As you may have picked up while perusing yesterday’s announcement of our Shadow Panel winner, if we compare the mood with this time last year, I’m certainly far happier with what’s been going on with the International Booker Prize, even if some shortlisters are more equal than others. Yes, there are books I’d like to see win, and books that I’d rather didn’t get the nod, but overall, my feeling as I made my way to bed last night was one of confidence that I’d wake up in the morning to a winner I could get behind. So, when I managed to make my way to my computer this morning, rubbing my bleary eyes, which book were people lauding over in my corner of the Internet?
THE WINNER OF THE 2022 INTERNATIONAL BOOKER PRIZE IS:
Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand
(translated by Daisy Rockwell, published by Tilted Axis Press)
Congratulations from the whole Shadow Panel – truly a worthy winner!
For the first time in a while, I’m genuinely happy about the book that the judges decided on, one that fits the bill of both one of the better books on the year’s longlist, and of a work that will benefit from the publicity winning the IBP brings. Tomb of Sand was the last of the thirteen longlisters I read, yet having been encouraged by all the rave reviews from my fellow Shadow Judges, after the first section I was wondering what all the fuss was about. The book was very slow to get going, and the main objective of this first part seemed to be to prevent the story from progressing. However, it does gradually move forward, culminating in an excellent final part where we see where we were heading right from the start, and on finishing the book, I thought I might just have read the winner – and I was right.
What makes the book stand out is the writing, with many readers enthralled by the descriptive nature of Shree’s work, as well as the many tangents and asides. There was a deliberate decision to preserve the hybrid nature of the original text by adding sprinklings of Hindi and Urdu to the English, and even if it would have been tempting to smooth out some of these obstacles for an Anglophone audience, Rockwell and Tilted Axis can be commended for resisting that urge. In doing so, they’ve taken Shree’s work and brought it into English masterfully, creating something very different, and most enjoyable.
Of course, this idea of ‘different and enjoyable’ could be applied to the work of Tilted Axis in general. The press was founded by translator Deborah Smith with a firm mission to do things differently, and it’s actually surprising that none of their books had made it onto the longlist before (personally speaking, I’m still rather annoyed that Yū Miri’s Tokyo Ueno Station, translated by Morgan Giles, was overlooked…). While their catalogue takes readers all over Asia, India is a popular vicarious destination, and there have been translations not only from Hindi (or ‘Indian’, as one mainstream report put it today…), but also from Kannada, Telugu and Tamil. When you consider that the very first Tilted Axis offering was Panty by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, translated by Arunava Sinha, you can see that Shree’s win wasn’t a random, overnight success, but the culmination of years of hard work.
Speaking of hard work, it wouldn’t be fair to move on without sparing a thought for this year’s judges. It’s fair to say that last year’s longlist was a bit of a disappointment, the work of a group with an agenda that backfired. This year saw a return to the Booker slogan of ‘the finest in fiction’, and that’s exactly what we got. In addition, the panel was determined to spread the literary wealth, hoping to move away from a Eurocentric focus, and the result showed just how much quality writing there is out there waiting to be discovered, if readers (and publishers…) are willing to take the plunge.
Our thanks, then go out to the official judges, people we Shadow Judges have at times in the past seen as misguided rivals – this year, by contrast, we’ve appreciated (most of!) the books they chose for us. In a sign that we were in good hands, the chair, Frank Wynne, announced the winner last night just days after his own success with Alice Zeniter’s The Art of Losing in the Dublin Literary Award. Congratulations to Frank, and to Merve Emre, Petina Gappah, Jeremy Tiang and Viv Groskop on all they’ve done this year. I’ve already seen many people online asking if the current judges can stay and do it all again next year, which is surely the highest praise you can get…
So, that’s a wrap for our Shadow Panel for 2022! I’ve enjoyed our online discussions (including a Zoom meeting), and it seems strange that it’s all over for another year. Speaking of 2023, it’s rather early to make any concrete plans, but there are a few changes I’d like to introduce next time around to make the most of the two months of reading and reviewing. What might that involve? Well, that’s a story for another day, but I hope you’ve enjoyed all our posts and will be ready to join us next year – see you then 🙂