With Jokha Alharthi’s Celestial Bodies longlisted for the Man Booker International and Rebecca Ley’s Sweet Fruit, Sour Land on the shortlist for the Kitschies Golden Tentacle, March has been a great month for us at Sandstone HQ!
When Celestial Bodies first came in for consideration, I was immediately drawn in by the story, which centres the lives of women in a world I knew nothing about. Alharthi has drawn a startling detailed depiction of Omani society, illuminating myths, legends and traditions in such a way as to give the book the mystical feel of a fable. Marylin Booth’s lyrical translation adds to this sense of heightened reality even as the story is very grounded in the real world, with interconnectedness and consequences major themes throughout the book.
Although well-published in Arabic, this is Alharthi’s first novel to be published in English. Originally published as Sayyidat al-qamar, the book gained great acclaim and awards in its native Oman. Publishing a title in translation requires a significant investment of time and resource – while we love being able to bring books like this to a new audience, it still requires a great deal of consideration. The power of this story won over the acquisition team and we were fortunate to be able to bring Jokha over to Britain to launch the book and speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The longlisting has brought additional attention to the title and we could not be more thrilled at how well it had been received! We’re crossing our fingers as the competition continues…
Last year, Rebecca Ley’s Sweet Fruit, Sour Land moved the judges of The Guardian Not the Booker Prize so greatly that they made the controversial decision to declare it the winner, overturning the public vote. The book is so strong and rich, depicting a world very close to our own but everything is worse, where the climate has collapsed, people can barely eat and the sense of loss is overwhelming – yet there is hope. There is still family, and love.
The Kitschies are presented annually for ‘the year’s most progressive, intelligent and entertaining fiction that contain elements of the speculative or fantastic’ with The Golden Tentacle the award for the best debut novel.
Debut novels often require more editing than texts from more experienced authors, but this one was beautiful and highly polished from the first draft which is a real testament to Rebecca’s writing skill. The book is so beautifully written, dealing with themes which speak to a broad readership, that on my first reading it moved me to tears.
As the editor of these titles, I am delighted with their success so far and hope that these accolades bring these amazing stories to a wider readership.
The Man Booker International shortlist and the outcome of the Kitschies will be announced in April.
-Kay Farrell, Assistant Publisher