Geetanjali Shree’s novel is the first Hindi translated work to win Int’l Booker

When they met earlier this week in London, it was the first time writer Geetanjali Shree and translator Daisy Rockwell had interacted in person. Over the previous two years, while working on the English translation of the Hindi novel by Shree Ret Samadhi (2018, Rajkamal Prakashan), released as Tomb of Sand in 2021 (Tilted Axis Press), Covid-19 s was assured that they could not meet. They also hadn’t interacted on Zoom, the pandemic’s alternative to real-life interaction.

Like the novel they now share, their relationship unfolded slowly over time, through “hundreds of emails” and intense discussions about the translation process.

On Thursday, Tomb of Sand won the International Man Booker Prize 2022, the first book written in an Indian language to win the honor. It is also the first novel translated from Hindi to be recognized by the award.

Announcing the victory, Frank Wynne, Irish translator and chairman of the jury, said: “…We were captivated by the power, emotion and playfulness of Tomb of Sand, the polyphonic novel of identity and belonging by Geetanjali Shree, in Daisy Rockwell’s exuberant and catchy translation. . It is a luminous novel about India and the score, but one whose haunting brilliance and fierce compassion weaves youth and age, man and woman, family and nation into a kaleidoscopic whole. .

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“This (the award) is not just about me, the individual. I represent a language and a culture and this recognition expands the reach of the whole world of Hindi literature in particular and Indian literature as a whole,” said Delhi-based Shree, 64, author of three novels and several volumes of stories. She described the victory as “a clap of thunder” which left her “shaken”.

“Tomb of Sand is an elegy for the world we inhabit, a laughing elegy that keeps hope alive in the face of impending doom. The Booker will surely bring it to far more people than it otherwise would have reached. It will not should do no harm to the world,” she said during her acceptance speech in London.

The International Booker Prize, formerly known as the Man Booker International Prize, was launched in 2004 to award, every two years, a contemporary author of any nationality for a body of work published in English or available in English translation .

Since 2016, the £50,000 prize has been awarded annually to a book translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland. The prize is shared equally between the writer and the translator.

In 2021, French novelist David Diop and translator Anna Moschovakis won it for At Night All Blood is Black. In 2020, the prize went to Dutch writer Marieke Lucas Rijneveld and translator Michele Hutchison for The Discomfort of Evening.

Set in northern India, Tomb of Sand is a story that examines boundaries – between nations, religions and genders – while following the story of Ma ji, its octogenarian protagonist, whose husband’s death the encourages them to evaluate their choices.

Over time, Ma ji finds her way back to life, letting go of convention and choosing to confront the demons of her past – the trauma of the score – in a bid to assess the many roles she has played throughout. throughout her life: mother, daughter and ultimately a feminist. Reminiscent of the worlds created by Hindi novelists Krishna Sobti, Shrilal Shukla and Vinod Kumar Shukla, Shree’s book is steeped in old-world charm and an enchanting disregard for convention. The narrative voice alternates cheerfully between humans and birds, butterflies and doors. And despite the seriousness of its theme, the tone is humorous and sparkling.

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“Geetanjali Shree’s exuberant and magical novel Ret Samadhi and Daisy Rockwell’s utterly brilliant translation Tomb of Sand, which won the International Booker Prize, are well-deserved in every sense of the word. It is a tale of our time, which crosses borders and frontiers to affirm the human spirit through the unforgettable figure of Ma Ji, or Badi Ammi. It will bring the richness and nuance of contemporary Hindi literature to another wider readership. Good things are happening all around us in literature amidst all the darkness and desperation and so we all deserve congratulations on the victory of Geetanjali and Daisy Rockwell,” said novelist Namita Gokhale, one organizers of the Jaipur Literature Festival, which has had a long association with Shree.

Rockwell, based in Vermont, is a painter, writer and translator. She has translated a number of Hindi and Urdu classics such as Upendranath Ashk’s Falling Walls (2015), Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas (2016) and Khadija Mastur’s The Women’s Courtyard (2018), winning several accolades.

Her 2019 translation of Sobti’s A Gujarat Here, a Gujarat There received the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Translation Prize from the Modern Language Association. Rockwell is also the winner of the 2019 English PEN Translation Awards.

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