20 Following


An insight into village life in Oman.

Celestial Bodies - Jokha Alharthi

I loved this book! But I was, sadly, the only one in my book group who did. While I can see why others were less keen, for me, it was just so atmospheric. I should add that I was listening to the audio by Laurence Bouvard and I think this version truly enhanced the book.


It does skip in time (a lot) and this can be pretty confusing. It may have helped that I listened over a few days; I'm sure if I'd taken a break in the middle, I'd have forgotten half of the characters, of which there are many. The book version has a family tree at the beginning, I could really have done with that, but obviously this would not have been compatible with the audio format.


The narrative is basically a bird's eye view of the life of a small community in Al Alwafi, Oman. It covers three generations. The grandparents' generation own slaves and think it quite normal. Their offspring's generation is living in amongst the slaves but no longer owns them. They may work for the family, but they are technically free. By the time we get to the most recent generation, about 40 years ago, many of the slaves have moved off to seek their fortunes, in a very similar way to some of the offspring of the villagers.
Muscat, the capital of Oman, is growing and causing a 'pull' to many of the younger villagers. It offers little by today's standards, but it's considerably more than what is available back home.


Village life is a microcosm, virtually closed to non Arabic speakers, and this book was a wonderful insight into the way people lived and how they saw the world. While travelling in Oman, I have had the occasional opportunity to join with an Omani family for coffee or breakfast, and this book opened up the hidden world behind my fleeting glimpses. Already the concrete dwellings are showing signs of age, but the vacated mud brick houses are washing back into the soil and returning to the dust whence they came.


As well as an insight into village life, I learned about a war that took place in Buraimi (now just over the Omani border from Al Ain, in the UAE). And another that took place on Jebel Aktar, a mountain range currently enjoyed by hikers, climbers and holiday makers to Oman.


I highly recommend the audio version of this book for the spoken Arabic (which I would have just skimmed) and the way the narrator enhances the characters.