‘Through the Needle’s Eye’, review

In her first novel Through the Needle’s Eye, Linda Bledsoe provides a grim look into the dark side of the southern Appalachians’ life. It tells the story of Jessie, the oldest child in a poor family in the southern Virginia hills in the late 1950s.

The family has much more things to deal with than lack
of means. The father,
an
alcoholic with a violent temper, is horribly abusive, and the mother is unable
or even unwilling
to help herself and her children. Jessie and her younger brother and sister endure things that no child should, and they also see things that no child should see.

The children are always deprived: of a stable home, enough
food, decent clothes and toys, but also love, care, attention, and emotional support.

From the very beginning, we all understand that Jessie’s plight is
especially dire. Scarred by an accident, Jessie is considered worthless by
everyone, including her parents. As
the oldest child in the family, she is often called upon – or takes it upon herself – to take on responsibility beyond
her years.

The one good thing in her existence is Granny Isabelle, having lived through more than her own
share of hard times. Granny Isabelle sees something in Jessie that no one else takes time to
notice and tries to inspire her to believe that she can rise above. The Bible
informs much of Granny Isabelle’s advice and beliefs; the title of the novel refers to the eye
of the needle, and she tries to convince Jessie that she can make it through.

Without a doubt, Linda Bledsoe makes the desperate lives of children like Jessie horribly real. Therefore, we feel her terror, anger, and confusion when she watches her father beat her mother or waits for the blows that she knows are coming her way. Jessie and her siblings wet themselves so often that the story itself seems soaked in urine and snot at times.

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

An award-winning novel raises a lot of expectations, not only on its substance and style but also on its linguistic strength in connecting the readers with the imagined world of possible realities. In final, what count are the lingering thoughts the prose leaves the readers to keep on grappling with in solitude. Celestial Bodies, the first Omani novel to win the Man Booker prize, ticks all the boxes on being alluring, irresistible, and imaginative at the same time.

First published as Sayyidat al-qamar, the novel written by academic Jokha Alharthi traces an Omani family journey over 3 generations, through the twists and travails in a country emerging as a 1960s oil-rich Gulf state but was the last to abolish slavery in 1970. Crafted on a historical canvas carefully, it prisms the lived experience of three sisters when they swim through changing times which opens life in an Omani village to the world.

There
were surprises throughout
for
American historian Marilyn Booth, who translated the book into English and shared the prize.
What attracted Marilyn Booth to translate Alharthi was the absence of
stereotypes in her analysis of race, gender, and social distinction. Alharthi weaves individual
stories through a distinct but engaging and intricate narrative; meanwhile, the third-person account deals
with the person on
whom the chapter is named, the first-person reflections are by Abdallah, the lone voice in the world
of a
man who happens to be the husband of
the eldest sister.

Set
in the Omani village of al-Awafi,
Celestial
Bodies follows the stories of three sisters: Mayya, laying immersed in her sewing machine but
getting married
into a rich family after a heartbreak; Asma, at peace with her books and getting married
for
duty; and Khawla, having
spent the better part of her
life
with her mirror and having waited
to marry a man who had emigrated to Canada. Each has a share in the complicated relationships
in a domestic drama connecting
the ‘past’ with the ‘future’ through the ‘present’. 
It is the subtle artistry of the author which allows the characters to retain their
individuality meanwhile
remaining part of a home that has externalities of influences
at work all the time, shedding
light on travesties of life in Oman.