Celestial Bodies
by Alharthi, Jokha; Booth, Marilyn (TRN)

A tense novel tells of Oman's coming-of-age through the prism of one family's losses and loves. Winner of the Man Booker International Prize. Reissue.

Jokha Alharthi is the first Omani woman to have a novel translated into English, and Celestial Bodies is the first book translated from the 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 short-listed for the Sheikh Zayed Award for Young Authors and her short stories have been published in English, German, Italian, Korean, and Serbian.

*Starred Review* Altharthi makes literary history as the first female Omani author to be translated into English and as author of the first novel written in Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize. She shares that extraordinary success with translator and Oxford professor Booth, who reveals, "I like very much that Jokha does not write for readers who do not know Oman: she does not try to explain things." Indeed, Althari's unique structure demands vigilant participation as it is more jigsaw puzzle than linear narrative, and the skeletal family tree provided proves useful. Set against Oman's rapid shifts during the twentieth century from slave-owning nation to oil-rich international presence are three generations of an upper-class Omani family: Salima, who survived a difficult childhood, and her husband, Azzan, who can't resist the pull of the moon (goddess); their three (surviving) children-dutiful Mayya, book-obsessed Asma, and waiting Khawla-and Mayya and her husband Abdallah's children: independent London, irresponsible Salim, and Muhammad, who has special needs. Most memorable perhaps is enslaved Zarifa, excluded from the family tree yet integrally bonded. Omnisciently narrated chapters are interrupted, with an obvious font-shift, by businessman Abdallah's first-person, mostly in-flight monologues. Pieced together, a robust village emerges, of alliances and betrayals, survival and murder, surrender and escape. Patient readers will be seductively, magnificently rewarded. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Omani author Alharthi's novel, the first by a woman from that country to be translated into English, won the 2019 International Man Booker Prize with its sweeping story of generational and societal change. The book opens with a betrothal in a well-to-do Omani family. Mayya, a serious girl who excels at sewing, obediently marries the son of Merchant Sulayman although she's secretly in love with a young student just returned from England. Later she surprises everyone by naming her firstborn daughter London. The story alternates between third-person chapters and ones narrated by Mayya's husband, Abdallah, a businessman whose childhood was marred by his father's cruelty and mother's mysterious death. Through the complex, interwoven histories of the two principal families and their households and their town of al-Awafi, we witness Oman's shift from a slave-owning, rural, deeply patriarchal society to one in which a girl with the unlikely name of London can become a doctor, marry for love, and obtain a divorce. The great strength of the novel lies in the ways this change is shown not as a steady progression from old to new but as a far more complicated series of small-scale transitio ns. Abdallah was largely raised by his father's slave Zarifa, whose mother gave birth to her on the day slavery was supposedly abolished at the 1926 Slavery Convention in Geneva. Zarifa is sold as a teenager by Shaykh Said to Merchant Sulayman and later married off to a slave kidnapped from Africa who screams "from the depths of his sleep, We are free people, free!" Both her husband and son leave Oman, and although Zarifa eventually follows, her heart remains in al-Awafi. The narrative jumps among a large and clamorous cast of characters as well as back and forth in time, a technique that reinforces the sense of past and present overlapping. In an image that captures the tension between old and new, a family uses its satellite dish as a trough for livestock. Salima, Mayya's mother, herself a kidnapped teenage bride, thinks sadly as she prepares the next of her daughters for her traditional arranged marriage, "We raise them so that strangers can take them away." But the daugh t er in question, Mayya's sister Asma, welcomes wedlock, because "marriage was her identity document, her passport to a world wider than home." A richly layered, ambitious work that teems with human struggles and contradictions, providing fascinating insight into Omani history and society. Copyright Kirkus 2019 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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