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‘Tomb of Sand’ becomes first Hindi novel to win Booker Prize

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Geetanjali Shree’s Ret Samadhi, translated to English by Daisy Rockwell as Tomb of Sand, is the winner of the 2022 International Booker Prize. It is the first Hindi novel, and first book originally written in an Indian language, to win the prestigious literary award.

The “extraordinarily exuberant and incredibly playful” book, according to the chair of judges Frank Wynne, is about an 80-year-old woman, Ma, who falls into a depression after her husband’s death and travels to Pakistan to face the trauma of Partition from her youth. Despite this tragic premise, however, it has been applauded by critics and readers alike for being engaging, funny and original.

“(Tomb of Sand) 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,” said Wynne, a translator himself.

In her acceptance speech, Shree said she was “delighted, honoured, and humbled” by this huge recognition.

“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.

It was also noted that tens of thousands of books are published in Indian languages every year and that this win could potentially encourage more translations from non-European languages.

“Behind me and this book lies a rich and flourishing literary tradition in Hindi, and in other South Asian languages,” she added. “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.”

The judges considered over 130 books for this year’s award. The other books in the shortlist included Heaven by Mieko Kawakami, Elena Knows by Claudia Pineiro, A New Name: Septology VI-VII by Jon Fosse, The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk and Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung.

The Booker Prize fund of around AUD $90,000 will be split equally between Shree and translator Rockwell.

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Tomb of Sand was first published in Hindi as Ret Samadhi in 2018 and Penguin India released its English translation in March 2022. This book has also been the winner of the English Pen Award.

Author of three novels and several story collections, Geetanjali Shree’s work has been translated into English, French, German, Serbian and Korean. She has received and has been shortlisted for a number of awards and fellowships, and lives in New Delhi.

Daisy Rockwell is an artist, writer and translator living in northern New England, USA. Apart from her essays on literature and art, she has written Upendranath Ashk: A Critical Biography, The Little Book of Terror and the novel Taste. Her highly acclaimed translations include, among others, Upendranath Ashk’s Falling Walls and Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas, published in Penguin Classics.

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