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'Tomb of Sand' makes it to International Booker shortlist

Geetanjali Shree's ‘Ret Samadhi’, translated by Daisy Rockwell as 'Tomb of Sand', becomes the first Hindi novel on the International Booker shortlist

Author Geetanjali Shree
Author Geetanjali Shree (Wikimedia Commons)

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Author Geetanjali Shree’s novel ‘Tomb of Sand’ on Thursday became the first Hindi language work of fiction to be shortlisted for the International Booker Prize.

Shree’s book, translated into English by Daisy Rockwell and described by the judges as “loud and irresistible novel”, will compete with five other titles from around the world for the prestigious 50,000 pounds literary prize, which is split evenly between the author and translator.

“It is recognition of a very special kind. When a work appeals to unknown people sitting in faraway places, then it must have the ability to transcend its specific cultural context and touch the universal and the human,” Shree said in a statement.

“That is true ratification. The work must be good, the translation must be excellent! It is a great moment for Daisy and me. Shows how rich our dialogue has been. That is what translation is about," she said.

The other five titles in the shortlist announced at the London Book Fair include: ‘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.

“Translation is an intimate, intricate dance that crosses borders, cultures and languages. There is little to compare to the awe and exhilaration of discovering a perfect pairing of writer and translator,” said Frank Wynne, chair of the judges and the first translator to lead the Booker judging panel.

The front cover of Tomb of Sand, the English translation of Ret Samadhi, by Geetanjali Shree
The front cover of Tomb of Sand, the English translation of Ret Samadhi, by Geetanjali Shree

“As a jury we have had the pleasure of reading many extraordinary books, and choosing a shortlist from among them has been difficult and sometimes heart-breaking. These six titles from six languages explore the borders and boundaries of human experience, whether haunting and surreal, poignant and tender, or exuberant and capricious.

"In their differences, they offer glimpses of literature from around the world, but they all share a fierce and breath-taking originality that is a testament to the endless inventiveness of fiction,” he said.

For the first time in 2022, the shortlisted authors and translators will each receive 2,500 pounds, increased from 1,000 pounds in previous years – bringing the total value of the prize to 80,000 pounds.

“The constantly shifting perspectives and timeframes of Geetanjali Shree's inventive, energetic ‘Tomb of Sand’ lead us into every cranny of an 80-year-old woman's life and surprising past,” the judges said of Geetanjali Shree's Hindi novel.

“Daisy Rockwell's spirited translation rises admirably to the complexity of the text, which is full of word play and verve. A loud and irresistible novel,” they said.

Mainpuri, Uttar Pradesh-born Shree is an author of three novels and several story collections, with her work translated into English, French, German, Serbian, and Korean.

The 64-year-old New Delhi-based author has received and been shortlisted for a number of awards and fellowships. ‘Tomb of Raid’ is one of her first books to be published in the UK. Her translator, Daisy Rockwell, is a painter, writer and translator living in Vermont, US, who has translated a number of classic works of Hindi and Urdu literature.

The story of the novel is set in northern India as an 80-year-old woman slips into a deep depression at the death of her husband, then resurfaces to gain a new lease on life. To her family’s consternation, she insists on travelling to Pakistan, simultaneously confronting the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of Partition, and re-evaluating what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a woman, a feminist.

“Rather than respond to tragedy with seriousness, Geetanjali Shree's playful tone and exuberant wordplay results in a book that is engaging, funny, and utterly original, at the same time as being an urgent and timely protest against the destructive impact of borders and boundaries, whether between religions, countries, or genders,” the International Booker Prize judges note.

The judging panel is made up of Wynne (chair); 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. This year the judges considered 135 books, with a record number of submissions received.

Complementing the Booker Prize for Fiction, the international prize is awarded every year for a single book that is translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland. The winner for 2022 will be announced at a ceremony in London on May 26.

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