Jokha Alharthi Wins 2019’s Man Booker International Prize

Jokha Alharthi, an author from Omani descent has become the first Arabic-language writer to win the Man Booker International Prize with her book Celestial Bodies. The prize is an alternative to the Man Booker Prize for English-language novels and is open to books in any language that have been translated into English. Alharthi’s book beat five other finalists from Europe and South America, including last year’s winner. Celestial Bodies was selected from an almost entirely female and independently published shortlist. The author wants to split the £50,000 prize money with her translator, US academic professor Marilyn Booth.

The story

Alharthi’s winning novel is the story of three sisters and a desert country confronting its slave-owning past and a complex modern world.

Celestial Bodies is a story that is set in the Omani village of al-Awafi and follows the life of three sisters: Mayya, who marries into a rich family after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries for duty; and Khawla, waiting for a man who has emigrated to Canada.


Historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes presented the prize and said about the winning book: “Its delicate artistry draws us into a richly imagined community –opening out to tackle profound questions of time and mortality and disturbing aspects of our shared history.
Hughes said the judges had loved “the subtle artistry” of Alharthi’s novel. “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 chief executive of Man Group, Luke Ellis, added: “As one of the first literary awards to celebrate the work of international authors and, in recent years, to celebrate fiction in translation, the Man Booker International Prize plays an invaluable role in encouraging a diversity of voice in fiction worldwide.”