Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree is one of six books in contention for this year’s International Booker Prize. It is the first Hindi novel to be shortlisted for the prize in its seventeen year history. Translated by Daisy Rockwell from Hindi and published by Titled Axis Press the novel was originally published as Ret Samadhi in 2018.
Set in northern India, Tomb of Sand follows the story of an 80-year-old Indian 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. To her family’s consternation, Ma insists on travelling to Pakistan, simultaneously confronting the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of Partition, and reevaluating 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 judges praised the novel, commenting: ‘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. 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.’
Author of three novels and several story collections, Geetanjali Shree was born in Mainpuri in 1957. Her work has been translated into English, French, German, Serbian, and Korean. This is the first of her books to be published in the UK. She has received and been shortlisted for a number of awards and fellowships, and lives in New Delhi.
Daisy Rockwell is a painter, writer and translator living in Vermont, US. She was born in 1969 in Massachusetts. 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.
The contribution of author and translator is given equal recognition, with the £50,000 prize split evenly between them.
The rest of the 2022 shortlist includes:
Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung, translated by Anton Hur, published by Honford Star
A New Name: Septology VI-VII by Jon Fosse, translated by Damion Searls, published Fitzcarraldo Editions
Heaven by Mieko Kawakami, translated by Samuel Bett and David Boyd, published by Pan Macmillan
Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro, translated by Frances Riddle, published by Charco Press
The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Jennifer Croft, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions
The shortlist is yet again dominated by independent publishers and features wildly original works of literature that all explore trauma, whether on an individual or societal level. The list spans six languages: Korean, Norwegian, Japanese, Spanish, Hindi and Polish, with settings ranging across Europe and Asia, from the mid-18th century to contemporary times.
Frank Wynne, chair of the judges, says: ‘Translation is an intimate, intricate dance that crosses borders, cultures and languages.’
‘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.’
The 2022 International Booker Prize winner will be announced on 26 May 2022 at a ceremony at One Marylebone in London.