Geetanjali Shree has won the International Booker Prize for the first time, making her the first Indian writer to do so.
Her work Tomb of Sand, a family drama set in the aftermath of India’s partition, follows an 80-year-old woman after her husband’s death.
It was the first Hindi-language novel to make the £50,000 shortlist.
“I never dreamt of the Booker, I never thought I could,” Ms Shree said. “What a huge recognition. I’m amazed, delighted, honoured and humbled.”
She stated it felt fantastic to be the first book in Hindi to receive the prize, according to the Press Trust of India, in her acceptance speech.
“Behind me and this book lies a rich and flourishing literary tradition in Hindi, and in other South Asian languages. World literature will be the richer for knowing some of the finest writers in these languages” she stated.
The judges were “captivated by the power, the poignancy and the playfulness” of the story, according to Frank Wynne, the chair of the panel.
“This is a luminous novel of India and partition, but one whose spellbinding brio and fierce compassion weaves youth and age, male and female, family and nation into a kaleidoscopic whole,” he said.
He went on to say that he had never read anything like it, and that its “exuberance” and “passion” make it a book “the world could do with right now.”
Shree and Daisy Rockwell, the book’s translator from the United States, will share the prize money.
Every year, the International Booker Prize is given to a book that has been translated into English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland.
Shree’s 725-page novel was up against Mieko Kawakami, Bora Chung, Jon Fosse, Claudia Pineiro, and past winner Olga Tokarczuk, who were all shortlisted.
Shree, 64, was born in the Uttar Pradesh city of Mainpuri and is the author of three novels and several short story collections. Tomb of Sand is her first novel to be published in the United Kingdom.
It was first published in Hindi in 2018 under the title Ret Samadhi, and it follows Ma’s transformation after her husband’s death. She then decides to fly to Pakistan, where she will confront trauma she has carried with her since she was a girl who lived through the partition.
“Once you’ve got women and a border, a story can write itself. Even women on their own are enough. Women are stories in themselves, full of stirrings and whisperings that float on the wind, that bend with each blade of grass” In the first few pages of the novel, Shree writes.
Shree said, the work offers universal human stories, regardless of their cultural context.
“There are many stories that came together in the book… but it’s also the story of an old woman who gradually rose up from her deathbed to reinvent her life,” she explained.
Tomb of Sand has gained acclaim in Shree’s native India. The Hindu newspaper described the novel as “The novel is a stunningly powerful story about stories that never end.”
“All of human history, literature, art, thought, politics have been at the service of this tale that’s telling itself – and while it may often appear that Ms 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.”
Because of Shree’s “experimental nature” of Shree’s writing and “her unique use of language,” Rockwell stated Tomb of Sand was one of the most difficult pieces she had ever translated. She did, however, say that the experience was “a lot of fun” and “liberating.”