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.