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Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

stories of unhappy marriages in a changing time

About the book

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Simon & Schuster India (30 May 2019)

Language ‏ : ‎ English

Paperback ‏ : ‎ 256 pages

Order your copy : Here

In the village of al-Awafi in Oman, we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla, who chooses to refuse all offers and awaits a reunion with the man she loves, who has emigrated to Canada.

These three women and their families, their losses and loves, unspool beautifully against a backdrop of a rapidly changing Oman, a country evolving from a traditional, slave-owning society into its complex present. Through the sisters, we glimpse a society in all its degrees, from the very poorest of the local slave families to those making money through the advent of new wealth.

My thoughts

Recent data showed that the rate of divorces in India is steadily increasing. This has been correlated with financial independence, increasing fluidity in social norms, and higher education among women. Women were told by elders to adjust and sacrifice to have a “happy” marriage life. A conservative society forces individuals to remain stuck in unhappy situations both men and women alike. The toxic nature of such a society conditions us to our core to a point we hardly can differentiate between right and wrong.

Jokha Alharthi’s celestial bodies talks about one such multigenerational tale of 3 sisters from an Omani village. Oman, a strict patriarchal, hierarchy-based society, is often shielded from world view. It is regarded as just one of those oil-rich middle eastern countries.

The author moves back and forth, like sashaying her dress as she narrates the tale of this complicated family. Mayya longed for someone but ended with another. Abdullah on the other lives a life full of dilemmas. His childhood trauma inflicted by his ruthless father impacted his marital life. The author showed how patriarchy affects not just women but also men who are forced to act in a certain “masculine” way.

All the characters in her book search for joy and happiness in that conservative suffocative society. As they grow, the country too changes politically almost threatening the institution. It's unsure if the unrest trickled from the top to its citizens or vice versa.

With celestial bodies winning the Man Booker prize in 2019, it opened an avenue to explore middle eastern authors. It also opened door to understanding strict society and its households.

“What we live and what lives inside us.”

About the author

Jokha al-Harthi (Arabic: جوخة الحارثي‎; born July 1978) is an Omani writer and academic. She was educated in Oman and the United Kingdom. She obtained her Ph.D. in classical Arabic literature from Edinburgh University. She is currently an associate professor in the Arabic department at Sultan Qaboos University. al-Harthi has published three collections of short stories and three novels (Manamat, Sayyidat el-Qamar, and Narinjah). She has also authored academic works. Her work has been translated into English, Serbian, Korean, Italian, and German and published in Banipal magazine. She was also one of eight participants in the 2011 IPAF Nadwa (writers' workshop). al-Harthi won the Sultan Qaboos Award for Culture, Arts, and Literature, for her novel Narinjah (Bitter Orange) in 2016. Sayyidat el-Qamar was shortlisted for Zayed Award 2011 and has been translated into English by Marilyn Booth. It was published in the UK by Sandstone Press in June 2018 under the title Celestial Bodies and won the Man Booker International Prize 2019.

This post is a part of #blogchatterA2Z2023 and Blogchatter.

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