In a first, Omani author Jokha Alharthi wins Man Booker International prize

Jokha Alharthi became the first Arabic author to win the Man Booker International Prize. The judges said it was “a richly imagined, engaging and poetic insight into a society in transition”

Author Jokha Alharthi
Author Jokha Alharthi

NH Web Desk

Jokha Alharthi on Tuesday 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 evolution.

The work tells the coming-of-age story of three sisters in an Omani village, and was originally published in Arabic. The book is set in the village of al-Awafi 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 to a complex modernity.

Alharthi's translator was US academic Marilyn Booth, who teaches Arabic literature at Oxford University.

Jury head Bettany Hughes described the novel as “a book to win over the head and the heart in equal measure” at a ceremony in London. The author’s style is marked by “subtly resisting cliches of race, slavery and gender,” Hughes added.

Ms Alharthi, 40, is the author of two previous collections of short fiction, a children's book and three novels in Arabic. She studied classical Arabic poetry at Edinburgh University and teaches at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat.

The Man Booker International Prize focuses on writers outside English-language areas. It serves as a counterpart to the Man Booker Prize for English-language novels. The 50,000 pounds financial award is to be split between Alharthi and her translator Marilyn Booth.

The Guardian said it offers "glimpses into a culture relatively little known in the west" and The National said it signalled "the arrival of a major literary talent", calling the book "a densely woven, deeply imagined tour de force".

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 Chile's Alia Trabucco Zeran.

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