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.
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.
Alharthi, who has written two short-story collections and a children’s book, and has been translated into languages including German, Italian, Korean and Serbian, said she hoped Celestial Bodies would help “international readers discover that Oman has an active and talented writing community who live and work for their art”.
Before getting the news that she had won, the author added: “They take on sacrifices and struggles and find joy in writing, or in art, much the same way as anywhere else. This is something the whole world has in common. Omanis, through their writing, invite others to look at Oman with an open mind and heart. No matter where you are, love, loss, friendship, pain and hope are the same feelings and humanity still has a lot of work to do to believe in this truth.”