Celestial Bodies by Omani novelist Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth, has been announced as the winner of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize in London.
The Man Booker International celebrates the finest global fiction in translation, with the winner sharing the £50,000 (about R900,000) prize with their book’s translator.
Alharthi is reportedly the first female Omani novelist to be translated into English—and she’s also the first author from the Arabian Peninsula to win the Man Booker International.
Published in English by Scotland’s Sandstone Press, Celestial Bodies, or Sayyidat al-Qamar / سيدات القمر in Arabic, ‘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 rejects all offers while waiting for her beloved, who has emigrated to Canada.’ Alharthi has published three previous novels in Arabic, along with two collections of short stories and a children’s book.
The Man Booker International judges called Celestial Bodies ‘A richly imagined, engaging and poetic insight into a society in transition and into lives previously obscured.’
Read an excerpt from Celestial Bodies:
Mayya, forever immersed in her Singer sewing machine, seemed lost to the outside world. Then Mayya lost herself to love: a silent passion, but it sent tremors surging through her slight form, night after night, cresting in waves of tears and sighs. These were moments when she truly believed she would not survive the awful force of her longing to see him.
Her body prostrate, ready for the dawn prayers, she made a whispered oath. By the greatness of God – I want nothing, O Lord, just to see him. I solemnly promise you, Lord, I don’t even want him to look my way … I just want to see him. That’s all I want.
Alharthi’s translator, Marilyn Booth, is Professor and Director of Research, Faculty of Oriental Studies, Magdalen College, Oxford. She lived in Egypt for five years and has published several academic works. Read more about Booth here.
Alharthi and Booth topped a shortlist of five women authors and five women translators to grasp the gong. Last year’s winner of the Man Booker International Prize was Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Jennifer Croft.
The Man Booker International is renowned for the boost it gives to book sales. In the week following the 2017 announcement, sales of A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman increased by 1,367 per cent, and Penguin has had to reprint the paperback more than ten times due to ongoing demand. In its first year, the book sold fifty-three times more than Grossman’s previous novel in paperback, Falling Out of Time.