Cover Daisy Rockwell and Geetanjali Shree

Geetanjali Shree's breathtaking Hindi novel makes history as the first book written in any Indian language to be recognised by the International Booker Prize

The International Booker Prize celebrates novels or anthologies from around the world and their translations. It provides an equal playing field for books written in different languages to thrive and highlights the often overlooked work of translators in making these stories accessible to readers around the globe. Winners are presented with £50,000 (approximately RM276,000) prize money divided equally between author and translator. 

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On May 26, the winner of the 2022 International Booker Prize was announced at One Marylebone in London by Frank Wynne, the chair of this year's panel of esteemed judges. Tatler's predictions came true as the award went to Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated by Daisy Rockwell.

Rockwell manages to navigate the nuances of multiple dialects and languages, from Hindi to Urdu, while capturing the playful tone that Shree portrays her protagonist, an 80-year-old widower who decides to rebel against convention by striking up a friendship with a hijra (trans) woman and traveling back to Pakistan, where she had lived during the Partition in the 1950s. 

Adding another dimension to the story is her relationship with her daughter, Beti, through which the story comes to life with meaningful evaluation of womanhood, motherhood and feminism, and a cross-generational look at the lasting human impact of British Indian rule. 

"I never dreamt of The Booker, I never knew I could," Shree said in her acceptance speech. "Tomb of Sand is an elegy for the world we inhabit, a laughing elegy 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 world no harm."

"Ever since the book was long-listed, much has been written about Hindi 'making it' for the first time. It feels good to be the means of that happening but it also obliges me to emphasise that behind me and this book lies a rich and flourishing literary tradition in Hindi and in other South Asian languages. The world of literature will be richer for knowing some of the finest writers in these languages. The vocabulary of life will increase from such an interaction." 

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Shree also took the time to show her respect for fellow nominees. "I know I'm amidst the best. It is only through a configuration of stars which so turned that a light from it caught me in its glow at the right moment." she said.

Check out the other books shortlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prizes below:

Cursed Bunny

Author: Bora Chung

Translator: Anton Hur

Original Language: Korean 

Grotesque and terrifying, Chung's collection of short stories jump seamlessly from supernatural nightmares to twisted tales involving sentient humanoids or body horror. Through her electrifying storytelling packed with surrealism, fantasy and science-fiction (which translator Hur skilfully captures), she comments on very real issues in modern society, including oppression, cruelties of the patriarchy and the failures of capitalism in practice. 

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A New Name: Septology VI-VII

Author: Jon Fosse

Translator: Damion Searls

Original Language: Norwegian 

The third and final volume of the Septologien series, A New Name continues with the 'slow prose' style, which includes minute details to create a better experience of understanding protagonist Asle, an ageing painter and widower living alone on the southwest coast of Norway, as he meets his doppelgänger, a fellow painter in nearby village, Bjørgvin. A meditation on loneliness and being alone, Fosse's hypnotic prose in this book is immersive and poses existential questions about the human condition that will stay with you long after you turn over the last page. 

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Heaven

Author: Meiko Kawakami

Translator: Samuel Bett and David Boyd

Original Language: Japanese

It is rare to see novels featuring a teenager as its main protagonist in the line-up for any literary awards, let alone the International Booker Prize. Often relegated to the disregarded category of YA fiction instead of potential books that update perceptions and push the boundaries of contemporary literature, it is a refreshing change to see Kawakami's Heaven, narrated by 14-year-old student bullied for his lazy eye, on the shortlist. Written in a style that portrays intense, almost uncomfortable, realism, this is a hard-hitting novel that tackles adolescence, power dynamics, violence and cruelty as part of a larger ongoing debate in the real world without losing the heart of the story, which is the friendship between the protagonist and his friend, Kojimo. 

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Elena Knows

Author: Claudia Piñeiro

Translator: Frances Riddle

Original Language: Spanish

The basic premise of Elena Knows is a murder mystery in which a sickly mother must uncover the truth behind her daughter's death. However, it is so much more than that. A prominent activist fighting for the pro-choice movement in Argentina, Piñeiro uses the plot—Elena's advancing Parkinson's disease—as a vehicle to explore difficult subjects surrounding bodily autonomy and disability rights, especially in the context of a religious and ableist society. 

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The Books of Jacob

Author: Olga Tokarczuk

Translator: Jennifer Croft

Original Language: Polish

The winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature and Man Booker International Prize presented yet another monumental work set in mid-18th century. At nearly 1,000 pages, Tokarczuk deploys a rich narrative about a real historical figure: Jacob Frank.

Through the eyes of his contemporaries, we follow the young Polish-Jew as he traverses a continent rife with great unrest with his disciples during the age of the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires, leaving confusion and controversy at every turn as a mysterious, messianic religious leader. 

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