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Summary and book reviews of Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

Celestial Bodies

by Jokha Alharthi

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi X
Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi
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  • Paperback:
    Oct 2019, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Dean Muscat
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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Celestial Bodies is a novel that is perhaps greater than the sum of its parts. Alharthi weaves it like a tapestry—a curious patch here, a perfunctory detail there. It's when you pull out to look at the creation in its entirety that you can truly appreciate its majesty. Once you get into the rhythm of the author's see-sawing, non-chronological storytelling, you'll realize that all mysteries will be unraveled in due course, always satisfyingly and often to startling effect...continued

Full Review Members Only (646 words).

(Reviewed by Dean Muscat).

Media Reviews

New York Times
These vignettes are sharp-eyed, sharp-edged and carefully deployed in a multigenerational jigsaw that’s as evasive as it is evocative...Celestial Bodies is itself a treasure house: an intricately calibrated chaos of familial orbits and conjunctions, of the gravitational pull of secrets.

The New Yorker
Indeed, the great pleasure of reading Celestial Bodies is witnessing a novel argue, through the achieved perfection of its form, for a kind of inquiry that only the novel can really conduct...here is the novel being supremely itself, proving itself up to the job by changing not its terms of employment but the shape of the task.

The Times Literary Supplement
This is a beautiful, fascinating book, which teaches us a great deal about Oman, Arab life and aspirations, and the swiftly changing relations between men and women and between the generations. It is a worthy recipient of this year's Man Booker International Prize.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[E]xhilarating...The novel rewards readers willing to assemble the pieces of Alharthi's puzzle into a whole, and is all the more satisfying for the complexity of its tale.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A richly layered, ambitious work that teems with human struggles and contradictions, providing fascinating insight into Omani history and society.

Emily Temple, Literary Hub, One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Year
This is not only the first novel originally written in Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize, but it is also the first book by a female Omani author to be translated into English, and is thus a major, exciting literary event.

Michael Cronin, Irish Times
The novel is a beautifully achieved account of lives pulling at the edges of change. The writing is teasingly elliptical throughout and there is a kind of poetic understatement that draws the reader into the domestic settings and public tribulations of the three sisters.

Author Blurb Bettany Hughes, chair of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize
A book to win over the head and the heart in equal measure...Its delicate artistry draws us into a richly imagined community - opening out to tackle profound questions of time and mortality and disturbing aspects of our shared history.

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Beyond the Book

Zār Exorcism

Egyptian women performing Zar ceremony Throughout Celestial Bodies there are a smattering of references to zār exorcisms, but little detail is given on what these ceremonies actually are. What becomes apparent, though, is that many al-Awafi villagers look forward to these gatherings.

For one character in the book, these exorcisms become a source of entertainment which she anticipates more eagerly than a village wedding: "Those endless ceremonies intoxicated her, everything from the grilled meat and the drinking to the heavy and incessant pounding of the drums, until the ecstasy of it all lifted her outside of herself, beyond consciousness and into one sort of trance or another. In such a state she might walk across live coals or lie beneath horses' hooves or roll in ...

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