Omani author Jokha Alharthi became the first Arab female author to win the prestigious Man Booker Prize for her novel "Celestial Bodies."
Omani author Jokha Alharthi won this year’s Man Booker International Prize, becoming the first Arabic writer to win the literary prize.
The her novel, “Celestial Bodies,” Alharthi talks about Oman’s post-colonial evolution. Literary judges described the novel as "a richly imagined, engaging and poetic insight.”
"I am thrilled that a window has been opened to the rich Arabic culture," Alharthi told journalists. "Oman inspired me but I think international readers can relate to the human values in the book — freedom, and love."
She is sharing the US$63,000 award with her translator Marilyn Booth, a U.S. academic who teaches Arabic literature at the University of Oxford.
Altharthi’s book beat five other novels shortlisted for the prize.
The novel is set in the Omani village of al-Awafi, home to three sisters, Mayya, Asma, and Khawla. The sisters witness and deal with the evolution of slave-owning Omani society.
"It touches the subject of slavery. I think literature is the best platform to have this dialogue," Alharthi said.
"'Celestial Bodies' evokes the forces that constrain us and those that set us free,” Judge Bettany Hughes, a historian, said about the literature, adding that it was "a book to win over the head and the heart in equal measure."
“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,” Hughes said.
The winner has previously authored two collections of short fictions, a children’s book and three novels in Arabic.
She studied classical Arabic poetry at Edinburgh University in Scotland and currently works as a professor at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman’s capital, Muscat.