Geetanjali Shree Wins International Booker Prize For ‘Tomb of Sand’, 1st Hindi Novel To Bag Prize

‘Joyous cacophony’ and an ‘irresistible novel’ were the phrases that were used to describe Shree’s ‘Tomb of Sand’. Rightfully, Geetanjali Shree has won the International Booker Prize for ‘Tomb of Sand’, the very 1st Hindi novel to bag the prize.

Geetanjali Shree Wins International Booker Prize For Tomb of Sand 1st Hindi Novel To Bag Prize

The Hindi novel ‘Tomb of Sand,’ by author Geetanjali Shree, has become the first book in any Indian language to receive the coveted International Booker Prize, reports The Print.

The New Delhi-based author said that she was “completely overwhelmed” by the “bolt from the blue” as she collected her award, worth GBP 50,000 and split with the book’s English translator, Daisy Rockwell, during a ceremony in London on Thursday.

‘Tomb of Sand,’ originally titled ‘Ret Samadhi,’ is set in northern India and portrays an 80-year-old woman in a story described as a “joyous cacophony” and a “irresistible novel” by the Booker judges.

“I never dreamt of the Booker, I never thought I could. What a huge recognition, I’m amazed, delighted, honoured and humbled,” said Shree, in her acceptance speech.

“There is a melancholy satisfaction in the award going to it. ‘Ret Samadhi/Tomb of Sand’ is an elegy for the world we inhabit, a lasting energy that retains hope in the face of impending doom. The Booker will surely take it to many more people than it would have reached otherwise, that should do the book no harm,” she said.

The 64-year-old novelist expressed her delight at being the first piece of fiction in Hindi to enter the Booker shortlist, saying, it felt good to be the means by which that happened.

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

Rockwell, a Vermont-based painter, writer, and translator, joined her on stage to accept her award for adapting the novel she called a “love letter to the Hindi language.”

“Ultimately, we were captivated by the power, the poignancy and the playfulness of ‘Tomb of Sand’, Geetanjali Shree’s polyphonic novel of identity and belonging, in Daisy Rockwell’s exuberant, coruscating translation,” said Frank Wynne, chair of the judging panel.

“This is a luminous novel of India and partition, but one whose spellbinding brio and fierce compassion weaves youth and age, male and female, family and nation into a kaleidoscopic whole,” he said.

To her family’s dismay, the book’s 80-year-old protagonist, Ma, persists on visiting Pakistan, simultaneously confronting the unresolved anguish of her youthful Partition memories and re-evaluating what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a woman, and a feminist.

The Booker jury was taken aback by Shree’s playful tone and exuberant wordplay, which resulted in a book that is “engaging, funny, and utterly original” while also being a pressing and timely protest against the damaging effect of borders and boundaries, whether between faiths, nations, or genders.

Shree, who was born a Mainpuri, has written three novels and several short story collections, has had her work adapted into English, French, German, Serbian, and Korean.

‘Tomb of Sand,’ which was first printed in Hindi in 2018, is the first of her works to be released in English in the UK 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.

The judges evaluated 135 novels this year, and for the first time in 2022, all nominated authors and translators will get GBP 2,500, up from GBP 1,000 in prior years, raising the award total to GBP 80,000.

The international prize, which runs concurrently with the Booker Prize for Fiction, is given out every year for a single book that has been translated into English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland.

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