The Booker & A Book!
Jokha Alharthi – the Omani author and a Professor of Arabic literature – has recently won the Man Booker International Prize for her novel, Celestial Bodies! With this, she became the first author from the Arab, or Gulf – to claim the Man Booker International Prize! Although she had penned the original novel in Arabic, Marilyn Booth translated it in English. So, the prize money of GBP 50,000 will be split between Alharthi and her Translator.
“I am thrilled that a window has been opened to the rich Arabic Culture,” said the 40-year-old Professor, who had studied Arabic Poetry and Classical Arabic Literature in Edinburgh, after receiving the prize! Currently, she teaches Arabic literature at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat. Marilyn, too, is an American Educationist and a Professor of Arabic Literature at Oxford University. Earlier, Alharthi had penned three novels and a book for children…
Celestial Bodies is the story of three sisters, Mayya, Asma and Khawla, who reside in the village of al-Awafi in Oman. The three ladies and their family members witness the evolution of Oman from a traditional, slave-owning society to the crossroads of its complex present. While Mayya ties nuptial knot with Abdallah after a heartbreak, Asma marries from a sense of duty, and Khawla rejects all offers and decides to wait for her lover, who has emigrated to Canada…
Speaking at a Media Conference after receiving the award, the author said: “It is a sensitive subject and kind of a taboo. But, I think literature is the best platform to discuss sensitive issues. And slavery is not exclusive to Oman – it’s part of Human History.” Alharthi stressed: “Oman inspired me… but I think international readers can relate to the human values in the book freedom and love.”
Jokha Alharthi & Marilyn Booth
Meanwhile, the British Media have showered praises on the author, with The Irish Times saying: “… brings a distinctive and important new voice to world literature”. For her part, Marcia Lynx Qualey of The National said: “It skilfully builds suspense by creating ‘Aha!’ moments as characters come to better understand their pasts.” The Bay Magazine wrote: “Alharthi has a strong narrative gift, transporting the reader into all the intimacies of a close-knit family group.” Fiona Sharp of Independent Book Reviews insisted: “Finished it in a couple of sittings, addictive, compelling, informative and completely fascinating to read! Definitely recommend it, fingers crossed it appears on the short list too.”
Alharthi has already been shortlisted for the Sahikh Zayed Award for Young Writers, as her short stories have been published in English, German, Italian, Korean and Serbian languages!
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