Jokha al-Harthi and Marilyn Booth Win 2019 Man Booker International for ‘Celestial Bodies’

Celestial Bodies, written by Jokha Alharthi and translated by Marilyn Booth, is the winner of the 2019 Man Booker International:

The prize’s winner was announced this evening by judging chair Bettany Hughes at a ceremony at the Roundhouse in London.

The £50,000 prize — its last sponsored by the Man Group — is given to “the finest works of translated fiction from around the world” and is divided equally between author and translator.

Hughes said, of Celestial Bodies, in a prepared statement:

‘A book to win over the head and the heart in equal measure, worth lingering over. Interweaving voices and timelines are beautifully served by the pacing of the novel. 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’.

According to judge Angie Hobbs, writing on Twitter, the decision was unanimous:

It was a very strong shortlist, but this was our unanimous choice – hope you love it as much as we do! #MBI2019 https://t.co/C43WAvTdgX

— Angie Hobbs (@drangiehobbs) May 21, 2019

And judge Elnathan John:

Jokha Alharthi. Congratulations. We loved your book. Thank you for this amazing work. #MBI2019

— The Writer Formerly Known As Elnathan (@elnathan_john) May 21, 2019

Alharthi is the first author translated from Arabic to win the Man Booker International. Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad, translated by Jonathan Wright, was shortlisted last year, and Ibrahim al-Koni and Hoda Barakat were named as finalists of the old Man Booker International, when it was a prize for an author’s entire oeuvre.

Alharthi has written two other novels, two collections of short fiction, and a children’s book. According to MBI organizers, her work has been published in translation in English, German, Italian, Korean, and Serbian. She has previously been shortlisted for the Sheikh Zayed Award for Young Writers, and she won the 2010 Best Omani Novel Award for Celestial Bodies. She was also awarded a spot in the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction nadwa.

From the event:

Congratulations to Johka and Marilyn and @sandstonepress #MBI2019 pic.twitter.com/Pc1gXMjjBo

— BCLT (@bcltuea) May 21, 2019

Scotland’s First Minister was also a fan:

Loved this book. Congratulations to author, Jokha Alharthi and translator, Marilyn Booth – and, of course, to its Scottish publisher @sandstonepress #MBI2019 https://t.co/fDrMbvsTSL

— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 21, 2019

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