Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

Celestial bodies by Jokha Alharthi

Omani Fiction

Original title – Sayyidat el-Qama

Translator – Marilyn Booth

Source – personal copy

When the man Booker longlist was announced this is the one book I really knew nothing about and is the first I have reviewed from Oman. It is published by the small Scottish publisher Sandstone press that hit the headlines a few years ago when one of the books made the Booker longlist since then they have been doing a few books in translation including the Babylon Berlin books which I keep meaning to try any way this is the third novel by Johka Alharti and the second book by her to be translated into English she studied Classical Arabic poetry in Edinburgh her works have been translated into English, German, Italian, Korean and Serbian.

Mayya, forever immersed in her Singer sewing machine, seemed lost to the outside world. Then Mayya lost herself to love: a silent passion, but it sent tremors surging through her slight form, night after night, cresting in waves of tears and sighs. There were moments when she truly believed she would not survivethe awful force of her longing to see him.

Her body prstatrate, ready for the dawn prayers, she made a whispered oath. By the greatness of God – I want nothing, O Lord, just to see him. I solemnly promise you, Lord, I don’t want him to look my way … just want to see him. That’s all I want

Mayya has a heart break from a man she loves but can’t be with.

In the intro, it says that the novel tries to capture the two sides of Oman the Modern and traditional side and the struggles of the country from the 20th century. The book is formed of a family saga from the early twentieth century to Now. The story is told in the lives of three sisters and their marriages Mayya who has a huge heartbreak when the man she loves broke her heart and then settles for marriage but then rebels when she gives birth to her first daughter and instead of picking a name that the family would approve she calls her London. The Khawla moves to Canada after her betrothed who has been there for a number of years but it turns out he has been living with a woman. Then Asma the most traditional of the sisters marries the book also revolves around the rest of the family the male member Mayya husband is the main character as the chapters go between the family stories and Abdallah as he is returning home on a plane. The contrast between his present and the past in the other chapters one of the slaves and traditional values at the start of the century. Then his own life of Lonon now grown and not had the happiest of lives his own childhood. This is a compelling picture of a country changing.

As much as I have travelled, I still like getting the seat by the window. I like to stare down at one city after another, dwindling and then vanishing. Papa, London said once, you travel an awful lot. I did not say to her that when we are away from home, in new and strange places, we get to know ourselves better. And that is exactly the way it is with love. London does not know much about strange places or being far from home but she certainly knows about love. Her stubborn endurance under her mother’s blows allured and pained in equal measure, until I cracked the whip myself and married her to him.

Abdallah on his plane home talking about London his daughter that has a life different from her.

Now I shortlisted this above the other book that was translated from Arabic it is a wonderful description of her homeland and the way it has moved through the last century. It is a book th\t in its scope is maybe more an epic but not as long as that  being only 240 pages but has the feel of a 500-page novel there is a variety of characters as you see the world of Oman through three sisters there husbands children and parents that show a land that struggles to be modern with its traditional nature. So a great intro to books from Oman also a gem of a find from this years longlist one of two. Have you read any other books from Oman?

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Claire 'Word by Word'
    Apr 16, 2019 @ 18:52:33

    This is the one that interests me the most from the shortlist, for it’s uniqueness. Lovely review Stu.

    Reply

  2. Trackback: Man Booker Internacional, en manos de Jokha Alharthi > Poemas del Alma
  3. Trackback: April and May winstonsdad months that were | Winstonsdad's Blog

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