Jokha Alharthi
Jokha Alharthi

Opinion | An Omani book wins

  • Jokha Alharthi, a professor at the University of Muscat, Oman, won Man Booker International prize for Celestial Bodies

In a very first, a woman who writes in Arabic has won the coveted Man Booker International prize. Jokha Alharthi, a professor at the University of Muscat, Oman, won for Celestial Bodies. The award celebrates translated fiction from around the world and its prize money of $64,000 is divided equally between the author and the translator. Alharthi shares her prize money with Marilyn Booth, an American academic.

The work that Alharthi won for is a compelling tale of heartbreak set in an Omani village. Touted as a “coming of age" novel, it traces the lives of three sisters against the backdrop of an Oman that is slowly redefining itself after the colonial era. The poignancy of individual emotions apart, the narrative is haunted by one of the country’s dreaded evils, slavery, which was abolished in the country only in 1970. Bettany Hughes, chairwoman of the judges’ panel, called it a “book to win over the head and heart in equal measure".

In a world riven by antagonisms and forms of cultural incomprehension that often make Samuel P Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations" thesis ring true, such a literary work helps non-Arabs unravel the intricacies and discard the stereotypes of Arab culture. This is a good enough reason for such fiction to be read by members of the Anglosphere. Translations can bridge cultures. Books should be rendered not just into English, but other languages as well. However, while literature does help us understand one another better, the effort should not stay confined to literary spaces.