Jokha Al Harthi
Jokha Al Harthi with translator Marilyn Booth after winning the Man Booker International Prize for the book ‘Celestial Bodies’ in London on Tuesday. Image Credit: AFP

Celestial Bodies

By Jokha Alharthi, Sandstone, 256 pages, £8.99

Love and loss in Oman

This is the first novel from the Gulf to be shortlisted for the Man Booker International prize. In an introductory note the translator, Marilyn Booth, sets out the book’s key themes, built around the pressures on three generations of an Omani family as a result of social change.

The narrative alternates between a third-person viewpoint and the first-person voice of Abdallah, a married businessman haunted by his father’s cruelty. The stories of many others are woven in, making the shape of the book more a tangled skein than a linear progression.

Frequent reference to the family tree that opens the book is needed, but cannot unravel all the bewildering inter-relationships. Slavery was only outlawed in Oman in 1970 and its dark complexities affect the families at the heart of the novel.