‘A Tale That Tells Itself’: Reactions to Geetanjali Shree’s Novel 'Tomb of Sand'

Indian Author Geetanjali Shree, on 26 May, became the first Indian writer to win the International Booker Prize.
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Delhi-based author Geetanjali Shree on Thursday, 26 May, became the first Indian writer to win the International Booker Prize.

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(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/The Booker Prizes)

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Delhi-based author Geetanjali Shree on Thursday, 26 May, became the first Indian writer to win the International Booker Prize.</p></div>

“Anything worth doing transcends borders,” writes Indian author Geetanjali Shree in her Booker Prize winning novel Ret Samadhi.

Delhi-based Geetanjali Shree on Thursday, 26 May, became the first Indian writer to win the International Booker Prize. Her novel Ret Samadhi, translated into English as Tomb of Sand by Daisy Rockwell, is the first Hindi-language book to be shortlisted for the prestigious award.

The Booker Prize website hails the novel as an "urgent and timely protest against the destructive impact of borders and boundaries – whether between religions, countries or genders."

Set in northern India, Tomb of Sand chronicles the journey of an 80-year-old woman, who after her husband’s death, slips into depression. During the course of the novel, the woman decides to visit Pakistan to confront the past that she left behind during the Partition.

Here's how several authors and critics have welcomed the 'ground-breaking' book.

Novel 'Requests Patience'

Calling Shree’s work a “loose-limbed, free-floating, breezy sari-sprawl of a novel,” Indian author Nikhil Govind told The Wire,

“Shree’s work captures these swirls of voices and shifts of tone that the reader interprets at her own peril – there is no straightforward linearity of narration nor a careful delineation of family position, powers, events. Rather, there is just the flux of family as it tangles or ruptures or multiplies amorphously. For those who may feel disoriented at the lack of a clear plot in the novel, one requests patience.”

Shree manages to capture love, loss, and bereavement with both distance and intimacy, empathy and a (rightfully) cultivated alienation, he says.

“Tomb of Sand captures this whirling beat of life as it equivocates between death and exuberance. Notwithstanding the ephemera the work so appealingly captures, the novel itself promises to endure,” said Govind.

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Hoping To Be Tolerant of the ‘Other'

Meanwhile, Delhi-based queer writer and journalist Saurabh Sharma told FirstPost that Tomb of Sand is a tale ‘which tells itself.’

Calling the fiction novel ‘groundbreaking,’ Sharma says,

“Tomb of Sand is that attempt at folding, to make people look inwards: to re-examine this ‘age of excess’, to be tolerant to the ‘other’, to be respectful of one’s choices, and, above all, to have faith in literature, for stories — even the most traumatic ones like Partition — exist someplace where the borders of consciousness get blurred, where the magic happens and one can approach reality anew.”

While Sharma called the tale "part wholesome and part unbearable," Mini Kapoor writes in a review for The Hindu,

“While it may often appear that Shree is playing with words for the sake of word play, and that her digressions are asides, in the end nothing turns out to be self-indulgent or extraneous.”

Frank Wynne, the chair of the judges for this year’s prize, said in an online news conference that the book “overwhelmingly” beat the five other shortlisted novels and deserved the win.

Some of the other shortlisted novels included Nobel Prize-winning Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob and Japanese author Mieko Kawakami’s Heaven.

He further said that Tomb of Sand is an “extraordinarily exuberant and incredibly playful book,” even though it deals with such topics of grief, loss and India’s partition from Pakistan.

Congratulatory messages poured in on social media for Shree and authors expressed happiness on her big win.

Literary translator Arunava Sinha congratulated the author and tweeted, "Yessss! Translator Daisy Rockwell and author Geetanjali Shree win the International Booker for 'Tomb of Sand' ('Ret Samadhi' in the original). A first win for a Hindi novel, an Indian novel, a south Asian novel. Congratulations!"

Meanwhile, the official Twitter handle of Sahitya Akademi wrote that the prestigious award is a big boost for literary translations in India.

The organisation tweeted, "Hearty congratulations to Geetanjali Shree ji and Daisy Rockwell for winning the International Booker Prize 2022. This is a big boost to the literary translations in India and 'Tomb of Sand' showcases the depth and richness of literature in various languages of India."

(With inputs from The Tribune, The Wire, and The Hindu.)

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