Translated from the original Arabic by Marilyn Booth
Zuhour, an Omani student at a British university, is caught between the past and the present. As she attempts to form friendships and assimilate in Britain, she can’t help but ruminate on the relationships that have been central to her life. Most prominent is her strong emotional bond with Bint Aamir, a woman she always thought of as her grandmother, who passed away just after Zuhour left the Arabian Peninsula. As the historical narrative of Bint Aamir’s challenged circumstances unfurls in captivating fragments, so too does Zuhour’s isolated and unfulfilled present, one narrative segueing into another as time slips, and dreams mingle with memories. The eagerly awaited new novel by the winner of the Man Booker International Prize is a profound exploration of social status, wealth, desire, and female agency. It presents a mosaic portrait of one young woman’s attempt to understand the roots she has grown from, and to envisage an adulthood in which her own power and happiness might find the freedom necessary to bear fruit and flourish.
About the Author/Translator:
Jokha Alharthi is the author of two previous collections of short fiction, a children’s book, and three novels in Arabic. Fluent in English, she completed a PhD in Classical Arabic Poetry in Edinburgh, and teaches at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat.
She has been shortlisted for the Sahikh Zayed Award for Young Writers and her short stories have been published in English, German, Italian, Korean, and Serbian. Jokha Alharthi is the first Omani woman to have a novel translated into English, and Celestial Bodies was the first book translated from Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize.
Marilyn Booth is Khalid bin Abdallah Al Saud Professor for the Study of the Contemporary Arab World, Faculty of Oriental Studies and Magdalen College, University of Oxford, and was a research fellow at l’Institut d’Etudes Avancées, Paris, February-April 2022.
She has translated eighteen published works of fiction and memoir from Arabic, including recently Hoda Barakat’s Voices of the Lost and Hassan Daoud’s No Road to Paradise. She was co-winner of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize for her translation of Jokha Alharthi’s Celestial Bodies, and her translation of Alharthi’s novel Bitter Orange Tree was published in May 2022.
Nominating Library’s Comments:
Omani-born Zuhur studies in Britain. Inspired by the lives of her fellow students, the young woman soon starts reflecting on her own roots and her family. Similar to her friends, she has to cope with the challenges of migration and her family background as well as with the daily struggles as a student.
More and more, she recollects the story of her so-called ‘grandmother’ who took care of her as child and who explained the world to her. Narrated in first person, the story unfolds vividly in prose full of pictures, stories, names and objects of a childhood and youth in the Middle East and the richness of Arabian culture.
All these narrative elements mingle with dreams of the young woman and regrets of missed chances to close up on her own self. Bitter Orange Tree is the coming-of-age of a young woman that still has yet to fully explore her own identity. – Stadtbücherei Frankfurt am Main, Germany