LONDON (AP) — Indian writer Geetanjali Shree and American translator Daisy Rockwell won the International Booker Prize on Thursday for “Tomb of Sand,” a vibrant novel about an 80-year-old heroine who crosses borders.
Originally written in Hindi, it is the first book in any Indian language to win the prestigious award, which recognizes fiction from around the world that has been translated into English. The 50,000 pound ($63,000) prize will be split between New Delhi-based Shree and Rockwell, who lives in Vermont.
Translator Frank Wynne, who chaired the judging panel, said the judges “overwhelmingly” chose “Tomb of Sand” after “a very heated debate”.
The book tells the story of an octogenarian widow who dares to reject convention and confront the ghosts of her experiences during the subcontinent’s tumultuous partition in 1947 between India and Pakistan.
Wynne said that despite dealing with traumatic events, “it’s an extraordinarily exuberant and incredibly playful book”.
“He manages to take issues of great gravity – grief, loss, death – and conjure up an extraordinary chorus, almost a cacophony, of voices,” he said.
“It’s extraordinarily fun and it’s extraordinarily funny.”
Shree’s book beat out five other finalists, including Polish Nobel laureate in literature Olga Tokarczuk, Argentina’s Claudia Piñeiro and South Korean author Bora Chung, to receive the award at a ceremony in London.
The International Booker Prize is awarded annually to a work of translated fiction published in the UK or Ireland. It is organized alongside the Booker Prize for fiction in English.
The award was created to raise the profile of fiction in other languages – which accounts for only a small proportion of books published in Britain – and to salute the often unrecognized work of literary translators.
Wynne said the award was meant to show that “translated literature is not some form of cod liver oil that’s supposed to be good for you.”
“Tomb of Sand” is published in Great Britain by the small publisher Tilted Axis Press. It was founded by translator Deborah Smith – who won the 2016 International Booker Prize for translating Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian” – to publish Asian books.
The novel has yet to be published in the United States, but Wynne said he expects that to change with “a flurry of offers” after his Booker victory.
In Britain, “I’d be stunned if he didn’t increase sales by more than 1,000% next week,” Wynne said. “Maybe more.”
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