Geetanjali Shree first Indian to win International Booker Prize

Shree’s novel Tomb of Sand, originally written in Hindi, is set during the subcontinent’s partition into India and Pakistan in 1947.

Author Geetanjali Shree has become the first Indian to win the International Booker Prize for her novel, Tomb of Sand, originally written in Hindi.

The book tells the story of an 80-year-old widow who dares to cast off convention and confront the ghosts of her experiences during the subcontinent’s tumultuous partition into India and Pakistan in 1947.

The novel, originally titled Ret Samadhi, was the first Hindi book to be shortlisted for the high-profile award, which recognises fiction from around the world that has been translated into English.

The 50,000-pound ($63,000) prize money will be split between New Delhi-based Shree and her American translator Daisy Rockwell.

“I never dreamt of the Booker, I never thought I could,” Shree said in an acceptance speech quoted by the Press Trust Of India.

“What a huge recognition. I am amazed, delighted, honoured and humbled.”

She added: “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.”

Author Geetanjali Shree, right, and translator Daisy Rockwell pose with the 2022 International Booker Prize author and translator awards for Tomb of Sand, in London [David Cliff/AP]

Translator Frank Wynne, who chaired the judging panel, on Thursday said the judges “overwhelmingly” chose Tomb of Sand after “a very passionate debate”.

Wynne said that despite confronting traumatic events, “it is an extraordinarily exuberant and incredibly playful book”.

“It manages to take issues of great seriousness – bereavement, loss, death – and conjure up an extraordinary choir, almost a cacophony, of voices,” he said.

“It is extraordinarily fun and it is extraordinarily funny.”

Shree’s book beat five other finalists including Polish Nobel literature laureate Olga Tokarczuk, Claudia Piñeiro of Argentina and South Korean author Bora Chung to be awarded the prize at a ceremony in London.

The International Booker Prize is awarded every year to a translated work of fiction published in the UK or Ireland. It is run alongside the Booker Prize for English-language fiction.

The prize was set up to boost the profile of fiction in other languages – which accounts for only a small share of books published in Britain – and to salute the often unacknowledged work of literary translators.

Wynne said the prize aimed to show that “literature in translation is not some form of cod liver oil that is supposed to be good for you”.

Tomb of Sand is published in Britain by small publisher Tilted Axis Press. It was founded by translator Deborah Smith – who won the 2016 International Booker for translating Han Kang’s The Vegetarian – to publish books from Asia.

The novel has not yet been published in the United States, but Wynne said he expected that to change with “a flurry of offers” after its Booker victory.

In Britain, “I would be gobsmacked if it didn’t increase its sales by more than 1,000 percent in the next week,” Wynne said. “Possibly more.”

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