Omani teacher wins Booker International Prize

An Omani woman has become the first Arabic author to win the Man Booker International Prize, the award jury announced on Tuesday, reports say.

Jokha Alharthi, above, won the 2019 Man Booker International Prize for her novel Celestial Bodies on three sisters living in a village when slavery still existed in the Sultanate.

The judges praised the work for its poetic insight into a society in transition and into lives previously obscured.

The novel was originally published in Arabic.

Alharthi, 40, will be sharing the $63,585 award with her translator Marilyn Booth.

The Man Booker International Prize is given away to writers outside English-language areas.

Speaking at a London ceremony to honour the author, the jury head Bettany Hughes said the novel appeals to the heart and mind of the reader in equal measure.

She praised the author’s style which resisted cliches of race, slavery and gender.

In an onstage interview, Alharthi said her novel focuses on slavery which was outlawed in Oman only in 1970.

Slavery is a sensitive issue in the Sultanate but the theme is universal and part of human history. Literature is the best platform to discuss such issues, she said.

Alharthi, who teaches Arabic literature at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, said she is happy that a window has finally been opened to the rich Arabic culture.

Besides Celestial Bodies, she has written three novels, two books for children, and several collections of short stories.

 The jury had shortlisted her along with Annie Ernaux (France), Marion Poschmann (Germany), Olga Tokarczuk (Poland), Juan Gabriel Vasquez (Colombia) and Alia Trabucco Zeran (Chile).