“Subtle, lyrical and profound” were the words Bettany Hughes used to describe Jokha al-Harthi and (her translator) Marilyn Booth’s winning novel. And their Man Booker International Prize win has gone down in history in more ways than one, as this is the first time ever that an Arabic woman has won the award.
The No.1 bestseller for contemporary fiction is “a story of two families whose lives are interwoven”, al-Harthi said, and “asks questions about what family means”.
Al-Harthi and Booth explained that the novel’s overriding themes are, paradoxically, both slavery and freedom. Al-Harthi told the audience about her experience seeing bomber slaves as a child, and said the novel is based around the “complicated relationship between us [women], power and authority”.
And it’s clear al-Harthi and Booth’s relationship was pivotal to the novel’s success, as their connection was labelled by Hughes a “social dance”. Booth recalled to the audience her difficulty in finding a suitably translated title for al-Harthi’s work, which was originally named Ladies of the Moon. She told the audience, “We hope this literature will make people think and rethink”.
Picture by Chris Athanasiou
If you are interested in fiction please also see Pat Barker talks to Claire Armistead on Fictions: The Silence of the Girls at 1pm on Sunday 26 May. If you like watching Hay Festival events digitally please sign up to the Hay Player for more from the world’s greatest thinkers.