Review: Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

RATING: 5/10

SYNOPSIS

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 await 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.

The first novel originally written in Arabic to ever win the Man Booker International Prize, and the first book by a female Omani author to be translated into English, Celestial Bodies marks the arrival in the United States of a major international writer.

REVIEW

To be honest, I can’t really connect with this book. At times I feel like giving up and DNF it. Luckily its only a short book and I just forced myself to finish it. Only a 5/10 star rating from me. Maybe I am not smart enough to appreciate this book.

Celestial Bodies won the Man Booker International Prize 2019. I think this is mainly because the author managed to bring out the culture, history and society of the people via the story of 3 women in Oman (an Arab country on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia). Flowing therefrom, we can see the impact of a strong patriarchal system towards the women in Oman. We also see the conflict between tradition and modernity as well as the conflict between the perspective of those in the lower social class and those in the higher social class. All these issues were embedded strongly in the plot of the story.

Coming to the plot of the story, it is rather confusing as the story was told in a “past-present” style. The relationship between the characters confuses me as well and I had to resort to the family tree provided in the first 2 pages of the book (which is also not helpful at all). The only character that is engaging to me is Abdallah (who was haunted by a childhood incident whereby his father punished him very severely). That’s all. While this book introduced me to the history and culture of Oman, it is not a pleasant reading experience. But this book may be your cup of tea if you can appreciate the literary elements of it.

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