Recommended: 5 Omani Writers from Man Booker International Winner Jokha al-Harthi

As we’ve written here already, few Omani writers have had work translated to English:

When Jokha al-Harthi won the 2019 Man Booker International last week, her Celestial Bodies was touted as the “first Omani woman to have a book translated to English.” Some stories called her the “first Omani” to be published in English translation.

There have been a few Omani books published in English translation: Abdulaziz al-Farsi’s Earth Weeps, Saturn Laughs appeared in English in 2013, translated by Nancy Roberts. Earth Weeps, Saturn Laughs was on the debut longlist of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and is thus far the only Omani novel to have been recognized by the prize.

When Ann Morgan did her “Year of Reading the World,” she read a collection from Oman: My Grandmother’s Stories: Folktales from Dhofar collected and transcribed by Khadija bint Alawi al-Dhahab, translated by W Scott Chahanovich, Munira Al-Ojaili, Fatima Al-Mashani, Muna Al-Mashani, Muna Saffrar, illustrated by Fatima bint Alawi Muqaybil.

Other Omani writing has appeared in collections:

Hussein al-Abri, one of the “Beirut 39” — a list of 39 Arab writers under 40 named by the Hay Festival — saw an excerpt of his novel The Last Hanging Poem published in the Beirut39 collection in 2010. Banipal has published around a dozen Omani writers over the years. The May issue of Words Without Borders features Omani writers, and it includes an excerpt of Jokha al-Harthi’s novel Bitter Orangewhich will be translated by Marilyn Booth and which, al-Harthi notes, has “fewer characters” than Celestial Bodies.

In an earlier interview with The National, al-Harthi had said, “I am happy that people will read Celestial Bodies but I also hope readers will wish to read other Arabic literature, and other authors from the Gulf.”

Naturally, when I spoke to her over a quick FaceTime interview on the morning after her Man Booker International win, I asked: What other authors would you like us to read?

She was reluctant to answer the question, saying, “I hope people forgive me for forgetting some names.”

But she went on:

In Oman, I recently read Zahran al-Qasimi’s novel, جوع العسل (Hunger for Honey, 2017). I really liked that novel; it’s set in a unique environment, among the mountains, and I really liked Zahran’s poetic language.

Also in Oman, I like the works by Sulaiman al Maamari, Bushra Khalfan, Huda Hamed, and Azhar Ahmed, and many others.

As to non-Omani writers from the Gulf, she said: “I’m a big fan of the Saudi novelist Raja Alem. And many others — but when I’m thinking of the Gulf, Raja Alem always comes to my mind.”

None of the five Omani writers al-Harthi mentioned has a book translated into English. I could turn up an excerpt in translation by only one of them: Huda Hamed’s excerpt from her novel Things Are Not in Their Place for Banipal. Certainly it will be of interest for publishers to look at excerpts from the other works mentioned, particularly جوع العسل, which gets a number of GoodReads raves.

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