The Man Booker International Prize has been won by the Omani writer Jokha Alharthi’s novel Celestial Bodies. The prize will be shared between the author and her translator, Marilyn Booth. Celestial Bodies is set in an Omani village and follows the stories of three sisters: Mayya, who marries into a rich family, Asma, who marries for duty; and Khawla, who is waiting for a man who has emigrated to Canada.
Speaking on behalf of the judges, chair Bettany Hughes said at the ceremony in the Roundhouse in London this evening: “We felt we were getting access to ideas and thoughts and experiences you aren’t normally given in English. It avoids every stereotype you might expect in its analysis of gender and race and social distinction and slavery. There are surprises throughout. We fell in love with it.”
Celestial Bodies is published by Sandstone Press of Inverness in Scotland. Alharthi, who has written two other novels, two short-story collections and a children’s book, has been translated into languages including German, Italian, Korean and Serbian.
The Man Booker International prize was formerly awarded, biennially, for a body of work produced over a long period, recognising a writer’s “continued creativity, development and overall contribution to fiction on the world stage”. Winners, from 2005, the first year the prize was awarded, were Ismail Kadare, Chinua Achebe, Alice Munro, Philip Roth and Lydia Davis. Since 2016 the prize, now worth £50,000, has been awarded for a novel in translation, with the prize money being equally divided between writer and translator. The winners have been Han Kang and Deborah Smith (translator) for The Vegetarian, originally published in Korean (2016); David Grossman and Jessica Cohen (translator) for A Horse Walks Into a Bar, originally published in Hebrew (2017); and Olga Tokarczuk and Jennifer Croft (translator) for Flights, originally published in Polish (2018).
The 2019 prize was judged by Bettany Hughes (chair), Maureen Freely, Angie Hobbs, Pankaj Mishra and Elnathan John. The shortlist, announced on April 9th this year, also included The Years by Annie Ernaux (France), translated from the French by Alison L Strayer; The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann (Germany), translated from the German by Jen Calleja; Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (Poland), translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones; The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Colombia), translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean, and The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zeran (Chile), translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes.