Jokha Alharthi, an Omani writer, is the first Arabic author to win the Man Booker International Prize 2019 for her novel, Celestial Bodies. She shares her award with the translator of her book, academic Marilyn Booth who teaches Arabic literature in Oxford.
This international award was initiated in 2004 to complement the Man Booker Prize that went to a book published in English in England. It was given every two years for the author’s “continued creativity, development and overall contribution to fiction on the world stage”. It recognised the writer’s body of works rather than any one title. It was only in 2016, that the award started being given for a single title and would be shared between the author and the translator.
The story of this year’s winning title, Celestial Bodies, revolves around the life of three sisters who marry and move out into the world. The chairperson of the panel of judges, Bethany Hughes said, “Through the different tentacles of people’s lives and loves and losses we come to learn about this society – all its degrees, from the very poorest of the slave families working there to those making money through the advent of a new wealth in Oman and Muscat. It starts in a room and ends in a world.” Bethany Hughes was joined on the judging panel by philosopher Angie Hobbs, writer, translator and chair of English PEN Maureen Freely, novelist and satirist Elnathan John and essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra.