Jokha Alharti’s Celestial Bodies novel follows the turbulence of a traditional Oman transitioning into a modern day. It does this through the lives of three sisters, Mayya, Asma and Khawla, who are of “marriagable age”. The oldest sister Mayya marries Abdallah after her heart is broken by the boy she loves. Asma marries because she feels it to be her duty and obligation to do so. The youngest of the three, Khawla, is adamant in her refusal to marry as she decides to wait for the man she loves, who has emigrated to Canada.
A traditional slave-owning Omani family’s story is brought to life through the stories of the three sisters. Marriage is a common central theme running through the novel, but weaving through it all are the themes of raising girls, owning slaves, and the level of control wielded on a family by the traditional patriarch. Reminiscent of the March sisters in Little Women, the young women are depicted as the products of their upbringing and also very much a representation of their society and how it treats those it deems inferior.
The multitude of narrators in the novel can sometimes get confusing and hard to follow. Equally, there is a lack of differentiation in the voice of the different narrators. Partly, this is because the three girls have a lot in common, but the thread is harder to keep track of as the plot unravels. Regardless, this novel is interesting as a lens through which to view an important time in the transition of Omani society.