Celestial Bodies, written by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth from Arabic and published by Sandstone Press, has been announced as the winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2019. The £50,000 prize, which celebrates the finest works of translated fiction from around the world, has been divided equally between its author and translator. Each shortlisted author and translator also received a further £1,000 for being shortlisted. The winner was announced by Bettany Hughes at a ceremony at the Roundhouse in London.
Jokha Alharthi, the first female Omani novelist to be translated into English, is the first author from the Arabian Gulf to win the prize. The author of two other novels, two collections of short fiction and a children’s book, her work has been published in English, German, Italian, Korean, and Serbian. An award-winning author, she has been shortlisted for the Sahikh Zayed Award for Young Writers and won the 2010 Best Omani Novel Award for Celestial Bodies.
Marilyn Booth is an American academic and translator who has translated many works of fiction from Arabic. A fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford, she holds the Khalid bin Abdallah Al Saud Chair for the Study of the Contemporary Arab World at the Oriental Institute.
Celestial Bodies tells of family connections and history in the coming-of-age account of three Omani sisters. It is set against the backdrop of an evolving Oman, which is slowly redefining itself after the colonial era, at the crossroads of its complex present.
The Guardian commented that it ‘glimpses into a culture relatively little known in the west are fascinating’ and The National said ‘it mark[s] the arrival of a major literary talent… a densely woven, deeply imagined tour de force.’
Celestial Bodies was selected by a panel of five judges, chaired by Bettany Hughes, awardwinning historian, author and broadcaster, and made up of writer, translator and chair of English PEN Maureen Freely; philosopher Professor Angie Hobbs; novelist and satirist Elnathan John and essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra.
Are you reading Celestial Bodies with your reading group? We have a guide that will help you begin your discussion with questions, useful links and suggested further reading.
A book to win over the head and the heart
Bettany Hughes comments:
“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.”
Luke Ellis, CEO of Man Group, comments:
“On behalf of Man Group, I would like to congratulate Jokha Alharthi and Marilyn Booth, as well as each of the shortlisted authors and translators. As one of the first literary awards to celebrate the work of international authors and, in recent years, to celebrate fiction in translation, the Man Booker International Prize plays an invaluable role in encouraging a diversity of voice in fiction worldwide.”
“As our sponsorship of the Booker Prizes draws to a close, I would like to take this opportunity to recognise the commendable work of the Booker Prize Foundation and to wish them the very best for the future. Diversity will remain an important area of focus for Man Group as we concentrate more of our resources on our Paving the Way campaign, which aims to enhance diversity and inclusion at the firm and across the investment industry, as well as continuing to support charitable initiatives that promote literacy and numeracy.”
The winning author and translator will take part in two public events following the announcement:
Waterstones Piccadilly, London
Thursday 23 May, 7pm
Join us for an evening celebrating the winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2019. A byword for the finest fiction in translation, the prize celebrates literature from all over the world.
Following the announcement of the 2019 prize winner on Tuesday 21 May, join this year’s winning author and translator for an evening of readings in both English and the original language of their book. This will be followed by a discussion about writing the book and experience of winning the prize, an audience Q&A and book signing.
The event is presented in partnership with Times Literary Supplement. The event will be chaired by award-winning writer and human rights activist, academic and former Man Booker International Prize Judge, Elif Shafak.
Book your ticket here
Saturday 25 May, 11.30am
Jokha Alharthi and Marilyn Booth will be interviewed by Chair of Judges Bettany Hughes.
Book your ticket here
What do you think of Celestial Bodies? Add your comments below.
Download fantastic Readers’ Guides for every one of the longlisted titles from the Man Booker Prize website.