This was the winner of the International Booker Prize for 2019. Books that are translated into English from any language are eligible. What makes this unique is that Jokha Alharthi is the first Omani, to win. I can say that the structure of this book presented some problems for me. Each chapter was told from a different character’s perspective, and although there was a family tree at the beginning of the book that helped me keep the characters straight, I still had to stop and page back through the chapter to connect who I was reading about with what had come before. None of this is a criticism of either the writing or the translation, simply my inability to quickly navigate through unfamiliar culture, and unfamiliar names and pronunciations. And yet, those are all of the things I love about reading books from other countries! This story takes place during a time of great change in Oman. Women were gaining independence and technology was changing the fabric of Omani life. There was also more western awareness, culturally. With this backdrop, three sisters, Mayya, Asma and Khawla, come of age, marry, and raise families, each one finding and expressing love on their own terms with varying degrees of success. While it was a tough read for me, it was well worth it.
Camels! They hold a special position in Omani culture and there is a camel race that takes place annually, supported by H.M. Qaboos Bin Said, the leader of the country. I’ve loved camels for most of my adult life, having ridden one on two separate occasions.
Picture from http://www.omaninfo.com
THE FOOD: Dates appear to be important in Omani cuisine. So important that a crushed date was put into a newborn’s mouth! I wanted something sweet for a dessert, so I found a couple of recipes for date balls and voila, the following recipe.
DATE NUT BALLS
Yield: 20 small balls
1 C seedless dates
¼ C almonds
¼ C cashews
⅛ C walnuts
⅛ C pistachios
⅛ C sunflower seeds
Grind all nuts separately to a powder. Place powders in a bowl. Grind half the dates to a paste and the other half to a very small dice. Place in the bowl with the nut powders and mix well. Roll the mixture into small balls. If the mixture is not sticky enough to bind, add 1 tablespoon of honey. Store in an air tight container.