Indian writer Geetanjali Shree’s Ret Samadhi has become the first Indian novel written in an Indian language, to win the coveted Booker Prize. The novel was translated into English as “Tomb of Sand” by Daisy Rockwell, a translator, linguist and painter from Vermont. The work was originally written in Hindi in the year 2018. Tomb of Sand is a vibrant and picturesque novel that is rooted in the scars left by India’s partition in 1947. The central character of the novel is an eighty-year-old woman called ‘Ma’ who decides to visit Lahore, sometime after her husband’s death to confront the chilling reality of the Partition. The novel unfolds the crisis faced by the people of that time and stands as a historical artefact that traces the trauma and pain of isolation as faced by an elderly woman who has no place or person to call “home.”
Shree’s novel emerged beautifully as the winner, defeating other finalists including Polish Nobel Laureate in literature, Olga Tokarczuk, Claudia Pineiro of Argentina and Bora Chung of South Korea. The winning of a novel written originally in a different language other than English is commendable as it provides hope for other writers who write in a different language. The term “lost in translation” is a rampantly common dictum in the literary world, however, Shree’s novel proved that, sometimes, works also “gain in translation.” Getting the Booker is not just about Shree’s accomplishment as an individual, it is also the appreciation and recognition of translators and linguists who painstakingly work to keep the literary world alive and vibrant. Tomb of Sand represents a language, a culture and a particular set of people. It is subjective yet objective and the recognition it has brought to the entire world of Hindi literature in particular and Indian literature as a whole is exemplary.
In her acceptance speech, Shree joyously remarked, “I never dreamt of the Booker, I never thought I could. What a huge recognition, I’m amazed, delighted, honoured and humbled…There is a melancholy satisfaction in the award going to it. ‘Ret Samadhi/Tomb of Sand’ is an elegy for the world we inhabit, a lasting energy that retains hope in the face of impending doom. The Booker will surely take it to many more people than it would have reached otherwise, that should do the book no harm.” The novel is an engaging and interesting read that describes the destructive impact of borders that not only separate countries but also people, histories and cultures.
Frank Wynne, chair of the judges, who himself is a literary translator, appreciating the work, said, “This is a luminous novel of India and partition, but one whose spellbinding brio and fierce compassion weaves youth and age, male and female, family and nation into a kaleidoscopic whole.”
“Tomb of Sand” was published in Britain by the Tilted Axis Press Publisher. The publishing house was founded by translator Deborah Smith especially to publish books from Asia. The novel has not yet been published in the United States, but Wynne said that he expects that to change with “a flurry of offers” after its Booker victory.