You can find this and many other great reads at spl.bibliocommons.com.
Stratford Public Library
If you’re following Women in Translation month (August every year), you’ll want to be sure to read this year’s International Man Booker prize winner by Jokha Alharthi. It’s a slim book, the first by an Omani woman to be released in English. The writing is clear and straightforward in a solid translation by Marilyn Booth.
This book takes one family as its centre, tracing their lives to reveal changes in the culture, comprising chapters told from different perspectives and focusing on various characters.
You can learn about Oman and its inhabitants, and their expectations of life, from this novel but in an indirect manner. Alharthi talks about this family quite naturally, not lecturing or informing a foreign audience, but telling a story to those who already know the context.
The story focuses on three sisters, Mayya, Asma and Khawla; they each have their own dreams and goals, but aren’t quite successful at reaching them. The narrative also makes a lot of space for their father’s story, and there are many interspersed chapters told by Abdallah, the eldest daughter’s husband.
The story highlights elements of Omani life, from both male and female perspectives and also those of class. There are servants living in the household who were previously slaves, bought from Africa in previous generations. Slavery was only outlawed in Oman in 1970, and many slave families stayed on as servants in the same households. The son of this servant family is beginning to be vocal about this history, but Zafira, his mother and longtime mistress of the family patriarch, is content with how things are.
It’s a short book that has a compelling story and an unusual structure. It examines the conjunction of centuries of tradition and the arrival of new ways of doing things, and how individuals face this shifting world within the circles of their relationships. It’s an illuminating introduction to Omani literature. You can find this and many other great reads at spl.bibliocommons.com.