Celestial Bodies

(Author) (Translator)

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$16.95  $15.59
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5.4 X 0.8 X 8.2 inches | 0.6 pounds
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About the Author

Jokha Alharthi is the first Omani woman to have a novel translated into English, and Celestial Bodies is the first book translated from Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize. She is the author of two previous collections of short fiction, a children's book, and three novels in Arabic. Fluent in English, she completed a PhD in Classical Arabic Poetry in Edinburgh, and teaches at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat. She has been shortlisted for the Sahikh Zayed Award for Young Writers and her short stories have been published in English, German, Italian, Korean, and Serbian. Marilyn Booth holds the Khalid bin Abdullah Al Saud Chair for the Study of the Contemporary Arab World, Oriental Institute and Magdalen College, Oxford University. In addition to her academic publications, she has translated many works of fiction from the Arabic, most recently The Penguin's Song and No Road to Paradise, both by Lebanese novelist Hassan Daoud.


Praise for Celestial Bodies

A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year in Fiction
The Week, 1 of 25 Books to Read in the Second Half of the Year
Publishers Weekly, One of the Big Indie Books of the Season
Time, 1 of 15 New Books You Should Read This Month
The Washington Post, 1 of 18 Books to Read This Season
O, The Oprah Magazine, 1 of 10 Titles to Pick Up Now
National Geographic, 1 of 12 Great Books for Travelers This Holiday Season
One of the Chicago Review of Books's Best Books of the Month
One of Refinery29's Favorite Books of the Month
The Millions, Most Anticipated (This Month)
Southern Living, 1 of 5 Great New Books to Read This Month
Literary Hub, 1 of 10 New Books You Should Be Reading This Week
The Christian Science Monitor, 1 of the 10 Best Books of the Month

"An inventive multigenerational tale spanning from the end of the 19th century to the early years of the new millennium, this is the first novel by an Omani woman to be translated into English. It's also the first Arab novel to win the International Booker Prize." --The New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice

"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. 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." --Bettany Hughes, chair of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize

"Celestial Bodies, the first novel originally published in Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize, showcases Oman's rich cultural history through a multigenerational saga." --Annabel Gutterman, Time, 1 of 42 Most Anticipated Books for the Season

"[A] sweeping story of generational and societal change . . . The great strength of the novel lies in the ways this change is shown not as a steady progression from old to new but as a far more complicated series of small-scale transitions . . . A richly layered, ambitious work that teems with human struggles and contradictions, providing fascinating insight into Omani history and society." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Alharthi's ambitious, intense novel--her first to be translated into English and winner of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize--examines the radical changes in Oman over the past century from the perspectives of the members of several interconnected families. With exhilarating results, Alharthi throws the reader into the midst of a tangled family drama in which unrequited love, murder, suicide, and adultery seem the rule rather than the exception . . . The novel rewards readers willing to assemble the pieces of Alharthi's puzzle into a whole, and is all the more satisfying for the complexity of its tale." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Altharthi makes literary history as the first female Omani author to be translated into English and as author of the first novel written in Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize. She shares that extraordinary success with translator and Oxford professor Booth . . . Althari's unique structure demands vigilant participation as it is more jigsaw puzzle than linear narrative, and the skeletal family tree proves useful . . . Pieced together, a robust village emerges, of alliances and betrayals, survival and murder, surrender and escape. Patient readers will be seductively, magnificently rewarded." --Booklist (starred review)

"Readers will come to this novel as the first written in Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize and the first by a female Omani author to be translated into English and will leave with a sense of original storytelling, rich characterization, and transparently bright language, expertly translated. Highly recommended." --Library Journal (starred review)

"The form's remarkable adaptability is on brilliant display in Celestial Bodies (Catapult), a searching work of fiction by Jokha Alharthi, an Omani writer and academic; the English translation, by Marilyn Booth, won this year's International Booker Prize. Celestial Bodies tells the subtle and quietly anguished story of several unhappy marriages. Though not a novel about female adultery--the narrated infidelities are all male--it shares with the genre an intense preoccupation with its female characters' unhappy marital experience. The inequitable rules and expectations of a traditionally patriarchal Islamic society--the novel is largely set in an Omani village--bend this novel's focus back onto the sort of marital misery that once animated the European literary tradition. Yet one of the book's signal triumphs is that Alharthi has constructed her own novelistic form to suit her specific mimetic requirements . . . Celestial Bodies, a slender novel alive with many tales, encompasses several generations, but at its heart is the story of three sisters who are disillusioned by marriage . . . The novel moves back and forth between the generations very flexibly, often in the course of a single page or even paragraph, owing to Alharthi's deft management of time shifts. I like to imagine Alharthi, as a graduate student in Edinburgh, encountering what Muriel Spark did with flash-forwards in her great Edinburgh novel about the often unhappy lives of girls and women, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie . . . Within all the chapters, the stories float like this, lightly tethered to what the French call récit--the moment in which the story is being told, the narrative present. The result is a beautifully wavering, always mobile set of temporalities, the way starlight seems to flicker when we gaze at distant and nearer celestial bodies. But the procedure is more radical than Muriel Spark's, because the tether itself is moving . . . Celestial Bodies, written from within a largely poetic tradition by a woman who is a scholar of classical Arabic poetry, seems to break free of narration as it is commonly understood in Western fictional literature. The leaps and swerves seem closer to poetry or fable or song than to the novel as such . . . The form speaks eloquently. Indeed, the great pleasure of reading Celestial Bodies is witnessing a novel argue, through the achieved perfection of its form, for a kind of inquiry that only the novel can really conduct. The ability to move freely through time, the privileged access to the wounded privacies of many characters, the striking diversity of human beings across a relatively narrow canvas, the shock waves as one generation heaves, like tectonic plates, against another, the secrets and lapses and repressions, at once intimate and historical, the power, indeed, of an investigation that is always political and always intimate--here is the novel being supremely itself, proving itself up to the job by changing not its terms of employment but the shape of the task." --James Wood, The New Yorker

"In her novel Celestial Bodies, the Omani author Jokha Alharthi inhabits this liminal space between memory and forgetting: the dark tension between the stories we tell and the stories we know . . . Spanning several generations, from the final decades of the 19th century to the early years of the new millennium, it also marks an innovative reimagining of the family saga. Alharthi avoids the languid ease of chronology in favor of dozens of taut character studies, often no more than a page or two . . . These vignettes are sharp-eyed, sharp-edged and carefully deployed in a multigenerational jigsaw that's as evasive as it is evocative . . . Booth's translation honors the elliptical rhythms of Arabic and the language's rich literary heritage. She imbues the book's numerous poetic extracts with lyricism and devotedly preserves the rhymes and cadences of its proverbs. ('The feet walk fast for the loving heart's sake, but when you feel no longing, your feet drag and ache.') Yet there is no doubt that this is a contemporary novel, insistent and alive . . . Celestial Bodies is itself a treasure house: an intricately calibrated chaos of familial orbits and conjunctions, of the gravitational pull of secrets." --Beejay Silcox, The New York Times Book Review

"Arab women, therefore, face twin obstacles: the West's own gender biases, and the reductive narrative of the Arab woman. This is why it was such a victory when the International Booker Prize jury chose an Arab novel--one written by a woman--to receive the award for the first time in the prize's history. The Omani novelist Jokha al-Harthi's breathtaking, layered, multigenerational novel Celestial Bodies, which was beautifully translated into English, follows the lives of three sisters from a small village at a time of rapid social and economic change in Oman. The tale is replete with history, poetry, and philosophy, but also slavery, broken marriages, passion, and not-so-secret lovers." --Kim Gattas, The Atlantic

"A rich, dense web of a novel . . . Alharthi constructs a tapestry of interlocking lives, some seen over the course of decades, others at just a single pungent moment. Rarely have I encountered a work of fiction in which form and idea were so inseparably, and appropriately, fused . . . The stories here are primarily the stories of women. In a patriarchal culture that works hard to suppress such stories, the characters' act of telling them feels explosive . . . Celestial Bodies is not a book about the radiance of female experience. It is a book about patriarchy and how women both uphold and resist it; about the ways in which women, stripped of political or financial power, exert control in whatever ways they can--social, maternal, or sexual; about women as the victims of the most thoughtless and arbitrary acts of male cruelty. More than anything else, it is about the danger of underestimating women's strength . . . Marilyn Booth, the translator, has done a wonderful job of conveying a lyricism I can only assume is present in Alharthi's original." --Ruth Franklin, The New York Review of Books

"Bright and illuminating." --Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

"Rich, dense . . . The variety of perspectives is effective in offering a window into a country that few Western readers will know intimately . . . Celestial Bodies is strongest in its exploration of how the changes in Oman affect women: within one generation, they are exposed to ideas from abroad and start moving away from cloistered, rural life. But Alharthi . . . pushes past stereotypical narratives of Muslim women defying patriarchy, instead illustrating the difficulties of balancing tradition and newfound freedoms. It's a tale that perhaps could have been written only in a strange new place itself." --Naina Bajekal, Time

"The glimpses into a culture relatively little known in the West are fascinating." --Jane Housham, The Guardian

"One of the most hotly anticipated books of the fall . . . A beautiful and sweeping story . . . Seamlessly navigating between time and perspective, Celestial Bodies is a striking feat of storytelling."--Pierce Alquist, Book Riot

"To say that Celestial Bodies is a multi-generational saga simplifies what Alharthi has done, which is also to tell the story of how Oman has changed over the last century, from a traditional rural patriarchal society where Islam was complemented by Zār spirit worship, and which was among the last countries in the world to abolish slavery (in 1970), to an urban, oil-rich Gulf state. And she has done so in a form that shifts from voice to voice, viewpoint to viewpoint, decade to decade, sometimes within a single paragraph or sentence." --Aida Edemariam, The Guardian

"[A] beautifully rendered portrayal of a family's tangled history in the village of al-Awafi in Oman. The novel was the first book translated from Arabic to win the prize, and more surprisingly, it was the first novel by an Omani woman to be translated into English at all. This trifecta of achievements encapsulates what makes Celestial Bodies vital reading for Americans: it's a wonderful novel that stands on its own, and it also provides us with the increasingly rare opportunity to engage with a celebrated work that is in no way about or for Americans, that is not intended to curry either their favor or their outrage but simply isn't concerned with them at all . . . Whether it's through partisan news networks or Americanized books, films, and TV shows, many Americans are losing the ability to feel comfortable in worlds that aren't designed for them. Americans of all backgrounds, but especially white Americans, need to read books like Celestial Bodies that present another culture on its own terms and allow us to be the Other . . . Celestial Bodies never portrays Oman's evolution as one specifically towards Western values. Rather, there is a progression of the native culture, whose long-established roots remain at the heart of society . . . Alharthi conveys Oman's cultural independence by not catering to an American audience. Her book is densely packed with details about Omani culture and history, but she rarely elaborates on or contextualizes it for us . . . Americans need to think critically about what kind of books we read and what exists for us in the publishing landscape. There is finally a conversation happening about increasing diversity in publishing, and I hope we will consider cultural diversity as well. To publish, buy, and read books like Celestial Bodies makes a statement that we value non-Western ideas. More overlooked but equally as important, these books give us the experience of being the other--and the opportunity to realize that isn't always a negative thing." --Carrie Mullins, Electric Literature

"This is not only the first novel originally written in Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize, but it is also the first book by a female Omani author to be translated into English, and is thus a major, exciting literary event." --Emily Temple, Literary Hub, One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Year

"An impressive blend of the personal and sociopolitical." --Vol. 1 Brooklyn

"[Alharthi] had no small gift to begin with, but in this story she's honed it to a master's edge. Celestial Bodies delivers a cornucopia, the drama tasty whether it concerns a long day of overwrought celebration, scented with incense and envy, or a midnight tryst in the desert, mixing torment and ecstasy. Juggling multiple perspectives, eschewing straightforward chronology, the narrative coheres nevertheless . . . Marilyn Booth's skill as translator . . . brings off all sorts of delicate shadings, even finding English equivalents for the rhymes in Bedouin proverbs. Beyond that, feminism so multifaceted again recalls Ferrante, and more importantly asserts why such fiction matters. A novel with the sock of Celestial Bodies puts a reader face to face with the complex humanity everywhere." --John Domini, The Brooklyn Rail

"This is a gorgeous, heart-wrenching story you won't want to miss out on reading." --K.W. Colyard, Bustle

"This novel is terrific, but above all, it's important . . . The novel is a juicy family drama following the interwoven lives of multiple families in a country that has changed radically over the past century. It's riveting, and gorgeously translated. It should also, as long as the U.S. remains entrenched in Middle-Eastern conflict, be mandatory reading." --Thrillist, One of the Best Books of the Year (So Far)

"The story is beautifully told with credit extending to Marilyn Booth, the translator, who spins exquisite English descriptions from Alharthi's original Arabic . . . The book is full of strong women characters. Alharthi, though, avoids clichés and stereotypes. The women do not buck the patriarchy in a predictable fashion. Rather, Alharthi reveals the nuances within domestic life, especially the possibilities to be discovered in everyday occurrences, an experience that readers everywhere will recognize." --Joan Gaylord, The Christian Science Monitor

"In the novel, Alharthi transports you to Oman through the eyes of one family. The narration weaves back and forth in time, and through the perspectives of multiple characters, but it never feels confusing . . . All in all: [it's] worth your time. Read if you're into: historical novels, family sagas, and 'major literary events'!" --Emily Burack, Alma

"This is a beautiful, fascinating book, which teaches us a great deal about Oman, Arab life and aspirations, and the swiftly changing relations between men and women and between the generations. It is a worthy recipient of this year's Man Booker International Prize." --Maureen O'Rourke, The Times Literary Supplement

"The novel is a beautifully achieved account of lives pulling at the edges of change. The writing is teasingly elliptical throughout and there is a kind of poetic understatement that draws the reader into the domestic settings and public tribulations of the three sisters. . . . Celestial Bodies deftly undermines recurrent stereotypes about Arab language and cultures but most importantly brings a distinctive and important new voice to world literature." --Michael Cronin, Irish Times

"A striking feat, it deserves the world's attention . . . In revealing Omani history through marginalized voices, Celestial Bodies also lays bare those global forces that enable, amongst other things, unequal conditions of value and circulation. . . . Celestial Bodies does what the best literature does: it takes us out of ourselves only to bring us to a better understanding of our world."--Sarah Jilani, Frieze

"Celestial Bodies is an exquisite literary creation that marks the arrival of a major international talent." --CBC Books