Celestial Bodies, by Jokha Alharthi
Translator: Marilyn Booth
Published by Sandstone Press, 21st June 2018
Genres: Historical fiction, literary fiction
Source: Purchased (second-hand)
Three sisters, Mayya, Asma and Khawla live in the small Omani village of al-Awafi. Life is harsh in this tight-knit community, ruled by powerful slave-owning Shayks and centuries of tradition and superstitions. A young girl’s aspiration and purpose in life are only to get married and have children.
Mayya marries Abdallah after a heartbreak. Asma marries from a sense of duty and the desire to experience motherhood. And Khawla daringly refuses all marriage proposals, determined to wait for her beloved who has emigrated to Canada. The three young women and their families stand witnesses to the coming-of-age of Oman to its complex present.
I picked this book up as part of my 2021 Reading Women Challenge, as “a book by an Arab author in translation”. As it won the Man Booker International Prize in 2019, I was expecting great things. But unfortunately, it just didn’t do it for me, and I didn’t love it. Although it is only relatively short, it took me quite a long time to finish, as I just wasn’t inspired to pick it up and read.
I did, however, really enjoy the multiple perspectives and the different narrators, each with their own voice. It gave the story more depth and allowed me to hear each character’s unique voice.
Before reading this book, I knew absolutely nothing about Oman, apart from the fact that is it a very desert-like country in the Middle East. It was therefore very interesting to learn about the Omani culture and history throughout. I love when a book is able to teach me new things.
That being said, this book didn’t draw me in or really retain my attention. One of my main struggles with it was the constantly shifting timelines. I found that from one chapter to the next, without any indication, the timeline had changed dramatically. It made it quite difficult to keep track of the storyline and the various members of the family.
My rating: 3/5