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Jokha Alharthi awarded Man Booker International Prize, the first Arabic-language author to win

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Winners Jokha Alharthi, left, and Marilyn Booth at the award ceremony for the Man Booker International prize.
(Man Booker International Prize)

Jokha Alharthi and Marilyn Booth have won the 2019 Man Booker International Prize for “Celestial Bodies,” a coming-of-age novel written by Alharthi and translated from Arabic by Booth.

Organizers of the literary prize, given annually to a work of fiction translated into English, made the announcement Tuesday.

Alharthi is the first Omani woman to have a novel translated into English and also the first Arabic-language author to win the award.

“Celestial Bodies” tells the story of three sisters in the Omani village of Al Awafi who witness first-hand their country’s political and social transition. It is Alharthi’s third novel; she is also the author of two short story collections and a children’s book.

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Bettany Hughes, the chair of the panel of judges that selected this year’s winner, praised the novel as 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,” Hughes said in a statement. “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.”

Other books shortlisted for this year’s award included Olga Tokarczuk’s “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” and Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s “The Shape of the Ruins.”

The Man Booker International Prize comes with a cash award of about $64,000, which is split between the author and the translator. Authors and translators who made the shortlist each were given cash prizes of about $1,300.

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Previous winners of the award have included Tokarczuk, David Grossman, Han Kang and László Krasznahorkai.

This is the last year the award will be known as the Man Booker International Prize. In January, the Man Group, the London-based hedgefund that had sponsored the prizes since 2002, announced it would no longer do so.

In February, the charitable foundation Crankstart announced that it would serve as the prizes’ new sponsor. Starting June 1, the Man Booker Prize will be known as the Booker Prize, and the Man Booker International Prize will be called the International Booker Prize.


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