A historic first

The Man Booker International Prize is a literary award, which recognises the writer’s body of work rather than any one title. This year’s shortlist for the prize included Omani author, Jokha Alharthi, who took home the big award.

Back in April, the author made history by becoming the first author from the GCC to be in the running for the prestigious award. Now, she has accomplished another record by winning the award and being the first Omani author ever to have her novel, Celestial Bodies, translated from Arabic into English. The win was announced on Twitter, through a tweet from the Man Booker Prize account. They tweeted: “We’re delighted to announce our #MBI2019 winner is Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth and published by Sandstone Press.”

 

 

The prize money of £50,000 (AED 240,000), has been equally divided between the 41-year-old Khaleeji author and her translator . Celestial Bodies (Sayyidat el-Qamar) tells the coming-of-age story of three sisters in the Omani village of Al-Awafi. This is not Jokha’s first literary work, her other published pieces include: children’s books, poetry, short stories and academic articles, which have been translated to several languages including English, German, Korean, Serbian and Italian.

Celestial Bodies was selected by a panel of five judges, chaired by Bettany Hughes, award-winning historian, author and broadcaster, and made up of writer, translator and chair of English PEN Maureen Freely; philosopher Professor Angie Hobbs; novelist and satirist Elnathan John and essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra. In 2016, the author won the Sultan Qaboos Award for Culture, Art and Literature for her novel Naranja. Not only that, but she is also an associate professor in the Arabic department at Sultan Qaboos University. She has also been shortlisted for the Sahikh Zayed Award for Young Writers and won the 2010 Best Omani Novel Award for Celestial Bodies.

In regards to being the first Omani nominee, Jokha said: “I hope this helps international readers discover that Oman has an active and talented writing community who live and work for their art. They take on sacrifices and struggles and find joy in writing, or in art, much the same way as anywhere else. This is something the whole world has in common. Omanis, through their writing, invite others to look at Oman with an open mind and heart. No matter where you are, love, loss, friendship, pain and hope are the same feelings and humanity still has a lot of work to do to believe in this truth.”

 

The other nominees included: Annie Ernaux, Olga Tokarczuk, Marion Poschmann, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Alia Trabucco Zerán. This year, five out of the six authors up for the award are women, while all translators are female. Moreover, the five languages represented in the 2019 edition of the prize are Arabic, French, Spanish, German and Polish.

We can’t wait to see what is next for Jokha!

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