Geetanjali Shree becomes first Hindi novelist to win Booker Prize
Indian novel Tomb of Sand, written by writer Geetanjali Shree and translated into English from Hindi by American Daisy Rockwell, became the first novel in any Indian language to receive the prestigious International Booker Prize. The New Delhi-based writer said she was "completely overwhelmed" after receiving the award, worth £50,000 to be shared with Rockwell, at a ceremony in London on Thursday.
- Every year, the International Booker Prize is given to a translated fictional work published in the United Kingdom or Ireland and runs concurrently with the Booker Prize for English-language fiction.
- The novel, originally written in Hindi, winning the renowned award this year is considered a significant moment for the indigenous literature market in India.
Tomb of Sand, originally titled Ret Samadhi, is set in northern India and follows an 80-year-old woman in a story described by the Booker judges as a "joyous cacophony" and "an irresistible novel." The novel is about an octogenarian widow who defies convention by confronting the specters of her life experiences during the subcontinent's turbulent partition of 1947.
Much to her family's chagrin, Ma, the book's 80-year-old protagonist, insists on traveling to Pakistan to confront the unresolved trauma of her teenage partition experiences while also evaluating the roles of a mother, daughter, woman, and feminist. Meanwhile, Rockwell, a painter, writer, and translator from Vermont, accepted her award on stage for translating the novel she called a "love letter to the Hindi language."
The judges' panel was chaired by translator Frank Wynne who said they "overwhelmingly" chose Tomb of Sand. Despite confronting traumatic events, Wynne describes the book as "extraordinarily exuberant and incredibly playful." "It manages to take issues of great seriousness, bereavement, loss, death, and conjure up an extraordinary choir, almost a cacophony, of voices... It is extraordinarily fun and it is extraordinarily funny," he said.
"I never dreamt of the Booker, I never thought I could. What a huge recognition, I am amazed, delighted, honored, and humbled," said Shree, after receiving the award. "There is a melancholy satisfaction in the award going to it. Tomb of Sand is elegy for the world we inhabit...The Booker will surely take it to many people than it would've reached otherwise," she said.
Shree, born in Mainpuri, has written three novels and several story collections and her works have been translated into English, French, German, Serbian, and Korean. Tomb of Sand was originally published in Hindi in 2018 and was translated into English in 2021. Shree and Rockwell beat five other finalists, including Polish Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk, Argentina's Claudia Pieiro, and South Korean author Bora Chung.