Celestial bodies by Jokha Alharthi, winner of the man booker international prize 2019 tells a story that trespasses borders, it has heartbreak, loss and yearning for life, for love. It is an eye-opening tale on life in Oman during the changing times of 1960’s, on how time changes everything. Celestial Bodies is revolutionary.
The longing to know things consumes people sometimes, it consumed her as it had her grandfather, despite the many years that separated them.
Celestial Bodies “Sayyi-Dat Al Qamar’’ literal translation “Ladies of the moon” is written by the Omani writer Jokha Alharthi, it was shortlisted for the Zayed award in 2011 and won the Man Booker international prize in 2019. It was translated to the English language by Marilyn Booth in 2018. Celestial Bodies narrates the story of generations of families of shayks to slaves living in Oman during the social changes of the 1960s. In the book Al Harthi spins a revolutionary tale about a time full of chaos.
Drawing a very thin line between superstition and reality, Celestial Bodies give us an insight into the lives of Arabs living in the country during that time. The book revolves around reality just as much as it deals with the supernatural and superstitions, Alharthi throws light on topics of discrimination against women, child abuse and the dirty business of slave trade. The characters in the book are not too complicated and yet not too simple, there is not one main protagonist but every character holds its own place of importance. Throughout the book you feel this yearning for love that each character seems to hold. Each person is looking for love in their own way. The book shows how innocence is born and how it dies and it makes you ponder on the meaning of innocence in totality. Meanwhile, Alharthi also very skillfully introduces us to the beauty of arabic poetry through poets like Rumi and Mutanabbi.
Even though the book was beautiful inside out, the translation did not seem to live up to my expectations, though I seemed to enjoy the plot there were times the writing just felt bland, as if reading just words with no feelings assorted to them. Maybe it was due to this reason the book became a very slow read, so that it was at some points hard to even get through. The mention of poetry even though enjoyable was sometimes too informative than poetic. With paragraphs full of information on the poets, the book seemed to not be as enjoyable as I had thought it would be.
Yet the topics mentioned in the book and the way the writer deals with it, is a very good reason on why you should pick up the book. As it talks about topics that are relevant in some societies even today. I think the stories it presents are very relatable in the Indian context too, the depiction of women’s lives or how children are treated as an embodiment of their parents and the superstitions surrounding religions beliefs are very much similar to the cultures we have seen or still see in a lot of places. The book talks about history and how it changed and gives us a new narrative on the lives of [omani] women and how their lives had been in society. In the end, I would like to say “Celestial Bodies” is thought-provoking and revolutionary.
Aysha Kulsum is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Rutba Iqbal
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.