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Oman's Jokha Alharthi wins prestigious Man Booker International prize

Alharthi is the first Arab author to win the international literature award
Alharthi won the prize for her novel Celestial Bodies, which tells the story of three sisters in Oman (AFP)

Jokha Alharthi has become the first Arab author to win the prestigious Man Booker International prize for her novel Celestial Bodies, which details her Omani homeland's post-colonial evolution.

The $64,000 prize, which was awarded by the UK-based Man Group on Tuesday, celebrates works of fiction in translation.

Jury chair Bettany Hughes said Alharthi's novel showed "delicate artistry and disturbing aspects of our shared history".

"Through the different tentacles of people's lives and loves and losses we come to learn about this society - all its degrees, from the very poorest of the slave families working there to those making money through the advent of a new wealth in Oman and Muscat," she added.

Celestial Bodies tells the story of three sisters in the Omani town of al-Awafi.

"Mayya, who marries Abdallah after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla, whose beloved emigrated to Canada," the Man Booker International committee says on its website.

The women and their families "witness Oman evolve from a traditional, slave-owning society which is slowly redefining itself after the colonial era, to the crossroads of its complex present", it says.

"Elegantly structured and taut, it tells of Oman's coming-of-age through the prism of one family's losses and loves."

Speaking to the Guardian, Alharthi, 40, said she hopes "international readers discover that Oman has an active and talented writing community who live and work for their art".

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

She will share the prize money with her translator, US academic Marilyn Booth, who teaches Arabic literature at Oxford University.

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

She obtained her doctorate in Arabic poetry at Edinburgh University and teaches at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat.