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Celestial Bodies: a victory to make history

Jokha Al Harthi

The fact that an Arabic book was selected for the Man Booker International (MBI) Prize 2019 was already an event in itself. Winning the award also allows its author, Jokha al Harthi, to make history by becoming the first Arab author to win this distinction, with his novel entitled Celestial Bodies...  

On the occasion of the Man Booker International Prize 2019 award ceremony, the Omani author Jokha Al Harthi makes a real mark on the history of international literature. First, she became the first female writer in Oman to be translated into English. Secondly, she is now the first author from the Gulf to win the award.

 

A book to witness society

 

Celestial Bodies tells the story of three generations of women living in the village of al-Awafi in Oman. Protagonists who will witness the evolution of their country, from a traditional society, perpetuating traditions such as slavery, to a post-colonial one, and its complex dive into the present, its confrontation with a world in full mutation.

 

2 women, 1 prize

 

The competition rewards the author and translator of the novel in the same way. Thus, Jokha Al Harthi shares the £50,000 endowment attached to the prize with Marilyn Booth. It should be noted that each nominated author and translator receives a bonus of £1,000 regardless of the result.

Jokha Al Harthi and Marylin Booth

The author is accustomed to the fact since 2010 when she received the award for the best Oman novel for Celestial Bodies. She was also nominated for the Sahikh Zayed Award for Young Writers. His bibliography includes two other novels, two collections of short stories, and a children’s book. His work has been translated into English, German, Italian, Korean, and Serbian.

 

The translator, for her part, is an American academic specializing in the translation of works into Arabic.

 

“The head and the heart”

 

Bettany Hughes, chair of the judges, is full of praise for the novel she and her peers have chosen to reward: “A book to win over the head and the heart in equal measure. The extraordinary thing about it is that it talks of a world in transition philosophically, politically, intellectually, and socially. The translation is precise and lyrical at the same time, it plays with the rhythms of poetry and oral discourse“, she said.

Bettany Hughes

Another judge, philosopher Angie Hobbs, stated the following: “This book tells us about the extreme complexity of our emotional relationships and our engagement to history“.

 

After the ceremony, Jokha Al Harthi said a few words to the press: “I hope international readers discover that Oman has an active and talented writing community who live and work for their art”.