NEW DELHI: India’s literary world celebrated on Friday as Geetanjali Shree’s “Tomb of Sand” became the first book written in an Indian language to win the prestigious International Booker Prize.
The prize is awarded annually to a book that has been translated into English and published in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Shree wrote “Tomb of Sand” (Hindi title “Ret Samadhi”) in 2018. It is a family saga set in the shadow of the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, when British India was split into two independent states — India and Pakistan — triggering one of the largest migrations in history, with around 15 million people forced to swap countries in a political upheaval that cost more than a million lives.
The novel follows an 80-year-old Indian woman who travels to Pakistan following the death of her husband to confront the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of partition and, while doing so, reevaluates what it means to be a mother, daughter, and woman.
The book was translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell, who shares the prize with Shree. It was the first Hindi-language novel to secure a nomination for the prize.
In her acceptance speech in London on Thursday night, Shree said that 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 will bring a “much-needed understanding of Hindi literature, one of the great world literatures.”
She continued: “It will lead to more and more translation (of Hindi works). There are so many wonderful translations out there, but certainly many, many more need to be done, because there is 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, the Booker is the most recognized award for literature,” he said. “This is one Booker prize. It is the beginning. In the future we will see more.”
“Tomb of Sand” beat out five other shortlisted titles for the prize, including “The Books of Jacob” by Nobel Prize-winning Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk and “Heaven” by Mieko Kawakami, the Japanese author best known for “Breasts and Eggs.”