The £50,000 award’s first winner to write in Arabic, Alharthi shares the prize equally with her translator, American academic, Marilyn Booth.
‘Celestial Bodies’ is set in the Omani village of Al-Awafi and follows the stories of three sisters: Mayya, who marries into a rich family after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries for duty; and Khawla, waiting for a man who has immigrated to Canada, theguardian.com wrote.
Chair of judges for the prize, historian Bettany Hughes said: “Through the different tentacles of people’s lives and loves and losses we come to learn about this society – all its degrees, from the very poorest of the slave families working there to those making money through the advent of a new wealth in Oman and Muscat. It starts in a room and ends in a world.
“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.”
In an interview after the novel was longlisted, Booth said she was delighted that the award was bringing Omani literature to the attention of a wider audience. But she added that Arabic fiction had a tendency to be seen as “a road map to the Arab world rather than first and foremost as art, as imaginative writing, pushing the boundaries of what can be thought and said”.
‘Celestial Bodies’ is published by Inverness’s Sandstone Press and is its first venture into Arabic literature. Alharthi, who has written two other novels, two short-story collections and a children’s book, and has been translated into languages including German, Italian, Korean and Serbian, said she hoped ‘Celestial Bodies’ would help “international readers discover that Oman has an active and talented writing community who live and work for their art”.