Geetanjali Shree’s ‘Tomb of Sand’ becomes first Indian-language book to win International Booker Prize

Author Geetanjali Shree’s Hindi novel “Tomb of Sand” has become the first book in any Indian language to win the prestigious International Booker Prize.

At a ceremony in London on Thursday, the New Delhi-based writer said she was “completely overwhelmed” by the “thunderclap” as she accepted her award, worth £50,000 and shared with the book’s English translator, Daisy Rockwell.

‘Tomb of Sand’, originally ‘Ret Samadhi’, is set in northern India and follows an 80-year-old woman in a tale Judges Booker called a ‘joyful cacophony’ and ‘compelling romance. “.

“I never dreamed of the Booker, I never thought I could do it. What a tremendous recognition, I am amazed, thrilled, honored and humbled,” Shree said, in her acceptance speech.

“There is a melancholic satisfaction in the award given to him. ‘Ret Samadhi/Tomb of Sand’ is an elegy for the world we inhabit, an enduring energy that keeps hope alive in the face of impending doom. The Booker will surely bring it to many more people than it otherwise would have reached, that shouldn’t hurt the book,” she said.

Reflecting on becoming the first Hindi work of fiction to make the Booker Cut, the 64-year-old author said he felt good being the medium to make it happen.

“But behind me and this book lies a rich and thriving literary tradition in Hindi and other South Asian languages. World literature will be all the richer to know some of the best writers in these languages. The vocabulary of life will increase from such interaction,” she said.

Rockwell, a painter, writer and translator living in Vermont, USA, joined her on stage to receive her award for translating the novel which she described as a “love letter to the Hindi language”.

“Ultimately, we were captivated by the power, emotion and playfulness of ‘Tomb of Sand’, Geetanjali Shree’s polyphonic novel of identity and belonging, in the exuberant and catchy translation of Daisy Rockwell,” said Frank Wynne, foreman of the jury.

“This is a luminous novel about India and its score, but one whose haunting brilliance and fierce compassion weave youth and age, men and women, family and nation into a kaleidoscopic whole. “, did he declare.

The book’s 80-year-old protagonist Ma, to the dismay of her family, insists on traveling to Pakistan, simultaneously dealing with the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of Partition, and reevaluating what it means to be a mother. , a girl, a woman, feminist.

Booker’s jury was impressed that rather than responding to the tragedy in earnest, Shree’s playful tone and exuberant pun result in an “engaging, funny and utterly original” book, at the same time time that it is an urgent and timely protest against the destructive effects. the impact of boundaries and borders, whether between religions, countries or genders.

The author of three novels and several storybooks, Mainpuri-born Shree has translated her works into English, French, German, Serbian and Korean.

Originally published in Hindi in 2018, “Tomb of Sand” is the first of his books to be published in the UK in English by Tilted Axis Press in August 2021.

Shree’s novel was chosen from a shortlist of six books, the others being: “Cursed Bunny” by Bora Chung, translated by Anton Hur from Korean; ‘A New Name: Septology VI-VII’ by Jon Fosse, translated by Damion Searls from Norwegian; ‘Heaven’ by Mieko Kawakami, translated by Samuel Bett and David Boyd from Japanese; ‘Elena Knows’ by Claudia Piñeiro, translated by Frances Riddle from Spanish; and “The Books of Jacob” by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Jennifer Croft from Polish.

This year the judges reviewed 135 books and for the first time in 2022 all shortlisted authors and translators will each receive £2,500, up from £1,000 in previous years, bringing the total value of the award to £80,000.

Complementing the Booker Prize for Fiction, the international prize is awarded annually for a single book translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland.

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