Omani author in the race for biggest literary prize in world

March 18, 2019

Providing a shot in the arm for budding writers in the sultanate, an Omani author is in the race for one of the biggest literary fiction awards – the Man Booker International Prize for 2019.

Jokha Alharthi’s book Celestial Bodies, translated from the original Omani novel Sayyidat al-Qamar, is among the 13 books longlisted for the 2019 prize.

Jokha is the author of two previous collections of short fiction, a children’s book, and three novels in Arabic and currently teaches at the Sultan Qaboos University.


Celestial Bodies is translated by Professor Marilyn Booth of the Oriental Institute and Magdalen College, Oxford University.

“I am absolutely thrilled that Celestial Bodies has been longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize. It is a great honour and an opportunity for Omani literature to be read and appreciated by a wider audience,” said Jokha.

Praising the book, the Man Booker International Prize judges stated, “A richly imagined, engaging and poetic insight into a society in transition and into lives previously obscured.”

According to the publisher Sandstone Press, Celestial Bodies is a coiled spring of a novel, telling of Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves. Robert Davidson, managing director, Sandstone, said, “We are delighted with this recognition of the work of Jokha Alharthi and her gifted and distinguished translator, Marilyn Booth. We are incredibly proud of our part in bringing this talented novelist to the attention of Europe and the world. This is a fine novel that makes real a history and a people and their possible futures.”

The novel explores the lives of three sisters as they witness Oman slowly redefining itself from a traditional society to its complex present state, where social mores parley with aspiration, technology, and oil money.

Davidson said, “Our translated novels, to the present time, are all from northern Europe. This new book, with its excellent translation by Marilyn Booth, takes us into Arabic territory, specifically Oman, for the first time. It is a high quality, literary page-turner.”

The Man Booker International Prize revealed the longlist of 13 novels in contention for the 2019 prize, which celebrates the finest works of translated fiction from around the world.

The prize is awarded every year for a single book, which is translated into English and published in the UK and Ireland.

The award is different from the Man Booker Prize, which is recognised as the leading award for quality literary fiction written in English.

For the international award, authors and translators are considered to be equally important, with the £50,000 prize being split between them. The judges considered 108 books for this year’s prize.

From 2016 the Man Booker International Prize has evolved and is awarded annually on the basis of a single book rather than the earlier practice where the international prize highlighted one writer’s overall contribution to fiction on the world stage.

The shortlist of six books will be announced on April 9 at an event at Somerset House in London, and the winner will be announced on May 21 at the Roundhouse in London.

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