JILL LAWLESS Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — Indian writer Geetanjali Shri and American translator Daisy Rockwell won the International Booker Prize Thursday for “Sand Tomb,” a poignant romance with an 80-year-old cross-border heroine.
Originally written in Hindi, this book was the first book in any Indian language to win the prestigious award given to fiction from all over the world translated into English. The £50,000 ($63,000) prize pool will be split between Sri from New Delhi and Rockwell from Vermont.
Translator Frank Wynn, who presided over the jury, said the judges gave The Sand Tomb an “overwhelming” rating after “very passionate debate”.
The book tells the story of an octogenarian widow who dares to cast aside convention and confronts the ghosts of her experience during the subcontinent’s tumultuous 1947 partition into India and Pakistan.
Wynn said that despite the traumatic events, “this is an extraordinarily bright and incredibly playful book.”
“It manages to touch on very serious topics — bereavement, loss, death — and conjure up an extraordinary chorus, almost a cacophony of voices,” he said.
“It’s extraordinarily fun and extraordinarily funny.”
Shree’s book beat out five other finalists, including Polish Literature Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk, Argentina’s Claudia Pinheiro and South Korean writer Bora Chang, who were awarded the prize at a ceremony in London.
The International Booker Prize is awarded annually to a translated work of fiction published in the UK or Ireland. It is held in conjunction with the Booker Prize for English Language Fiction.
The award was established to raise the profile of fiction in other languages, which accounts for only a small proportion of books published in the UK, and to honor the often unrecognized work of literary translators.
Wynn said the award is intended to show that “literature in translation is not some form of fish oil that is supposed to be good for you.”
Tomb of Sand is published in the UK by Tilted Axis Press, a small publishing house. It was founded by translator Deborah Smith, who won the 2016 International Booker Prize for translating Han Kang’s Vegetarian, to publish books from Asia.
The novel has yet to be published in the United States, but Wynn said he expects that to change due to the “flurry of offers” following his Booker win.
In the UK, “I would be stunned if sales didn’t increase by more than 1,000% next week,” Wynn said. “Perhaps more.”
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