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Arabic-language writer wins Man Booker

Jokha Alharthi from Oman became the first Arabic-language writer to win the Man Booker International Prize this year for her novel Celestial Bodies, translated by Marilyn Booth.
Jokha Alharthi has written two novels, two short story collections and a children’s book besides Celestial Bodies, which is originally written in Arabic. Her works have been translated into multiple languages. She hopes this book would let, “international readers discover that Oman has an active and talented writing community who live and work for their art”. Marilyn Booth, who translated Celestial Bodies, is a Professor of the Oriental Institute and Magdalen College, Oxford University.

The book is about three sisters living in a rapidly changing Oman. One marries for duty, one marries into a wealthy family after having her heart broken and the last saves herself for love. As we follow their lives, we see Oman change as it shakes off its colonial shackles and moves into the modern era.

Bettany Hughes, the Chair of judges for the prize said, “Through the different tentacles of people’s lives and loves and losses we come to learn about this society – all its degrees, from the very poorest of the slave families working there to those making money through the advent of a new wealth in Oman and Muscat. It starts in a room and ends in a world.

“We felt we were getting access to ideas and thoughts and experiences you aren’t normally given in English. It avoids every stereotype you might expect in its analysis of gender and race and social distinction and slavery. There are surprises throughout. We fell in love with it,” she told a leading UK daily.


She went on to discuss the writing saying, “It’s less flamboyant than some of the other books, there’s a kind of poetic cunning to it. It starts feeling like a domestic drama in a fascinating world, but with the layers of philosophy, psychology and poetry, you are drawn into the prose, through the relationship between the characters. It encouraged us to read in a slightly different way.”


The Man Booker International Prize is given to translated books in order to, "encourage more publishing and reading of quality fiction in translation". This translation award began in 2016, before that the Man Booker International Prize "highlighted one writer’s overall contribution to fiction on the world stage," according to their website.


To be eligible for the prize, a book has to be a fiction book, translated into English and published in the UK. Both novels and compilations of short stories are eligible. The winning books gets £50,000 which is divided equally between the author and the translator.


This year the shortlist included a book by the 2018 winner Olga Tokarczuk. Last year her book Flights won the prize. This year her book Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead was shortlisted. The other books shortlisted were, The Years by Annie Ernaux (translated from French by Alison L. Strayer), The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann(translated from German by Jen Calleja), The Shape Of The Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez,(translated from Colombian by Anne McLean), The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zeran(translated from Chilean and Italian by Sophie Hughes).
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