NEW DELHI: India’s literary world on Friday celebrated the long-awaited recognition of the International Booker Prize for Geetanjali Shree’s “Tomb of Sand,” the first novel written in an Indian language to win the prestigious award.
“Tomb of Sand” (originally “Ret Samadhi”) is a family saga set in the shadow of the partition of the Indian Subcontinent in 1947. The split of British India into two independent states — India and Pakistan — triggered one of the biggest migrations in history, forcing about 15 million people to swap countries in a political upheaval that cost more than a million lives.
The novel follows an 80-year-old woman who, after the death of her husband, travels to Pakistan to confront the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of partition, and re-evaluates what it means to be a mother, daughter, and woman.
Written in 2018 and translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell, the book won the International Booker Prize on Thursday evening, becoming the first novel originally written in an Indian language to do so, and the first in Hindi to secure a nomination.
In her acceptance speech in London, Shree said behind her was 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,” she said.
Writers in India welcomed Shree’s recognition with the same hope.
“It’s an absolutely wonderful achievement,” Arundhati Roy, one of India’s most renowned writers, told Arab News.
Namita Gokhale, director of the Jaipur Literature Festival, India’s largest literary event, said the award would bring a “long-needed understanding of Hindi literature, one of the great world literatures.”
“It will lead to more and more translation,” she added. “There are so many wonderful translations out there, but certainly many, many more need to be done because there is a wonderful writing happening at all levels of contemporary Hindi literature.”
For Hindi novelist Bhagwandass Morwal, Shree’s win was a “matter of great pride.”
“After the Nobel Prize, Booker is the most recognized award for literature,” he said. “This is one Booker prize, this is the beginning. In the future we will see more.”
The International Booker Prize is awarded every year for a book that is translated into English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland.
“Tomb of Sand” competed with five other shortlisted titles, including “The Books of Jacob” by Olga Tokarczuk, the Nobel Prize-winning Polish novelist, and “Heaven” by Mieko Kawakami, the Japanese author best known for “Breasts and Eggs.”