College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Former student shares international book prize

Novelist and PhD alumna Jokha Alharthi has won the 2019 Man Booker International Prize.

Celestial Bodies, translated by Marilyn Booth from Arabic and published by Sandstone Press, is the first novel originally written in Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize.

The £50,000 prize, which celebrates the finest works of translated fiction from around the world, is divided equally between its author and translator.

Omani novelist

Jokha Alharthi, the first female Omani novelist to be translated into English, is the first Arabic writer to win the prize.

The author was a PhD student in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. She graduated in 2011.

Jokha Alharthi has written two other novels, two collections of short fiction and a children’s book, her work has been published in English, German, Italian, Korean, and Serbian. 

Marilyn Booth is an American academic and translator who has translated many works of fiction from Arabic. A fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford, she holds the Khalid bin Abdallah Al Saud Chair for the Study of the Contemporary Arab World at the Oriental Institute.

Judging panel

Celestial Bodies tells of family connections and history in the coming-of-age account of three Omani sisters. It is set against the backdrop of an evolving Oman, which is slowly redefining itself after the colonial era, at the crossroads of its complex present.   

The winning novel was selected by a panel of judges, chaired by Bettany Hughes, award-winning historian, author and broadcaster, and made up of writer, translator and chair of English PEN Maureen Freely; philosopher Professor Angie Hobbs; novelist and satirist Elnathan John and essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra.

Readers from across the Middle East, UK, and US have praised Jokha’s clear-sighted poetry and the “poetical cunning” of her new novel. Throughout her writing, Jokha displays a curiosity and thoughtfulness about Arab women’s lives that English readers seldom can access. Those of us who worked with Jokha during her time here in 2005-10 are thrilled by her success but we are not surprised. Jokha has visited Edinburgh numerous times since she graduated with her PhD, and now we will have more reasons to celebrate her return. Needless to say, we are delighted that the UK is recognising Arabic women’s writing in this way, which will place her work into the hands of more and more readers.

Dr Adam BuddSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures 


Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Edinburgh

Man Booker International Prize

Jokha Alharthi

Celestial Bodies 

Image courtesy of Four Communications