This is a season of tremendous book launches, and we’ve got our eyes on the most-talked-about women writers this past month. These books are not to be missed.
Jokha Alharthi (Simon & Schuster India, Rs 499)
Translated works invariably give us an unexpectedly intimate glimpse into foreign worlds – of both letters and lives – so that we not only leave with a shared sense of humanity, victory and loss, but also a sense of having tasted a new literary cuisine.
A coming-of-age story of a family in Oman, Jokha Alharthi’s Man Booker 2019 prize-winning novel Celestial Bodies narrates the destinies of three sisters whose lives take varied twists and turns. Given their constraints in having to conform to old-world suppressive traditions in a new world flush with petrol dollars, the story moves from one character to another, drawing up a riveting landscape where slavery, patriarchy and Bedouin customs cast long shadows in a country stepping up to a globalised future.
Jokha is the first Omani woman author to be translated into English and the first winner of the £50,000 award to write in Arabic. She shared the prize equally with her translator Marilyn Booth, an American academic.
Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton, Rs 699)
Those who have read Ali Smith’s earlier classic How to Be Both would have been mesmerised by her ability to weave a masterful story without familiar forms, a sense of floating through a stranger’s mind’s eye, and then being forever changed by the experience. In Spring – the third part of a quartet of novels including Autumn (2016) and Winter (2017) – the Inverness-born author is somewhat more direct in her critique of the world’s current immigration issues, the Brexit crisis, racism and discrimination against refugees, even if the narrative continues to feel other-worldly.
Through the stories of an adolescent girl with supernatural abilities, a security guard at an immigration detention centre who struggles to avoid sliding into a cesspool of cynicism and cold-heartedness, and a television director who is seeking his own path after his soulmate passes away, the author paints a dystopian picture of our real world that is increasingly unreal in its inhumanity and callousness.
First published in eShe’s June 2019 issue