[The JRB Daily] ‘A laughing elegy, that retains hope in the face of impending doom’—Geetanjali Shree and Daisy Rockwell win 2022 International Booker Prize for Tomb of Sand

Image: International Booker Prize

Tomb of Sand, written by Geetanjali Shree and translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell, has been announced as the winner of the 2022 International Booker Prize at a ceremony in London, England.

Tomb of Sand is the first book in any Indian language to win the International Booker Prize, and the first novel translated from Hindi to be recognised by the award.

The International Booker Prize, which celebrates ‘the finest translated fiction from around the world’, is awarded every year for a single book translated into English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland. It aims to encourage more publishing and reading of translated fiction and to promote the work of translators.

The £50,000 prize money (about R983,500) will be split between Shree and Rockwell, as the author and translator are given equal recognition for the prize.

‘I’m completely overwhelmed,’ Shree said. ‘This is a bolt from the blue, but what a nice one. And I’m still reeling. I never dreamt of the Booker, and never thought I could. What a huge recognition. I’m amazed, delighted, honoured and humbled.’

Shree said she felt there was a ‘melancholy satisfaction’ in the award going to her book.

Ret Samadhi, Tomb of Sand, is an elegy for the world we inhabit,’ she said. ‘A laughing elegy, that retains hope in the face of impending doom.’

She added that it ‘felt good’ to be the author of the first Hindi novel to win the award, but added: ‘It also obliges me to emphasise that 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.’

Born in Mainpuri, India, in 1957, Shree is the author of three novels and several story collections, and has been translated into English, French, German, Serbian and Korean, although Tomb of Sand is her first novel to be published in the UK.

Set in northern India, Tomb of Sand follows an eighty-year-old woman who slips into a deep depression at the death of her husband, then resurfaces to gain a new lease on life. Her determination to fly in the face of convention—including striking up a friendship with a hijra person—confuses her bohemian daughter, who is used to thinking of herself as the more ‘modern’ of the two.

Originally published in Hindi in 2018, Tomb of Sand was awarded one of English PEN’s highly regarded translation awards, which encourages UK publishers to acquire more books from other languages by helping them to meet the costs of translating new works into English. In August 2021 it was published in English by Tilted Axis Press, which was founded by Deborah Smith, winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for her translation of The Vegetarian by Korean author Han Kang.

Rockwell is a painter, writer and translator, living in Vermont, United States. She has translated a number of classic works of Hindi and Urdu literature, including Upendranath Ashk’s Falling Walls, Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas, and Khadija Mastur’s The Women’s Courtyard. Her 2019 translation of Krishna Sobti’s A Gujarat Here, a Gujarat There was awarded the Modern Language Association’s Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Translation Prize.

Judges considered 135 books for this year’s Man Booker International, with a record number of submissions received. Tomb of Sand was chosen from a shortlist of six by a panel of five judges, chaired by translator Frank Wynne. The panel also included author and academic, Merve Emre; writer and lawyer, Petina Gappah; writer, comedian and TV, radio and podcast presenter, Viv Groskop; and translator and author, Jeremy Tiang.

Wynne said:

‘This has been an exceptionally strong shortlist, and it was gradually, regretfully, that we winnowed these six down to one after a long and impassioned debate. 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. 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.’

The winner of the 2021 International Booker Prize was At Night All Blood is Black, written by David Diop and translated by Anna Moschovakis.

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