About this book
Jokha Alharthi • Marilyn Booth
The first Arabic-language winner of the Man Booker International Prize, Celestial Bodies is a vivid and elegant tale of a family and a nation across decades.
In the village of al-Awafi, in Oman, two families are joined by marriage: Mayya, the eldest of three sisters, marries Abdallah, son of a wealthy merchant, after suffering her first heartbreak. Abdallah’s passionate love for his wife goes unrequited; she regards him with a mixture of tolerance and mild amusement. Yet he cannot contend solely with the cares and concerns of a husband and father, haunted as he is by the mysterious death of his mother and vivid recollections of his megalomaniacal father.
The couple is orbited by an intricate constellation of individuals, connected by blood, by proximity, by deeply rooted social edifices. Those in their immediate families include Mayya’s sisters — Asma, who aspires to a different kind of life and marriage, and Khawla, who chooses to refuse all offers and await a reunion with the man she loves, who has emigrated to Canada. The three women, their families, their loves, and their losses unspool delicately against a backdrop of a rapidly changing Oman, a country evolving from a traditional, slave-owning society into its complex present.
The first ever novel originally written in Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize, and the first book by a female Omani author to be translated into English, Celestial Bodies is an exquisite literary creation that marks the arrival of a major international talent.
About the Creators
JOKHA ALHARTHI is the first Omani woman to have a novel translated into English, and Celestial Bodies is the first book translated from the Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize. Alharthi is the author of three previous collections of short fiction, three children’s books, and three novels in Arabic. She completed a Ph.D. in Classical Arabic poetry in Edinburgh and teaches at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat. She received the Sultan Qaboos Award for Culture, Art, and Literature for her 2016 novel Narinjah.
MARILYN BOOTH holds the Khalid bin Abdullah Al Saud Chair for the Study of the Contemporary Arab World, Oriental Institute, and Magdalen College, Oxford University. In addition to her academic publications, she has translated many works of fiction from Arabic, most recently The Penguin’s Song and No Road to Paradise, both by Lebanese novelist Hassan Daoud.
Awards and Praise
PRAISE FOR JOKHA ALHARTHI AND CELESTIAL BODIES:
Winner, Man Booker International Prize
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2019
“An innovative reimagining of the family saga … Booth’s translation honours the elliptical rhythms of Arabic and the language’s rich literary heritage … Yet there is no doubt that this is a contemporary novel, insistent and alive … Celestial Bodies is itself a treasure house: an intricately calibrated chaos of familial orbits and conjunctions, of the gravitational pull of secrets.” — New York Times
“A rich, dense web of a novel … The chorus of voices that arises from these pages, at once harmonious and dissonant, constitutes nothing less than the assertion of the right to exist and to be recognized.” — New York Review of Books
“A book to win over the head and the heart in equal measure, worth lingering over. Interweaving voices and timelines are beautifully served by the pacing of the novel. Its delicate artistry draws us into a richly imagined community — opening out to tackle profound questions of time and mortality and disturbing aspects of our shared history. The style is a metaphor for the subject, subtly resisting clichés of race, slavery, and gender. The translation is precise and lyrical, weaving in the cadences of both poetry and everyday speech. Celestial Bodies evokes the forces that constrain us and those that set us free.” ? Bettany Hughes, Chair of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize
“A richly layered, ambitious work that teems with human struggles and contradictions, providing fascinating insight into Omani history and society.” ? Kirkus Reviews
“The glimpses into a culture relatively little known in the West are fascinating.” ? Guardian
“The novel is a beautifully achieved account of lives pulling at the edges of change. The writing is teasingly elliptical throughout and there is a kind of poetic understatement that draws the reader into the domestic settings and public tribulations of the three sisters … Celestial Bodies deftly undermines recurrent stereotypes about Arab language and cultures, but most importantly brings a distinctive and important new voice to world literature.” ? Irish Times
“Ambitious, intense … With exhilarating results, Alharthi throws the reader into the midst of a tangled family drama in which unrequited love, murder, suicide, and adultery seem the rule rather than the exception … [Celestial Bodies] is all the more satisfying for the complexity of its tale.” ? Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
“A striking feat, it deserves the world’s attention … In revealing Omani history through marginalized voices, Celestial Bodies also lays bare those global forces that enable, amongst other things, unequal conditions of value and circulation … Celestial Bodies does what the best literature does: it takes us out of ourselves only to bring us to a better understanding of our world.” ? Frieze