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Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree - Review of the International Booker Prize Winner

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Geetanjali Shree's original book in Hindi is called Ret Samadhi and the translated version by Daisy Rockwell is Tomb of Sand. The writer's style is lyrical and captures the essence of an Indian family completely and evocatively. In fact the amazing thing about the author's style is that it goes above and beyond the cast of characters, roping in inanimate objects (like the door, for instance), the natural elements, crows and invisible things like borders. The story lies not so much in the plotline of an old woman and her journey to find the house and man she has left behind as in highlighting the nuances of families, countries, borders, neighbourhoods, galis and mohallas, the environment, the smells, sounds and landscape, the past and present and everything in between (including a delightful treatise on the silk sari as narrated from the point of view of a crow!) that makes up the heart and soul of India. The writing is superb, bathed in a rhythmic cadence that is so quintessentially Indian. In that sense, the translator has done a superlative job in not just translating the words but also the "rhythms" of the prose.

Some words however are simply untranslateable -- and the title of the book is one such. Tomb of Sand which is the closest to "Ret Samadhi" actually misses the idea of a samadhi... Similarly, labeling the book as a Partition novel does not do justice to the book. Yes, in a sense it does revolve around a character whose life is forever changed by that historical event. The author also pays her tributes to the body of work of renowned writers and poets who have written about the Partition in a wonderfully evocative, imaginative and unique scene set on the Wagah border. Honestly, if there is one scene that makes the book worthy of a read it is this particular scene! But Partition at best remains a 'plot point' that emerges almost three quarters into the book and adds pace to the story. But I would still argue that while "borders" is a theme of the book, it is much much more than just another book about the India-Pakistan Partition.

The only aspect that left me a bit disappointed was the manner in which the old woman's daughter's story (Beti) is wrapped up. It is perhaps inevitable that the 'daughter' in an Indian family would get the short shrift. But still, it would be nice to get some closure. Just as Bade's (the eldest son) story gets one. All in all, it is a wonderful read. Geetanjali Shree with her lyrical prose and writing evokes a Gabriel Garcia Marquez like quality that's rooted in the Indian way of life.

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