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Celestial Bodies

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3.43  ·  Rating details ·  9,801 ratings  ·  1,824 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published October 15th 2019 by Catapult (first published 2010)
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Deborah You are not alone. It's disconcerting to end one chapter with a character's death and in the next one she's serving coffee. One is a middle-aged fathe…moreYou are not alone. It's disconcerting to end one chapter with a character's death and in the next one she's serving coffee. One is a middle-aged father in one chapter and a small child in the next. I understand what the author is trying to do, but, still, it isn't easy to read when you have to keep stopping to remember where and when you are and who's who. Also, several characters have similar names or more than one name.(less)
Rayana She was a slave bought by Abdallah's father, the merchant Sulayman. She was the father's housekeeper, lover, and foster mom to Abdallah.…moreShe was a slave bought by Abdallah's father, the merchant Sulayman. She was the father's housekeeper, lover, and foster mom to Abdallah.(less)

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Average rating 3.43  · 
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 ·  9,801 ratings  ·  1,824 reviews


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Angela M
Sep 25, 2019 rated it liked it
This is the winner of the 2019 International Man Booker Prize and that was one of the things that drew me to read this book. The other was that while I’ve heard of Oman, I didn’t know much about it, except that it was in the Middle East. I had to look at a map to see exactly where. I ended up having mixed feelings about it. A family saga in a way spreading over decades, there is a focus on three sisters and the on how they accept or don’t the marriages their family decides for them. The narrativ ...more
Hugh
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2019

I am a little unsure what to make of this one.

I knew very little of Oman and its history, so that side of it was quite interesting, and some of the stories were quite moving, but overall it seemed to lack direction, and although the component stories are all part of a wider family story stretching over several generations, the organisation seems a bit random, which made it rather confusing. The family tree at the start didn't help much - too many
...more
Paul Fulcher
Mar 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Now winner of the 2019 Man Booker International

An interesting choice by the judges, a book whose strengths lie in its deep cultural insights and clever construction.

The moon is the treasure house for what is on high and what lies below. The moon moves between high and low, between the sublime and the filth of creation. Of all the celestial bodies, the moon is closest to the matters of this lower world.

Celestial Bodies has been translated by Marilyn Booth from Sayyidat al-qamar (literal translati
...more
Jibran
Oct 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jibran by: Antonomasia
Shelves: arabic, booker-intl
Winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2019

Life appeared to her sharply divided in two parts, like night and day: what we live, and what lives inside of us.

It would not be an exaggeration to call this novel a microcosm of modern Oman. It takes a wider view of the monumental changes that have taken place at turbo speed in the Omani society during the last fifty years or so, told through the story of three or four families drawn from different social classes, who navigate the troubled waters
...more
Michael
Feb 22, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
Spanning decades, Celestial Bodies explores the hopes and frustrations of three generations of a wealthy Omani family. The book’s chapters alternate between the perspective of a husband who’s married into the family and that of an omniscient narrator who takes a kaleidoscopic look at the inner lives of the members of the household. There’s not a single narrative thread tying everything together, but Alharthi consistently contrasts characters’ differing conceptions of love, womanhood, and masculi ...more
Antonomasia
Apr 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Antonomasia by: 2019 International Booker Longlist
The beginning of Celestial Bodies is set in the 1970s but, as a cloistered young girl sews, her romantic longing expressed in tones resembling those of courtly love, it feels almost like medieval historical fiction. Oman has, over the last 40-50 years, experienced dizzyingly rapid cultural and technological change, and the novel explores this through the stories of three families linked by marriage and servitude.

Initially, I found it difficult to understand where characters were in history, so
...more
Gumble's Yard
Now deserved winner of the Man Booker International Prize.

She began to realise that there was no way she could be Khalid’s other half, once upon a time sundered but which (he assured her) he had now found. This was because Khalid, on his own, took on the likeness of a celestial sphere complete unto itself, orbiting only along its already defined path.


It is published by the Ross-shire based small publishers Sandstone press who “are an independent publisher with an international outlook, prod
...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This is the first novel by a woman in Oman to be translated into English, and it won the International Booker Prize. I learned a lot about Oman's history and traditions in the background but most of the story is about multiple generations in the village of al-Awafi.

This book kept sending me on rabbit holes to learn about Omani food so yes I did sacrifice one of my remaining cups of flour to try making khubz ragag, which doesn't work in a non-stick pan, so I ended up with flat bread. It's fine. I
...more
Tamara Agha-Jaffar
The winner of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize, Jokha Alharthi’s Celestial Bodies paints a vivid portrait of Omani society as it grapples with the cultural and social changes precipitated by its transition into a modern society. The tension between late twentieth-century values and behaviors with those of the present is played out in the lives, marriages, and relationships of three generations of an affluent Omani family. Threaded throughout the novel are details about daily life and the ...more
W
Jun 19, 2020 rated it it was ok
This is the first novel originally written in Arabic that I've read.Wouldn't have heard of it if it wasn't a Booker Prize winner.

The setting is Oman and I'm always keen to read books set in different countries and cultures.

However,the book was rather underwhelming.Not much of a plot and disparate stories.It is mostly about women's domestic lives in Oman plus a male character Abdallah.There isn't enough drama,excitement or impact.As for humour,it's entirely missing.

The most notable part was about
...more
Abbie | ab_reads
3.5 stars
Thank you so much @sandstonepress for sending me Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi in my attempt to read ALL the translated works from the Man Booker International long-list - and a huge congrats on this one being shortlisted! I enjoyed it, and I think had I read it when I was not working 13 days in a row with zero time to read I would have loved it a lot more.
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I read the first 100 pages over 4 whole days and for me, 25 pages a day is just not enough to get into the flow of a book and
...more
Barry Pierce
It usually isn't a great omen when you see that a 243-page novel begins with a family tree. Every single branch of that tree fights for your attention in this muddled but admirable novel. It takes a hugely skilled writer to try to weave the tapestry that this novel wants to be but Alharthi is not that writer. She perhaps isn't helped by Marilyn Booth's translation which often reads like a direct translation of the original Arabic and thus falls completely flat even when the story turns fantastic ...more
Roman Clodia
After a promising opening chapter, I struggled with this book. Ok, the mosaic-like structure of fragmented voices is never my favourite novelistic form but I think the breaking point for me is the amount of telling that Alharthi does: 'London wasn't blind. She did see all the signs, but she wouldn't let her mind accept them'. It just left me feeling that all the stories here are simplified as they are interpreted via the narrative voice and there's little work for the reader to do in understandi ...more
Robert
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One reason why I follow the Man Booker International is because it is a passport to different countries. In the case of Celestial Bodies, the author, and setting of the book is Oman, a country I know nothing about. I like it even more when an author goes into depth about the country’s traditions. Luckily this happens in Celestial Bodies.

The novel is a cleverly structured family saga. Within the three generations there’s lost loves, forced marriage, cheating, wayward children, disappointments, ac
...more
Kathleen
Dec 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Man Booker International Prize 2019. This is a challenging book for the reader. It is helpful to familiarize yourself with the family tree in the print editions. The main character narrates in first person, while the rest are in third person. And then there is the confusing ‘shuffled deck’ chronology.

Abdullah ibn Sulayman is the son of a prosperous Omani merchant married to a woman he loves and haunted by his father’s cruelty. His grandfather was an arms trader and his father diversified into t
...more
Eric Anderson
Jun 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I get so excited whenever I start a novel that begins with a family tree. Something about the style of a family saga really appeals to me in the way it traces how individuals function both independently and as part of a family. “Celestial Bodies” mainly focuses on the stories of three sisters in modern day Oman, but it also presents a number of perspectives of different family members and people connected to that family. Like Sara Taylor's novel “The Shore” it also moves backwards and forwards i ...more
Trudie
I postponed this review for over a week in order to mull things over with my IRL bookclub, after which it seemed wise to add an extra half star. This reinforces to me that it is often a rewarding experience to be pushed towards books that I might have skipped and that a good old chin-wag about them is endlessly helpful.

I will admit my reactions while reading Celestial Bodies were mixed. The main issue, let us call it "narrative shenanigans" is compounded by a family tree diagram that despite
...more
Katie Long
I always get excited to read an author from a part of the world that I am not so familiar with. I love reading a point of view that I’ve never seen before, so I really thought I would love this. The concept is great, but there are just too many characters and timelines here. I can see that Alharthi is intending it all to read as rich and complex, but for me it came off more muddled and confused.
Tundra
Oct 02, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3 1/2 stars. Set in Oman, through a period of tumultuous change, during the 19th and 20th century this book explores the impact of religion, slavery, gun trafficking, war, invasion and modernisation on the extended family of Abdallah.
The changes faced by each generation brings new challenges as Oman and it’s people are forced to adapt - some better than others. This family saga has two perspectives in alternating chapters and has lots of time shifts. This did make it tricky to follow and I woul
...more
Jonathan Pool
Synopsis
The translation and publication of a book centered on Oman, written by a woman, is noteworthy in its own right.
Jokha Alharthi opens the door to a patriarchal, concealed world. It’s not a full expose, but it’s fascinating. Celestial Bodies is a worthy winner of the Man Booker International Prize (2019).
The essence of the story is the change ongoing in the country of Oman and specifically the contrast between secular Muscat, a coastal enclave with its own history based around exposure to t
...more
Melanie
Edit: this is now a Man Booker International Prize winner. So chuffed for everyone involved. Especially the small publisher taking such risks with regards to translating books!

As always when reading a book for Read Around the World Bookclub, the journey is often interesting even if the destination can be a bit hit and miss. This month, we travelled to Oman with this recent release (by a small Scottish Press no less).

I knew nothing about Oman and the fact that I googled thinks like "slavery" was
...more
H.A. Leuschel
May 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully written family saga that opened my mind to Oman's history and its people that I knew very little about .... until now. ...more
Sidharth Vardhan
When it comes to diversity, International Man Booker presents nice trends - 3 of 4 winners have been from the third world and 3 have been women. That said, it ain't the most deserving one in my arrogant opinion - Annie Ernaux's 'The Years' is the best of 5 books listed in the long list this year that I have read.

The summary saying it is the story of 3 sisters might suggest it is a family story - which it is, but it manages to capture a lot of Onami life including the slave trade, politics, chang
...more
Krista
Aug 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
The moon is the treasure house for what is on high and what lies below. The moon moves between high and low, between the sublime and the filth of creation. Of all the celestial bodies, the moon is closest to the matters of this lower world. And so it is the guide to all things. Contemplate the state of the moon until you know it well. Its soundness is the strength of all things, its ruin the corruption of all things. If the moon moves closer to another celestial body then it gives more force
...more
Lynne King
Winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2019

Having lived in Saudi Arabia for sixteen years, I was looking forward to reading Jokha Alharthi's book on Oman, especially Muscat, a place I always wanted to visit but never did.

But what a disappointment reading this book! I cannot believe that the author has won the Man Booker International Prize 2019. I'm always rather nervous about translations but evidently the translator Marilyn Booth is excellent and so I should imagine she has followed the
...more
Viv JM
I never really warmed to this book. I found the constant switching between characters and time periods confusing and fragmentary, and there was no coherent story arc that I could perceive. I can appreciate that the book portrays the upheaval of rapid cultural and societal changes in the country of Oman but it just never really drew me in and I never made a connection with it.
John Anthony
May 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A mesmeric read which rather reminded me of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children in the way that it flashed back and forth, focussing on a particular character, one at a time. Confusing or mesmerising, a question of choice. I prefer the latter.

The translation is awe inspiring and I regret reading it on kindle, otherwise I’d be quoting chunks of it here.

The novel is set in Oman, a country I know little about but now want to know more..It seems to centre upon two families and their connections and relati
...more
Tommi
Apr 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mbi-2019
But the one text she had found truly memorable and compelling was the passage she had memorized without even really understanding what it meant. Something about spirits or souls that were perfectly round once upon a time but had been split apart. For as long as they were separated they would search out their other half until they found it. That is how she imagined love: a meeting of spirit-twins.

Jokha Alharthi’s Celestial Bodies, translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth, taps into the age-old
...more
Johara
Aug 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

I am actually pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed this book... very much actually. My previous attempts with Arabic literature coming from the GCC counties haven't been very successful, and I picked up this one for a number of reasons: 1) She is Omani, and I just love Oman as a country and as people. 2) She is the winner of 2019 Man Booker International Prize.. the first in the Arab world. I chose to read it in it's original form - in Arabic... And I am glad
...more
·Karen·
Daytime's for people but night-time's for the jinn.

Written at night-time, I'm sure, Alharthi's novel is full of magic.
Written in the daytime, I'm sure, it is full of people: what a wealth of people. But the jinn is at work too, conjuring life into each and every one. It's not always easy to remember the relationships between them; Cousin Marwan, for example, whose cousin was he again? Ah yes, he's that cousin of Mayya's husband that Asma was taken with. That sense of tranquil purity he radiated,
...more
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Book Cougars: * Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi 58 49 Nov 11, 2020 09:45PM  
Around the World ...: Discussion for Celestial Bodies 2 153 Aug 01, 2020 11:18AM  
No Place Like Hom...: July Discussion Pick 1 6 Jun 03, 2020 01:26PM  
Middle East/North...: Discussion of "Celestial Bodies" by Jokha Alharthi 14 56 Feb 27, 2020 01:47AM  
The Mookse and th...: 2019 MBI Winner: Celestial Bodies 48 168 Oct 28, 2019 03:09PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Author sorting issue 3 26 Mar 14, 2019 08:45AM  

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Jokha al-Harthi (Arabic: جوخة الحارثي‎; born July 1978) is an Omani writer and academic. She was educated in Oman and in the United Kingdom. She obtained her PhD in classical Arabic literature from Edinburgh University. She is currently an associate professor in the Arabic department at Sultan Qaboos University.

al-Harthi has published three collections of short stories and three novels (Manamat, S
...more

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“about spirits or souls that were perfectly round once upon a time but had been split apart. For as long as they were separated they would search out their other half until they found it. That is how she imagined love:” 7 likes
“The feet walk fast for the loving heart’s sake, but when you feel no longing, your feet drag and ache” 6 likes
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