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Jokha Alharthi has become the first Arabic author to win the Man Booker International prize

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Jokha Alharthi on Tuesday became the first Arabic author to win the Man Booker International prize for her novel “Celestial Bodies” which reveals her Omani homeland’s post-colonial transformation.

“I am thrilled that a window has been opened to the rich Arabic culture,” Alharthi, 40, told reporters after the ceremony at the Roundhouse in London.

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Alharthi is the author of two previous collections of short fiction, a children’s book and three novels in Arabic.

She studied classical Arabic poetry at Edinburgh University and teaches at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat.

“Oman inspired me but I think international readers can relate to the human values in the book — freedom and love,” she said.

The prestigious 50,000-pound (57,000 euro, $64,000) prize, which celebrates translated fiction from around the world, is divided equally between the author and the translator.

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Alharthi’s translator was US academic Marilyn Booth, who teaches Arabic literature at Oxford University.

The judges said Celestial Bodies was “a richly imagined, engaging and poetic insight into a society in transition and into lives previously obscured”.

It is set in the village of al-Awafi in Oman where we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries Abdallah after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla, who is waiting for her beloved who has emigrated to Canada.

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AFP / Isabel INFANTES The prize is divided equally between Alharthi and her translator, US academic Marilyn Booth 

The three sisters witness Oman’s evolution from a traditional, slave-owning society.

“It touches the subject of slavery. I think literature is the best platform to have this dialogue,” Alharthi said.

The jury said: “Elegantly structured and taut, it tells of Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves”.

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The Guardian said it offers “glimpses into a culture relatively little known in the west” and The National said it signalled “the arrival of a major literary talent”, calling the book “a densely woven, deeply imagined tour de force”.

Jury chair Bettany Hughes said the novel showed “delicate artistry and disturbing aspects of our shared history”.

“The style is a metaphor for the subject, subtly resisting cliches of race, slavery and gender,” she said.

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Alharthi was up against five other shortlisted authors: France’s Annie Ernaux, Germany’s Marion Poschmann, Poland’s Olga Tokarczuk, Colombia’s Juan Gabriel Vasquez and Chile’s Alia Trabucco Zeran.

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… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

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