You might know the Booker Prize as one of the most prestigious awards in English literature, awarded to one novel each year. These days, there’s a newer International Booker Prize, which is less well-known but equally prestigious in its own right. It’s given to one novel translated into English annually, and like the Booker Prize, the book must be published in the UK or Ireland.
The reason we bring up the International Booker Prize is that a lot of firsts happened with it last week. On Thursday, it saw its first Indian recipient since its inception in 2005: Geetanjali Shree. Her book Tomb of Sand is the first originally written in an Indian language to win the prize. It’s also the first novel in Hindi to ever get nominated.
So, what’s the book about? It follows an 80-year old Indian woman who experiences depression after her husband’s death and travels to Pakistan to confront unresolved trauma from her time as a teenager during the partition of India. Intense, we know. But Shree called it “a laughing elegy that retains hope in the face of impending doom” in her acceptance speech, and it was this same quality that won the judges over. Chair of the judges Frank Wynne is on record as calling it “a novel of partition unlike any novel of partition I have ever read.”
Tomb of Sand must’ve gotten a lot of critical attention if it won such a high honor, right? Not exactly. It didn’t get reviewed by any major British newspaper, nor did it secure an offer for American publication prior to the award. But it is Shree’s first book to get published in the UK, and that was enough to qualify for the prize.
The £50,000 prize money (about $63,000) was split equally between the author and translator as per International Booker Prize tradition. Daisy Rockwell translated Tomb of Sand in all its intricacies, including perspectives of inanimate objects and Hindi wordplay.
“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 emphasize 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. The vocabulary of life will increase from such an interaction.”Excerpt from Geetanjali Shree’s acceptance speech
Interested in knowing which other books made the longlist for your own reading purposes? Check it out here!