Celestial Bodies, written by Jokha Alharthi and translated by Marilyn Booth, is the winner of the 2019 Man Booker International:
The prize’s winner was announced this evening by judging chair Bettany Hughes at a ceremony at the Roundhouse in London.
The £50,000 prize — its last sponsored by the Man Group — is given to “the finest works of translated fiction from around the world” and is divided equally between author and translator.
Hughes said, of Celestial Bodies, in a prepared statement:
‘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’.
According to judge Angie Hobbs, writing on Twitter, the decision was unanimous:
— Angie Hobbs (@drangiehobbs) May 21, 2019
And judge Elnathan John:
Jokha Alharthi. Congratulations. We loved your book. Thank you for this amazing work. #MBI2019
— Elnathan John (@elnathan_john) May 21, 2019
Alharthi is the first author translated from Arabic to win the Man Booker International. Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad, translated by Jonathan Wright, was shortlisted last year, and Ibrahim al-Koni and Hoda Barakat were named as finalists of the old Man Booker International, when it was a prize for an author’s entire oeuvre.
Alharthi has written two other novels, two collections of short fiction, and a children’s book. According to MBI organizers, her work has been published in translation in English, German, Italian, Korean, and Serbian. She has previously been shortlisted for the Sheikh Zayed Award for Young Writers, and she won the 2010 Best Omani Novel Award for Celestial Bodies. She was also awarded a spot in the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction nadwa.
From the event:
— British Centre for Literary Translation (@bcltuea) May 21, 2019
Scotland’s First Minister was also a fan:
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 21, 2019