Telling illogical stories with logic makes writing challenging: Omani author Jokha Alharthi

Meraj Bhat

Jaipur, Jan 25 (PTI) For Omani author and Booker winner Jokha Alharthi, the most fascinating and challenging aspect of writing is to narrate the strange and illogical stories prevalent in societies with the logic, structure and discipline that a novel demands.

Alharthi, who is one of the speakers at the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), said she took to writing because she felt a need for it, and for that she draws inspiration from people, books and society.

'The most fascinating thing about writing is that the society is full of stories that are strange and illogical, but when you write you cannot write without logic. The novel demands a structure and discipline which is what makes writing a challenging experience,' she told PTI.

According to Alharthi, who became the first Arab woman last year to win the Booker International Prize for her novel 'Celestial Bodies', being a global writer doesn't mean having to write about the global places.

'Actually, it is the opposite. You write about what you know and a particular way of life and then there is a reaction to what to you write.

'We all share common human experiences which are universal, which is why Gabriel Garcia Marquez is celebrated world over even as he wrote about the experiences of local people and places,' the writer said.

'Celestial Bodies' is set in an Omani village and follows the stories of three sisters -- Mayya, who marries into a rich family after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries for duty; and Khawla, waiting for a man who has emigrated to Canada. It has been translated into English by author Marilyn Booth.

Talking about the Arab women, the 41-year-old writer said they were often considered as weak and suppressed, which is a 'wrong interpretation'.

Asked if the major gains in women's rights and education witnessed in Oman during the leadership of Sultan Qaboos will be reversed after his recent death, she said the people of her country would not let it happen.

Under the Sultan's rule, women saw representation in the Majlis-ash-Shura, an advisory council, universal suffrage was granted to all Omanis, women were given equal right to own land as their male counterparts, and a programme was dedicated to increase job opportunities for women in the country.

'Omani society has become strong enough and won't let the past achievements go away easily. These advancements have taken their roots. People won't let them go easily. The new leader is from the same progressive school of thought. And I'm optimistic about the future,' she said.

The author said she was proud of her Omani identity and depicts it through the characters in her books.

On her Booker win, she said it was a proud moment for the people in Oman who celebrated it by displaying her pictures at airport and in malls.

'Many people in the Gulf were happy at my win. They consider it as a turning point in Arabic literature which has a very rich and old history,' she said.

Alharthi added the people were surprised to see an Omani woman win the prestigious prize because the cities of Cairo and Beirut have for decades dominated the literary scene in the Arab world.

'There was a minuscule percentage which wasn't happy because they felt the book talked about certain things which they didn't want the outsiders to know.

'They expect their people and places to be depicted as ideal and perfect. They want their characters to be moral,' she said.

To her, 'Celestial Bodies' represented the 'soul' of Oman.

'It is fascinating to hear different interpretations of my novel from different people belonging to many different countries all around the world,' she said. PTI MRJ TRS TRS