Omani author Jokha Alharthi has become the first Arabic-language writer to win the prestigious Man Booker International Prize for ‘Celestial Bodies’.
She became the first female writer from Oman on Tuesday to have translated into English. ‘Celestial Bodies’ is the story of three sisters in a desert country confronting its slave-owning past and a complex modern world.
‘Celestial Bodies’ confronts Oman’s history of slavery, abolished in the country only in 1970.
‘ Celestial Bodies’ beat five other finalists from Europe and South America, including last year’s winner Olga Tokarczuk of Poland.
The prize is a counterpart to the Man Booker Prize for English language novels and is open to books in any language that have been translated into English.
Alharthi will split the 50,000 pound ($64,000) purse with her U.K.-based translator, Marilyn Booth.
Historian Bettany Hughes, who ledwho led the judging panel, said the “lyrical” winning novel was “a book to win over the head and the heart in equal measure.”
“It’s a sensitive subject and kind of a taboo,” Alharthi said in onstage interview at the awards ceremony in London. “But I think literature is the best platform to discuss sensitive issues. And slavery is not exclusive to Oman, it’s part of human history.”
She said her victory meant “a window has been opened to Arabic literature.
This is the final year of sponsorship by investment firm Man Group PLC, which is halting backing after 18 years. Starting next year the award will be known as the International Booker Prize.