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Omani writer Jokha Alharthi wins Man Booker literature prize

Jokha Alharthi was up against five other shortlisted authors: France’s Annie Ernaux, Germany’s Marion Poschmann, Poland’s Olga Tokarczuk, Colombia’s Juan Gabriel Vasquez and Chile’s Alia Trabucco Zeran.

books Updated: May 22, 2019 11:19 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
Omani writer wins Man Booker,Jokha Alharthi,Omani writer Jokha Alharthi
Omani writer Jokha Alharthi wins Man Booker literature prize.(@ManBookerPrize/Twitter (Official Account))

Jokha Alharthi on Tuesday became the first Arabic author to win the Man Booker International prize for her novel Celestial Bodies which reveals her Omani homeland’s post-colonial evolution.

Alharthi, 40, is the author of two previous collections of short fiction, a children’s book and three novels in Arabic.

She studied classical Arabic poetry at Edinburgh University and teaches at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat.

The prestigious 50,000-pound (57,000 euro, $64,000) prize, which celebrates translated fiction from around the world, is divided equally between the author and translator.

Alharthi’s translator was US academic Marilyn Booth, who teaches Arabic literature at Oxford University.

The judges said Alharthi’s book was “a richly imagined, engaging and poetic insight into a society in transition and into lives previously obscured”.

The book is set in the village of al-Awafi in Oman where we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries Abdallah after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla who is waiting for her beloved who has emigrated to Canada.

The three sisters witness Oman’s evolution from a traditional, slave-owning society to a complex modernity.

“Elegantly structured and taut, it tells of Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves,” the organisers said in a statement.

The Guardian said it offers “glimpses into a culture relatively little known in the west” and The National said it signalled “the arrival of a major literary talent”, calling the book “a densely woven, deeply imagined tour de force”.

Jury chair Bettany Hughes said the novel showed “delicate artistry and disturbing aspects of our shared history”.

“The style is a metaphor for the subject, subtly resisting cliches of race, slavery and gender,” she said.

Alharthi was up against five other shortlisted authors: France’s Annie Ernaux, Germany’s Marion Poschmann, Poland’s Olga Tokarczuk, Colombia’s Juan Gabriel Vasquez and Chile’s Alia Trabucco Zeran.

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First Published: May 22, 2019 11:19 IST