Omani writer Jokha wins Man Booker Prize

MUSCAT, MAY 22 – Jokha al Harthy, the 40-year-old assistant professor at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), has become the first writer in the Arabic language to win the Man Booker International Prize for her novel Celestial Bodies. Jokha won the award for the novel Celestial Bodies, translated into English by Marilyn Booth. This achievement is the first of its kind for an Arab writer since the award was established in 2005. Celestial Bodies was selected by a panel of five judges, chaired by Bettany Hughes, award-winning 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.

The book tells the story of three sisters and a desert country confronting its past and a complex modern world. A professor at the College of Arts and Social Sciences in SQU, Jokha also holds a PhD in Classical Arabic Literature, University of Edinburgh. The author will split the £50,000 ($36,500) prize money with her translator, Marilyn Booth, a professor from the United States. The prize, given to the best book translated into English and published in Britain, is seen as the world’s most significant award for translated fiction.

It is different from the Booker Prize, for fiction originally published in English.  Jokha has three novels, two stories, and two children’s stories to her credit, while her novel Narangha (2016) won the Sultan Qaboos Prize for Culture, Arts and Letters the same year. “The book captures minds and hearts,” said Bettani Hughes, president of the jury. “It deals with the forces that restrict us and those that liberate us.” Her colleagues at the SQU said that they are proud of this achievement, “which represents a pioneering crossroads of our culture, thought and society and its civilisation.”