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Celestial Bodies
Cover of Celestial Bodies
Celestial Bodies
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Winner of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize and named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

"An innovative reimagining of the family saga. . . there is no doubt that this is a contemporary novel, insistent and alive . . . Celestial Bodies is itself a treasure house: an intricately calibrated chaos of familial orbits and conjunctions, of the gravitational pull of secrets." —The New York Times Book Review

In the village of al-Awafi in Oman, we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla, who chooses to refuse all offers and await a reunion with the man she loves, who has emigrated to Canada.

These three women and their families, their losses and loves, unspool beautifully against a backdrop of a rapidly changing Oman, a country evolving from a traditional, slave-owning society into its complex present. Through the sisters, we glimpse a society in all its degrees, from the very poorest of the local slave families to those making money through the advent of new wealth.

The first novel originally written in Arabic to ever win the Man Booker International Prize, and the first book by a female Omani author to be translated into English, Celestial Bodies marks the arrival in the United States of a major international writer.

Winner of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize and named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

"An innovative reimagining of the family saga. . . there is no doubt that this is a contemporary novel, insistent and alive . . . Celestial Bodies is itself a treasure house: an intricately calibrated chaos of familial orbits and conjunctions, of the gravitational pull of secrets." —The New York Times Book Review

In the village of al-Awafi in Oman, we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla, who chooses to refuse all offers and await a reunion with the man she loves, who has emigrated to Canada.

These three women and their families, their losses and loves, unspool beautifully against a backdrop of a rapidly changing Oman, a country evolving from a traditional, slave-owning society into its complex present. Through the sisters, we glimpse a society in all its degrees, from the very poorest of the local slave families to those making money through the advent of new wealth.

The first novel originally written in Arabic to ever win the Man Booker International Prize, and the first book by a female Omani author to be translated into English, Celestial Bodies marks the arrival in the United States of a major international writer.

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About the Author-
  • Jokha Alharthi is the first Omani woman to have a novel translated into English, and Celestial Bodies is the first book translated from Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize. She 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 shortlisted for the Sahikh Zayed Award for Young Writers and her short stories have been published in English, German, Italian, Korean, and Serbian.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    August 15, 2019
    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 transitions. 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 daughter 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(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from August 19, 2019
    Alharthi’s ambitious, intense novel—her first to be translated into English and winner of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize—examines the radical changes in Oman over the past century from the perspectives of the members of several interconnected families. With exhilarating results, Alharthi throws the reader into the midst of a tangled family drama in which unrequited love, murder, suicide, and adultery seem the rule rather than the exception. She moves between the stream-of-consciousness musings and memories of businessman Abdallah as he flies to Frankfurt and vignettes from the lives of those in his family, the slaves who raised him under the rule of his abusive father, and the members of the large family he married into. These include, among many others, a wife who apparently loves her sewing machine more than him, her two conflicted sisters, a father-in-law conducting a torrid love affair with a Bedouin woman, and an unhappy physician daughter. The scenes establish the remarkable contrasts among the generations, whose members are united primarily by a fierce search for romantic love. The older generation has grown up with strict rules and traditions, the younger generation eats at McDonald’s and wears Armani jeans, and the members of the middle generation, particularly the women, are caught between expectations and aspirations. The novel rewards readers willing to assemble the pieces of Alharthi’s puzzle into a whole, and is all the more satisfying for the complexity of its tale.

  • Library Journal

    September 27, 2019

    In the Omani village of al-Awafi, Mayya bids adieu to the young man she truly loves and dutifully marries Abdallah, the sensitive son of the Merchant Sulayman. Abdallah was treated cruelly by his father, who left his upbringing to the slave Zarifa after the mysterious death of Abdallah's mother. Mayya's father indulges in a heated affair with a Bedouin woman, her sisters follow their own crooked paths to unhappiness, and the wily Zarifa resists leaving al-Awafi, as her husband and son have. Though their lives unfold in a narrative that can be dizzying to follow, the point isn't plot but the way the characters' voices keep circling back, adding to their stories and building a layered sense of Omani culture in swift transition. What's most striking is how that transition plays out here, with tradition and momentum, oud perfume and flights to Europe, a mother's time-tested marriage rituals and a daughter's studies to become a doctor, integrated into the flow. VERDICT Readers will come to this novel as the first written in Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize and the first by a female Omani author to be translated into English and will leave with a sense of original storytelling, rich characterization, and transparently bright language, expertly translated. Highly recommended.--Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Bettany Hughes, chair of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize Praise for Celestial Bodies

    The Week, 1 of 25 Books to Read in the Second Half of the Year
    Publishers Weekly, One of the Big Indie Books of the Season
    Time, 1 of 15 New Books You Should Read This Month
    The Washington Post, 1 of 18 Books to Read This Season
    O, The Oprah Magazine, 1 of 10 Titles to Pick Up Now
    One of the Chicago Review of Books's Best Books of the Month
    One of Refinery29's Favorite Books of the Month
    The Millions, Most Anticipated (This Month)
    Southern Living, 1 of 5 Great New Books to Read This Month
    Literary Hub, 1 of 10 New Books You Should Be Reading This Week
    The Christian Science Monitor, 1 of the 10 Best Books of the Month

    "A book to win over the head and the heart in equal measure . . . 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." —Bettany Hughes, chair of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize

    "Celestial Bodies, the first novel originally published in Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize, showcases Oman's rich cultural history through a multigenerational saga." —Annabel Gutterman, Time, 1 of 42 Most Anticipated Books for the Season

    "[A] sweeping story of generational and societal change . . . 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 transitions . . . A richly layered, ambitious work that teems with human struggles and contradictions, providing fascinating insight into Omani history and society." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

    "Alharthi's ambitious, intense novel—her first to be translated into English and winner of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize—examines the radical changes in Oman over the past century from the perspectives of the members of several interconnected families. With exhilarating results, Alharthi throws the reader into the midst of a tangled family drama in which unrequited love, murder, suicide, and adultery seem the rule rather than the exception . . . The novel rewards readers willing to assemble the pieces of Alharthi's puzzle into a whole, and is all the more satisfying for the complexity of its tale." —Publishers Weekly (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 . . . Althari's unique structure demands vigilant participation as it is more jigsaw puzzle than linear narrative, and the skeletal family tree proves useful . . . Pieced together, a robust village emerges, of alliances and betrayals, survival and murder, surrender and escape. Patient readers will be seductively, magnificently rewarded." —Booklist (starred review)

    "Readers will come to this novel as the first written in Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize and the...

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