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'Tomb of Sand' becomes first Hindi novel to win International Booker Prize

  • 27 May 2022

Hailed as "extraordinarily funny" despite confronting traumatic events, the book is centred around an 80-year-old widow's experiences during the subcontinent’s 1947 partition into India and Pakistan.

'Tomb of Sand' is published in Britain by a small publisher, Tilted Axis Press, and awaits its US appearance. ( AP )

Indian writer Geetanjali Shree and American translator Daisy Rockwell have won the International Booker Prize for “Tomb of Sand”, a vibrant novel with a boundary-crossing 80-year-old heroine.

Translator Frank Wynne, who chaired the judging panel, said on Thursday that the judges “overwhelmingly” chose “Tomb of Sand” after “a very passionate debate”.

Originally written in Hindi, it’s the first book in any Indian language to win the high-profile award, which recognises fiction from around the world that has been translated into English. 

The $63,000 prize money will be split between New Delhi-based Shree and Rockwell, who lives in Vermont.

The book tells the story of an octogenarian widow, who dares to cast off convention and confront the ghosts of her experiences during the subcontinent’s tumultuous 1947 partition into India and Pakistan.

Wynne said that despite confronting traumatic events, “it is an extraordinarily exuberant and incredibly playful book”.

“It manages to take issues of great seriousness — bereavement, loss, death — and conjure up an extraordinary choir, almost a cacophony, of voices," he said.

“It is extraordinarily fun and it is extraordinarily funny.”

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International Booker Prize

Shree’s book beat five other finalists, including Polish Nobel literature laureate Olga Tokarczuk, Claudia Pineiro of Argentina and South Korean author Bora Chung, to be awarded the prize at a ceremony in London.

The International Booker Prize is awarded every year to a translated work of fiction published in the UK or Ireland. It is run alongside the Booker Prize for English-language fiction.

The prize was set up to boost the profile of fiction in other languages — which accounts for only a small share of books published in Britain — and to salute the often unacknowledged work of literary translators.

“Tomb of Sand” is published in Britain by a small publisher, Tilted Axis Press. 

It was founded by translator Deborah Smith — who won the 2016 International Booker for translating Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian” — to publish books from Asia.

The novel has not yet been published in the United States, but Wynne said he expected that to change with “a flurry of offers” after its Booker victory.

In Britain, “I would be gobsmacked if it didn’t increase its sales by more than 1,000 percent in the next week”, Wynne said. “Possibly more.”

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