An extraordinary novel from a Man Booker International Prize-winning author that follows one young Omani woman as she builds a life for herself in Britain and reflects on the relationships that have made her from a “remarkable” writer who has “constructed her own novelistic form” (James Wood, The New Yorker).
Zuhur, an Omani student at a British university, is caught between the past and the present. As she attempts to form friendships and assimilate in Britain, she can’t help but ruminate on the relationships that have been central to her life. Most prominent is her strong emotional bond with Bint Amir, a woman she always thought of as her grandmother, who passed away just after Zuhur left the Arabian Peninsula.
As the historical narrative of Bint Amir’s challenged circumstances unfurls in captivating fragments, so too does Zuhur’s isolated and unfulfilled present, one narrative segueing into another as time slips, and dreams mingle with memories.
The eagerly awaited new novel by the winner of the Man Booker International Prize, Bitter Orange Tree is a profound exploration of social status, wealth, desire, and female agency. It presents a mosaic portrait of one young woman’s attempt to understand the roots she has grown from, and to envisage an adulthood in which her own power and happiness might find the freedom necessary to bear fruit and flourish.
Jokha Alharthi is the author of ten works, including three collections of short fiction, two children’s books, and three novels in Arabic. Fluent in English, she completed a PhD in Classical Arabic Poetry in Edinburgh, and teaches at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat. Celestial Bodies was shortlisted for the Sahikh Zayed Award for Young Writers and her 2016 novel Narinjah won the Sultan Qaboos Award for culture, art and literature. Her short stories have been published in English, German, Italian, Korean and Serbian.
Publisher: Scribner UK (May 26, 2022)
Length: 160 pages
Raves and Reviews
"Imaginative . . . a bittersweet, non-linear exploration of social status and a young woman’s agency."
– Angela Haupt, A Time Best Book of the Month
"Evocative . . . In Alharthi’s world, it’s not only the future that holds promise; the past has possibility and opportunities for revision, too."
– Joumana Khatib, The New York Times Book Review
"From the first Omani woman to have a novel translated into English, this remarkable novel centers the evolution of one woman’s agency, power and relationships."
– Karla Strand, Ms
"Alharthi probes family relationships and picks at the frayed edges where the heart and society want different things . . . [She] deftly describes the frustration of being between two cultures."
– Catherine Bolgar, Hadara Magazine
"In a global literary landscape that has long centered on male authors working in English, Alharthi and Booth’s work with contemporary Arabophone literature feels daring and exciting."
– Anna Learn, Electric Literature
"In probing history, challenging social status, questioning familial bonds and debts, Alharthi’s multilayered pages beautifully, achingly unveil the haunting aloneness of women’s experiences."
"A gorgeous and insightful story of longing . . . The bittersweet narrative, intuitively translated by Booth, is chock-full of indelible images . . . This solidifies Alharthi’s well-earned literary reputation."
– Publishers Weekly
"Alharthi, winner of the Man Booker International Prize for Celestial Bodies (2019), uses a dreamlike, nonlinear structure to show how the complications faced by a young Omani woman studying abroad merge with her remorse-filled memories of her very traditional surrogate grandmother."
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