Omani turns out to be first Arabic creator to win award and shares £50,000 prize with translator Marilyn Booth.
Jokha Alharthi has turned into the main Arabic writer to win the Man Booker International Prize with her account of Oman’s fast change told through the crystal of one family.
The creator of Celestial Bodies, the primary Omani lady to have a novel converted into English, shares the £50,000 prize with her interpreter Marilyn Booth.
Divine Bodies is “a book to prevail upon the head and the heart in equivalent measure, worth waiting over”, said history specialist Bettany Hughes, seat of the judges. “Interlacing voices and courses of events are wonderfully served by the pacing of the novel. Its sensitive masterfulness draws us into a luxuriously envisioned network – opening out to handle significant inquiries of time and mortality and irritating parts of our common history.
“The style is a metaphor for the subject, subtly resisting cliches of race, slavery and gender. The translation is precise and lyrical, weaving in the cadences of both poetry and everyday speech. Celestial Bodies evokes the forces that constrain us and those that set us free.”
Exquisitely organized and tight, Celestial Bodies, distributed by Sandstone Press, is set in the town of al-Awafi, where we experience three sisters: Mayya, who weds Abdallah after a deplorability; Asma, who weds from a feeling of obligation; and Khawla, who rejects all offers while hanging tight for her adored, who has emigrated to Canada. These three ladies and their families witness Oman develop from a customary, slave-owning society which is gradually reclassifying itself after the pilgrim time, to the intersection of its perplexing present.
Exploring the victor for The Irish Times, Prof Michael Cronin, chief of the Trinity Center for Literary and Cultural Translation, expressed: “How ladies admission in changed conditions and what they are and are not permitted to recollect is a repetitive distraction.
“Alharthi tracks the fortunes of a merchant family with a troubled past in the slave trade and concentrates in particular on the lives and destinies of sisters, Mayya, Asma and Khowla. Ranging across three generations with a crowd of voices tracking Oman’s shift from a typical desert dynasty of the village al-Awafi to the urban oasis of the city Muscat, the novel is a beautifully achieved account of lives pulling at the edges of change.
“The writing is teasingly elliptical throughout and there is a kind of poetic understatement that draws the reader into the domestic settings and public tribulations of the three sisters. They possess agency and character and in their different ways deal with the logjam of tradition and the uncertain freedoms of expanding worlds. The novel is also told in part through the voice of Abdallah, the husband of Mayya, whose tale of abuse at the hands of his father Sulayman, also picks up on the unspoken atrocities of slavery in the region.
“Celestial Bodies deftly undermines recurrent stereotypes about Arab language and cultures but most importantly brings a distinctive and important new voice to world literature.”
Alharthi was conceived in Oman in 1978. She is the writer of two past accumulations of short fiction, a youngsters’ book, and three books in Arabic. Familiar with English, she finished a PhD in Classical Arabic Poetry in Edinburgh, and educates at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat. She lives in Oman.
Marilyn Booth was conceived in Boston in 1955. An individual at Magdalen College, Oxford, where she lives, she holds the Khalid receptacle Abdallah Al Saud Chair for the Study of the Contemporary Arab World at the Oriental Institute.
The 2019 prize denotes the finish of the Man Group’s 18-year sponsorship. The prizes, supported for the following five years by Crankstart, will currently be known as the Booker Prize and the International Booker Prize.