LONDON – ‘Tomb of Sand’, a novel about an 80-year-old Indian woman’s sudden decision to travel to Pakistan, was named the winner of the International Booker Prize, the prestigious prize for fiction translated into English, on Thursday.
Geetanjali Shree, the author of the book, and Daisy Rockwell, who translated the 739-page novel from the original Hindi, will split the £50,000 prize, approximately $63,000, which they received at a ceremony in London.
The novel claimed the title despite not being reviewed by a major British newspaper. It is the first in an Indian language to win the International Booker Prize, and the first in Hindi to even win a nomination.
Wynne called ‘Tomb of Sand’ an ‘extremely lavish and incredibly playful book’, even though it deals with topics such as bereavement and India’s separation from Pakistan. Set in northern India, the protagonist of the book falls into depression after her husband’s death and then travels to Pakistan to face the traumas of her teenage years. Wynne said it was “a partition novel like no partition novel I’ve ever read.”
The book has some sections told from the perspective of inanimate objects, and much of the original novel is based on Hindi wordplay. Rockwell’s work on the book showed “the little miracle of translation,” said Wynne, a phrase borrowed from Italian author Italo Calvino.
In a review for The Hindu newspaper, Mini Kapoor wrote: “While it often seems that Shree is playing with words for puns, and that her digressions are aside, in the end nothing turns out to be self-indulgent or strange.”
The International Booker Prize is awarded each year to the best book translated into English and published in Great Britain or Ireland. It’s separate from the better-known Booker Prize, awarded for novels originally written in English, but it has the same prize money and has led some authors to become stars.
Last year’s winner was ‘At Night All Blood Is Black’ by David Diop – a novel originally in French and translated by Anna Moschovakis, about a Senegalese soldier’s descent into madness as he fights for France in the trenches of the First world war.
Shree’s novel was published last August by Tilted Axis Press, a small imprint set up by translator Deborah Smith after she won the International Booker Prize in 2016 for her translation of “The Vegetarian.” It is Shree’s third novel and her first to be published in Britain, although another had been translated into English before.
At the press conference, Wynne said the recognition for “Tomb of Sand” was important given its language. Tens of thousands of books are published each year in Indian languages, including Hindi, Urdu, Bengali and Malayalam, but few are translated into English, he said.
That’s partly because some Indian authors write in English, he said, but it could also be because some readers “feel we have the Indian script we need.”
“Tomb of Sand” was yet to sign a US publishing deal, Wynne said, but he was aware talks were underway. Given the novel’s win on Thursday, he added, “I fully expect those talks to be closed tomorrow with a deluge of offers.”