You had well over a hundred books to choose from. Why did Tomb of Sand win – and what’s unique about it?
Frank Wynne: While any of the shortlisted books would have been a worthy winner, we were won over by the joyous polyphony of Tomb of Sand, which explores crucial issues of grief, identity and belonging with wit and humour, while being powerfully human. I have read nothing like it, this year or any year. It is profoundly intimate, yet has an epic sweep; it is tender, funny and yet profound. It is a major addition not simply to the literature of India and of partition, but speaks to readers around the world about loss and love, exile and homecoming, the borders that constrain us – personal, political and geographic – and how they can be overcome.
Viv Groskop: The International Booker Prize is a special prize because it represents the best of fiction translated into English. But although the entries need to be published during a one-year period in order to be eligible for consideration, unlike almost any other prize these are books that could have been written at any time previously – they’re not necessarily contemporary, they could have taken years to get an English language deal or to have been translated. So it’s not a prize that reflects recent trends in literature or publishing, it reflects excellence and longevity. Many of these are already books that have stood the test of time. Of all the books [the judges read], Tomb of Sand was really the title that stood out as the most striking and memorable. It’s a classic example of family storytelling and it’s a brilliant exploration of identity. But at the same time it’s genre-defying and has a very unique energy.
Jeremy Tiang: Of all the books we read and re-read, this was the one that most lingered in the mind, and offered up something new each time I went back to it. No book translated from any South Asian language has ever been longlisted for the [International] Booker, making Tomb of Sand’s accomplishment all the more unique.
The English version of the book is almost 800 pages long. Is it as forbidding as it looks?
Frank Wynne: It’s not remotely forbidding – it rattles along and is filled with incident, with luminous imagery and fully realised characters, with digressions about life, language, literature and the stories that we tell ourselves and others. Many of the chapters are brief – sometimes a paragraph, or a single sentence, even a two-word telegram.
Viv Groskop: No. It’s a very visual, colourful story told with a lot of humour. And, to be blunt, the type-setting of the English language version is generous: there’s a lot of blank space to give the text room to breathe. Tomb of Sand has the emotional and historical weight of War and Peace but it won’t strain your eyesight in quite the same way.
Jeremy Tiang: Not at all. It’s a brisk read, and by the end I definitely felt it had earned its length.