Arabic Novelist Wins Man Booker Prize

Jokha Alharthi’s novel ‘Celestial Bodies’ is the first Arabic language book to win the Man Booker International Prize.

The book was translated from Arabic to English by Marilyn Booth and published by Sandstone Press.

According to the Man Booker Prize website, the £50,000 winnings have been shared equally between both the author and translator.

Alharthi, is the first female Omani author to be translated into English and the first novelist from the Gulf region to win the coveted prize.

However, it isn’t the first time she has been recognised for her work; she has previously written two other novels, two collections of short fiction and a children’s book (which have been published in English, German, Italian, Korean, and Serbian) and she was also shortlisted for the Sheikh Zayed Award for Young Writers, and was winner of the Best Omani Novel Award in 2010 for ‘Celestial Bodies’.

The novel is a tale of family connections and history in the bildungsroman of three Omani sisters. It is set against the backdrop of an evolving Oman, which is slowly redefining itself after the colonial era, at the crossroads of its complex present.

The translator, Marilyn Booth, is an American academic and translator who has previously translated many works of literature from Arabic to English. She is a fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford, and holds the Khalid bin Abdallah Al Saud Chair for the Study of the Contemporary Arab World at the Oriental Institute.

Celestial Bodies was chosen by a panel of 5 judges chaired by Battany Hughes, who is an award winner author and historian. She commented that Celestial Bodies is a “book to win over the head and the heart in equal measure, worth lingering over. Interweaving voices and timelines are beautifully served by the pacing of the novel. 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. The style is a metaphor for the subject, subtly resisting clichés 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’.

The Man Booker Prize plays a vital role in supporting diversity of voice in worldwide fiction and encourages cultural awareness through the translation of various themes and issues including, politics, immigration, and the natural world.

The Man Group who sponsor the prize will be withdrawing their sponsorship this year so from now on the prize will simply be known as Booker Prize, while the prize for literature in translation will become the International Booker Prize.

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