Omanis praise compatriot for 'historic' Man Booker literature prize

Arabic author Jokha Alharthi (L) and translator Marilyn Booth pose after winning the Man Booker International Prize for the book ‘Celestial Bodies’ in London on May 21, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2019

Omanis praise compatriot for 'historic' Man Booker literature prize

MUSCAT: Omanis on Wednesday hailed writer Jokha Alharthi’s “historical achievement” and praised her for bringing “honor” to their Gulf nation after she became the first Arab author to win the Man Booker International prize.
“It is a huge historic achievement for the author, for Oman and for Arabic culture in general,” said Saif Al-Rahbi, an Omani poet, essayist and writer.
“It shows that Omani literature is moving along,” he told AFP.
Alharthi, 40, received the prestigious prize during a ceremony Tuesday in London for her novel “Celestial Bodies” which depicts life in her small Gulf nation.
The 50,000-pound (57,000 euro, $64,000) Man Booker International prize celebrates translated fiction from around the world and is divided equally between the author and the translator.
The judges said Celestial Bodies was “a richly imagined, engaging and poetic insight into a society in transition and into lives previously obscured.”
It tells the story of three sisters who witness the slow pace of development in Omani society during the 20th century.
“I am thrilled that a window has been opened to the rich Arabic culture,” Alharthi told AFP after the ceremony at the Roundhouse in London.
“Oman inspired me but I think international readers can relate to the human values in the book — freedom and love,” she said.
The jury praised an “elegantly structured and taut” novel which “tells of Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves.”
The director general of Oman’s culture ministry, Said bin Sultan Al-Bussaidi, agreed.
The novel, he said, shows that Alharthi’s work “reflects maturity and has reached an international level.”
“It is an honor for each and every Omani man and woman... (and the prize) will help spread Omani literature across the world,” he added.
Alharthi is the author of two previous collections of short fiction, a children’s book and three novels in Arabic.
She studied classical Arabic poetry at Edinburgh University and teaches at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat.
In an interview with the BBC at the weekend, Alharthi said she had wanted for a “very long time to write a book about life in Oman (but) couldn’t when she was actually in Oman.”
“But when I went to Edinburgh, the first year was difficult for me, homesickness, cold, so I felt that I need to go back to warmth and feel something from home,” she said.
“Actually writing saved me.”
Her prize-winning novel — which the Guardian newspaper said offers “glimpses into a culture relatively little known in the west” — came out in 2010.
Alharthi said on Tuesday that the novel touches on the history of the slave trade in Oman, an absolute monarchy where Sultan Qaboos, who has ruled since 1970, has been pushing for reform.
For one expert of Arabic and Middle Eastern literature, it could be a game changer for novels emerging from the region.
“It has the potential to orient publishing away from the Arabic novel as answering the question ‘what can we learn about them?’ and toward the Arabic novel as a work of art,” said Marcia Lynx Qualey, editor of ArabLit Quarterly.
“The surge in translation of Arabic-language novels is already in progress, but I think this re-orients publishers somewhat,” she told AFP.
Qualey said there “is definitely a growing interest in works by Gulf authors.”
“In Kuwait, Oman, Saudi, and elsewhere there are authors writing on issues of class, domestic violence, slavery, racism, patriarchy, power, and other issues that are of global interest,” she added.
Celestial Bodies was translated by US academic Marilyn Booth, who teaches Arabic literature at Oxford University.
Jury chair Bettany Hughes said the novel showed “delicate artistry and disturbing aspects of our shared history.”


This Lebanese food shop is providing meals for Beirut blast victims

Updated 16 min 14 sec ago

This Lebanese food shop is providing meals for Beirut blast victims

DUBAI: On the night of the Beirut port blasts, which killed 154 civilians and injured thousands on August 4, Lebanese food shop owner Nabil Khoury and his brother decided to launch one of the very first initiatives for distributing packaged meals to those impacted by the catastrophe. Within a week, more than 3,000 meals have been cooked in the kitchen of Khoury’s vegetarian delicatessen, “Dry & Raw.”

In an Instagram post, the company shared: “We are all one in this. This is the least we can do for you, for us and for our country.”

With the help of staff and numerous young volunteers, along with Khoury’s loyal clients (who generously donated meat and poultry), a variety of hot meals incorporating carbohydrates and proteins, sandwiches and salads have been distributed to many, including selfless medical doctors, volunteers and families in need.

“With the donations, I cannot tell you how much people love to help each other — it’s overwhelming,” Khoury, 45, told Arab News.

He collaborated with the Lebanese Red Cross, the Lebanese Food Bank and local NGO Hot Pot Meal to deliver food to different parts of Beirut, such as Gemmayze, Mar Mikhael and Karantina, which were all severely damaged by the explosions.

“No picture or video could describe the damage that has occurred,” he explained, adding how the country was already suffering from an economic meltdown and the coronavirus pandemic. “In the early hours, people were busy helping each other, takingothers to hospitals, and burying the dead. But now, they are very angry at the whole system. Our government has resigned, but this is not the solution — the whole corrupt system has to step down. This explosion broke the last bone in our back.”

Having previously worked for NGOs, Khoury opened “Dry & Raw” in February 2020; a few months after the October uprising that witnessed nationwide anti-government protests.

Encouraging local food production, Khoury claims the conceptual shop is the “first of its kind” in Lebanon, offering organic, vegan, gluten-free and vegetarian foods, which have been produced in-house.

In addition, select produce is grown at the shop’s own farm.

Khoury recalled: “People criticized the fact that we opened the shop in the midst of an economic crisis, but we said: ‘This is the future and we should really start local production now’.”