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Oman novelist become first Arabic book to win Man Booker International Prize

Omani novelist, Jokha Alharthi [Peter Summers/Getty Images]
Omani novelist, Jokha Alharthi [Peter Summers/Getty Images]

A novelist from Oman has become the first Arabic writer to win the prestigious Man Booker International Prize. Author Jokha Alharthi won the award for her novel Celestial Bodies and shared the $63,000 prize with the translator Marilyn Booth, an American academic.

Alharthi said the book offered “a glimpse into the colourful life of an Arab Omani family, particularly three sisters growing up at a pivotal time in Omani history. I’ve aimed to depict lives that will resonate with many Omani youngsters while offering a relatable social image of the 21st century Oman, particularly for those less familiar with this part of the world.”

Chair of judges, historian Bettany Hughes described the novel as a “delicate artistry and disturbing aspects of our shared history”. The style of the book, she went on to say, was “a metaphor”… “resisting cliches of race, slavery and gender.”

Speaking to journalists after winning the prestigious award, Alharthi said: “I am thrilled that a window has been opened to the rich Arabic culture”, adding “Oman inspired me but I think international readers can relate to the human values in the book – freedom and love.”

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Booth also expressed her joy. In an interview discussing the book she said she was “delighted that this brings Omani literature to the attention of a wider audience”. She hoped that the prize would go on to “recognise not only the power of the work in the language in which it was imagined and written, but also the importance of translation as creative writing and as responsibility, to readers and to the author of the original.”

Speaking of the wider significance of the book Booth said: “What one really learns here ‘about the Arab world’ is that there are amazing fictionalists (as well as poets and writers of creative nonfiction) throughout the region, not only in the better-known hubs of literary creation such as Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Morocco and many other places, but in a country that is less literarily mapped, like Oman.”

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