Book of the Month – October 2019

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi (author), Marilyn Booth (translator)

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi (translated by Marilyn Booth)

Winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2019, Celestial Bodies tells Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves. It is set in the village of al-Awafi in Oman, where we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries Abdallah after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla who rejects all offers while waiting for her beloved, who has emigrated to Canada. These three women and their families witness Oman evolve from a traditional, slave-owning society slowly redefining itself after the colonial era, to the crossroads of its complex present.

"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," says Bettany Hughes, judge of the Man Booker International Prize 2019.
"We felt we were getting access to ideas and thoughts and experiences you aren’t normally given in English. It avoids every stereotype you might expect in its analysis of gender and race and social distinction and slavery. There are surprises throughout. We fell in love with it."

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Buy the book

Watch Jokha Alharthi and Marilyn Booth speaking about Celestial Bodies to Bettany Hughes at Hay Festival 2019

Further reading...

"A lot of women are really strong, even though they are slaves", The Guardian (July 2019)

Celestial Bodies shines a light on Omani literature, The National (March 2019)

Scottish publisher revels in International Man Booker win, BBC News (May 2019)

About the author

Jokha Alharthi is the first Omani woman to have a novel translated into English, and Celestial Bodies is the first book translated from Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize. Alharthi is the author of two previous collections of short fiction, a children’s book, and three novels in Arabic. Fluent in English, she completed a PhD in Classical Arabic Poetry in Edinburgh, and teaches at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat. She has been shortlisted for the Sahikh Zayed Award for Young Writers and her short stories have been published in English, German, Italian, Korean, and Serbian.

About the translator

Marilyn Booth has worked in various education institutions, including the University of Edinburgh, where she was the Iraq Professor of Arabic Studies, New York University Abu Dhabi as Senior Humanities Research Fellow and the University of Oxford as an adviser for students of Magdalen College pursuing degrees in Arabic. In addition to her research publications on Arabic literature, gender politics in Egypt, auto/biography and translation studies, she is a prolific translator of contemporary Arabic fiction.

Marilyn Booth and Jokha Alharthi at Hay Festival Wales 2019. Photo by Chris Athanasiou.

About Hay Festival's Book of the Month

Hay Festival's Book of the Month is our monthly recommendation of a title we've loved and think holds added resonance today. While many recommendations celebrate the new, this is a chance to celebrate great works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry – new and old – that reaches through time to touch the present.

Throughout the month, we'll share interesting links and articles relating to our selection on social media using #HayBookoftheMonth and invite you all to get involved with your questions and comments.

Over on Hay Player, a special playlist of talks to view online offer additional perspectives on the books from some of the greatest writers and thinkers around the world.

If you'd like to recommend a book for consideration, please email publicity@hayfestival.org.

Happy reading!