Jokha Alharthi Is The First Arab Author To Win International Man Booker Prize

The first female Omani novelist to be translated into English has won one of literatures most prestigious prizes

"I am thrilled that a window has been opened to the rich Arabic culture," says Omani author Jokha Alharthi who is the first Arab author to win the International Man Booker prize

by Staff Reporter

Culture 22 May 2019

This is amazing news for Arab stories, Arab literature and Arab writers.

On Tuesday, Omani writer Jokha Alharthi became the first Arab to win the Man Booker International prize for her novel Celestial Bodies.

The International Man Booker is one of the most prestigious literature prizes and will put Jokha on the map as an important, influential novelist and shed more light on Arab fiction and translated works.

The International version of the prize celebrates fiction from around the world and the people who translate it. So it makes sense that the 50,000-pound prize will be divided equally between the Jokha and the translator US academic Professor Marilyn Booth, who teaches Arabic literature at Oxford University.

“I am thrilled that a window has been opened to the rich Arabic culture,” Jokha said to reporters after being awarded the prize in London.

International Man Booker Prize winners Omanu author Jokha Alharthi and translator US academic Professor Marilyn Booth

WATCH: International Man Booker Prize Judges talk about the brilliance of Celestial Bodies

Celestial Bodies is a family saga that follows the story of three sisters in Oman, the village of al-Awafi as society and cultural landscape changes and evolves.

The three sisters are Mayya, who marries a man after a massive heartbreak, Asma, who marries only because she feels that’s what she should do and Khawla who rejects any offer of marriage and emigrates to Canada.

Through the perspectives of the three women and their families we see how Oman evolves from a traditional, slave-owning society (slavery was only abolished in 1970) to redefining itself after the colonial era.

Jokha who studied classical Arabic poetry at Edinburgh University and now teaches at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, believes that literature is an important medium to bring light an understanding to complex history.

“It’s a sensitive subject and kind of a taboo,” Jokha also said.

“But I think literature is the best platform to discuss sensitive issues. And slavery is not exclusive to Oman – it’s part of human history.”

Jokha was shortlisted with five other authors: Juan Gabriel Vasquez from Colombia, Alia Trabucco Zeran from Chile, Annie Ernaux from France, Marion Poschmann from Germany and Olga Tokarczuk from Poland.

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

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