Celestial Bodies

Publishing House: Sandstone Press

Publication Year: 2018

Genre: Novel

Number of Pages: 257

In 2019, Jokha Alharthi‘s novel “Celestial Bodies,” originally published in 2010 by Dar al-Adab, received the esteemed Man Booker International Prize. Set in the Omani village of al-Awafi. The story vividly captures the transformation of Oman from a traditional, slavery-based society to a modern, oil-producing nation. The narrative, elegantly crafted in Arabic, achieved a landmark by becoming the first Arabic-language novel to win the international award.

“Celestial Bodies” interweaves the past and present, artfully blending the tragedies of people from different strata of society. Through the lives of three sisters – Mayya, who marries Abdallah post-heartbreak; Asma, whose marriage stems from obligation; and Khawla, who waits for her overseas lover.

Obviously, Alharthi paints a picture of an Oman undergoing significant change. Also, it explores the struggles and aspirations of these characters amidst societal transformations, balancing the past’s deep-rooted traditions with the present’s rapid changes.

Furthermore, Alharthi’s narrative, marked by its linguistic fluidity and richness, delves into the heart of Omani society, exploring its customs, values, and the dynamics of change. Her portrayal of the characters offers a unique blend of realism and symbolism. It deeply rooted in the events of a society facing vital confrontations between the forces of change and the inertia of tradition.

Additionally, The story’s setting in the remote village of al-Awafi allows readers to immerse themselves in the various facets of Omani life during a conservative, traditional era following colonialism. Through the intertwined fates of its characters, the novel provides a comprehensive view of Omani society, from its poorest members to its newly affluent classes.

Alharthi, who holds a Ph.D. in Arabic Poetry from the University of Edinburgh and currently teaches literature at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat. She has a distinguished portfolio of works, including two collections of short stories and three novels.

Moreover, they translated most of her works into languages like English, German, Italian, Korean, and Serbian. The Man Booker Prize, worth £50,000, shared between Alharthi and American translator Marilyn Booth, who translated “Celestial Bodies” into English.

Despite being published in 2010, “Celestial Bodies” only garnered widespread attention following its award win, sparking a surge in readership and a mix of criticism and acclaim, particularly regarding its portrayal of sexual dynamics and the depiction of different societal periods. And finally, this surge in popularity highlights the novel’s impact and the significance of Alharthi’s work in the Arab literary scene.

Read More About Jokha Alharthi

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