us to tackle profound subjects such as time, mortality and disturbing aspects of our common history”. “Celestial Bodies evokes the forces which constrain us and those which free us”, she added, also welcoming a “precise and lyrical” translation.

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In his novel “Celestial Bodies” (Sandstone Editions), Jokha Alharthi, 40, recounts the slow evolutions of Omani society after the colonial era through the loves and sorrows of three sisters, living in the village of al-Awafi . Mayya marries Abdallah after a heartbreak, Asma marries out of a sense of duty, and Khawla rejects all advances while waiting for her beloved, who has left for Canada. The book also talks about slavery. “I believe that literature is the best platform to have this discussion,” the author told AFP. For the judges, this book offers “a very colorful, captivating and poetic glimpse into a society in transition”.

Emergence of “a major literary talent”

The daily The Guardian had praised a work which gives to see “a culture relatively little known in the world” and The National hailed for its part the emergence of “a major literary talent”.

Radiant under a silvery veil, Jokha Alharthi thanked her editors and the translator of her novel into English, Marilyn Booth, 64 years old. The two women share a reward of 50,000 pounds (approximately 64,200 francs).

Jokha Alharthi is the author of two previous short stories, a children’s book and three novels in Arabic. Fluent in English, she earned a PhD in Classical Arabic Poetry in Edinburgh, Scotland, and teaches at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, the port capital of the Sultanate of Oman. His short stories have been published in English, German, Italian, Korean and Serbian.

Established in 2005, the Man Booker International Literary Prize aims to encourage the reading of quality works of fiction written around the world. Among the previous laureates we find the Israeli David Grossman, the American Philip Roth or the Nigerian Chinua Achebe. This year, only one man was among the six finalists. Was in the running in particular the French Annie Ernaux for “The Years” (“The Years”).

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Omani writer Jokha Alharthi wins Man Booker International award

Hank Gilbert