Tomb of Sand, written by Geetanjali Shree and translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell, was announced as the winner of the 2022 International Booker Prize last week (26 May). Tomb of Sand is the first book in any Indian language to win the prize, and the first novel translated from Hindi to be recognised by the award.
The £50,000 prize will be split between Geetanjali Shree and Daisy Rockwell, giving the author and translator equal recognition. The winner was announced by chair of the judges, Frank Wynne, this evening, at a ceremony at One Marylebone in London. Originally published in Hindi in 2018, Tomb of Sand was awarded one of English PEN’s coveted translation awards, which encourages UK publishers to acquire more books from other languages by helping them to meet the costs of translating new works into English. It was published in English by Tilted Axis Press in August 2021.
The author of three novels and several story collections, Geetanjali Shree has been translated into English, French, German, Serbian, and Korean. She was born in Mainpuri, India, in 1957. 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.
On winning the prize, Shree said. “Ever since the book got longlisted much has been written about Hindi making it for the first time. It feels good to be the means of that happening but it also obliges me to emphasise that behind me and this book lies a rich and flourishing literary tradition in Hindi and in other South Asian languages. World literature will be the richer for knowing some of the finest writers in these languages.”
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.
Tomb of Sand is set in northern India, and follows an 80-year-old 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.
Tomb of Sand was chosen from a shortlist of six books during a lengthy and rigorous judging process, by a panel of five judges, chaired by translator, Frank Wynne. The panel also included 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 is the first time a translator ha