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International Booker Prize 2022: Read this year’s crowned novel and the previous top titles

Geetanjali Shree’s ‘Tomb of Sand’ is the first novel originally written in an Indian language to win the esteemed prize

<p>The novel was praised by the panel as “playful”, “exhuberant” and “luminous”   </p>

The novel was praised by the panel as “playful”, “exhuberant” and “luminous”

Drumroll please, Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand – translated by Daisy Rockwell – has been announced as the winner of the 2022 International Booker Prize. Not only is it the first Indian novel to win the acclaimed prize, it’s also the first book translated from Hindi to be recognised by the annual awards.

Founded in 2005, the International Booker Prize celebrates a diverse range of fiction from across the globe and their translations into English. The perfect opportunity to discover books from different cultures and new perspectives, this year’s wide-ranging shortlist included stories from Korea, Norway, Japan, Poland and Spain, with the winning novel hailing from northern India.

Shree’s book tells the story of an 80-year-old woman who falls into a deep depression after the death of her husband, before emerging from this grief with a new lease for life. An original, engaging and funny read that touches on everything from bereavement and feminism, to religion, countries and borders, the judges praised the novel for its playful tone and exuberant wordplay.

Chair of the panel, Frank Wynne, lauded the winner as 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.”

Shree and Rockwell’s novel fought off fierce competition in a shortlist that was dominated by women, with five out of the six titles penned by female authors. Both this and the authority of independent publishers in the longlist and shortlist embodies an exciting time in publishing where new stories and narratives are being brought to the forefront.

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Here we take a look at the winning novel, plus the previous titles that have taken the prize.

2022 winner: Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated by Daisy Rockwell, published by Tilted Axis Press

This year’s winning novel is penned by the first Hindi writer to be shortlisted for the International Booker Prize. The story was said by panel chair Frank Wynne to be “enormously engaging, charming and light, despite the subjects it deals with,” while Daisy Rockwell’s translation was praised as “exuberant and coruscating.”

Grappling with themes of bereavement, loss and death, it tells the story of an 80-year-old woman who falls into a deep depression after the death of her husband. Flying in the face of convention, her new lease of life after tragedy explores what it means to be a mother, daughter, a woman and feminist – all while providing a unique narrative on the Partition of India.

2021 winner: ‘At Night All Blood Is Black’ by David Diop, translated by Anna Moschovakis, published by Pushkin Press

This winning novel tells the story of two Senegalese soldiers, Mademba and Alfa, as they fight for France on the Western Front during the First World War.

When Mademba is mortally wounded, a traumatised Alfa is left to cope alone in the darkness of the trenches and begins to panic amid the savagery of the violence. Diop eloquently and powerfully explores themes of conflict, grief, friendship, guilt and survival in this visceral exploration into the emotional agony of the front line.

2020 winner: 'The Discomfort of Evening' by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld translated by Michele Hutchison, published by Faber & Faber

Intensely lyrical, raw, and gritty, The Discomfort of Evening explores what life is like within a devout Christian family in the Netherlands. It’s told from the perspective of 10-year-old Jas, whose brother dies in a sudden accident after she wishes him dead instead of her pet rabbit. It’s a dark portrait of childhood and is awash with compelling imagery of a family dislocated and destroyed, not just by grief, but by a failure to acknowledge and articulate it. Rijneveld’s debut carries heavy themes with confidence through wildly pervasive prose.

2019 winner: ‘Celestial Bodies’ by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth, published by Sandstone Press

While this is the second novel written by Alharthi, it’s a first for many other literary reasons – it’s the first novel written in Arabic to win the International Booker Prize, and the first novel written by a woman from Oman to be translated into English. Celestial Bodies paints a vivid picture of the rapidly changing Omani culture – set between the 19th century slavery period to its 20th-century abolition and beyond.

Through telling the story of three sisters, Mayya, Asma, and Khawala, it exposes marriage and its miseries, passion, conflict, love, and loss. It provides a cross-generational glimpse into all degrees of society – from the poor local slave families to those making money through the advent of new wealth. Breaking free of narration that is commonly associated with Western fictional literature, it’s poetic and song-like. A cultural kaleidoscope you will devour.

2018 winner: 'Flights' by Olga Tokarczuk translated by Jennifer Croft, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions

This novel explores what it means to be a traveller, a wanderer, and a body in motion, not only through space but also time – from the 17th century through to the 19th century. Interweaving notions of the human body, life, death, motion, and migration, Flights analyses travel and human connection in a polarised world. Made up of a series of short observations sandwiched within a number of longer essays, this is a category-defying piece of work. Through its use of brilliantly imagined characters and narratives, it is a masterpiece in storytelling.

2017 winner: 'A Horse Walks Into a Bar' by David Grossman translated by Jessica Cohen, published by Vintage Publishing

Set in a Nineties comedy club in a small city in Israel, Dovaleh Greenstein, a comedian a bit past his time, is doing a stand-up night. But, it doesn’t go to plan. The audience members act as a cross-section of the country’s society (a group of off-duty soldiers, local kids, a lonely single or two, and young and old couples) and watch as the comedian falls apart on stage, crumbling before their very eyes. Over the course of his two-hour set, Dovaleh gradually unspools, releasing demon after demon. The narrative exposes his deep pain, grief, and loss, as well as an exploration into how the country has lost its ways. While a short book, it still manages to encapsulate major themes of humanity, relationships, politics, and trauma in an all-consuming way. A must-read.

2016 winner: The Vegetarian by Han Kang translated by Deborah Smith, published by Portobello Books

A taut novel that tells the story of two sisters, Yeong-hye and In-hye, and their marriages. Split into three sections, from three points of view, each acts as a novella in its own right. The first section begins with the painful conflicts between Yeong-hye and her husband as she breaks cultural norms and declares herself a vegetarian following a vicious dream that repels her from eating meat. It ends with a haunting family scene that escalates into an act of abuse that permeates the following two parts. Written in a poetic, but matter of fact way, The Vegetarian touches on shame, desire, and faltering attempts to understand one another. It is at once disturbing and beautiful.

This article was amended shortly after publication. It originally referred to Tomb of Sand being written ‘in Indian’, but it should have said ‘in any Indian language’.

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