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International Booker Prize: Who is Geetanjali Shree and what is her book ‘Tomb of Sand’ all about?

Geetanjali Shree’s ‘Tomb of Sand has become the first Hindi novel to be awarded the prestigious 2022 International Booker Prize. Originally published as ‘Ret Samadhi‘, the book has been translated into English by Daisy Rockwell.

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The book has the distinction of being the first in any Indian language to win the high-profile award that recognises and honours fiction from different parts of the world. According to reports, the hefty sum of prize money — which is $63,000 or INR 48,88,516 — will be divided between New Delhi-based Shree and Vermont-based Rockwell.

The story is essentially about an octogenarian, who slips into depression following the death of her husband, but then bounces back to challenge conventions, like striking a friendship with a transgender person, deciding to travel to Pakistan to confront the ghosts of her past — from the bloody Partition in the subcontinent in 1947 — and figuring out what it means to be a mother, woman, and a feminist.

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The book lends itself through humour, instead of the usual stoicism when dealing with heavy issues like death. It is, at the same time, relevant and urgent in the face of modern problems like national conflicts, boundaries, religion and gender.

Post her win, the author said: “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.”

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About the author

Geetanjali Shree is a Hindi novelist and short story writer, who was born in 1957. She lives in New Delhi and has written several short stories and a total of five novels thus far. She was born Geentanjali Pandey, but took her mother’s first name ‘Shree’, and made it her last name.

Her novel ‘Mai‘ (2000) was shortlisted for Crossword Book Award in 2001, and it was translated into English by Nita Kumar and published by Niyogi Books in 2017.

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Born to a civil servant father, Shree was raised in various towns of Uttar Pradesh, and it was the lack of English books options for children that made her connection with Hindi language strong. Her first story was ‘Bel Patra‘ (1987), which was published in the literary magazine Hans.

Ret Samadhi (2018) is her fifth and latest novel. She has also been the recipient of the Indu Sharma Katha Samman award.

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