The story takes place within the sleepy village of al-Awafi in Oman, against which the lives of three sisters and their families play out, the tremulous beats of their lives playing out beneath the star-filled sky of the Omani desert. The key theme within ‘Celestial Bodies’ is one of love and loss; from familial love to romantic, love is the globe against which the lives of the other characters revolve, at times violently, at others lackadaisically or the calm epiphany of a father as he discovers the unselfish love he bears for his family, a love rooted in the every-day but no less miraculous for it;
“That’s what I as, a happy man. Simply that, a young man barely past his first twenty years, whose dreams reached no further than what he had in his hands. But he was a little afraid of what he had in his hands. The dark interior of the Mercedes, the glancing light reflected in the shiny buttons on tiny London’s clothes, the drops of water falling from Mayya’s hair at dawn, the flash of the needle in her hand as she sowed…”
Indeed Abdallah’s realisation is slightly frightening, that he holds the keys to happiness in hands and that it lies in all of the unmentionable, scare noticed things which happen in everyday life. Compare this to the long-suffering Khawla, whose love for her partner acts as a mirage, a fantasy made febrile in the imagination of Khawla as she frets on his inevitable departure for Canada and awaits his return.
Whether it be the loss of self felt by a young man under his domineering father so that he has to resort to equine drawings to regain his sense of self, or the gradual disintegration of the culture of Oman under modernisation and the gradual passing of he nomadic Bedouin life, Alharti weaves the emotional interplay of the characters with the cultural changes which is slowly taking over their lives.