Samadhi, a word that denotes a meditative calm greets like a namaste on the first page.
And then, cacophony! An onslaught of sounds, smells, colors, and wordplay! You are planted right smack at the center of a palpable, household chaos — the matriarch sinks into depression, the matriarch disappears! Bickering. Finger-pointing. A familial upheaval. What samadhi?!
But cacophony, if we listen closely and do not shut it out immediately, can turn into polyphony; and we chase after as many melodic lines that make themselves heard to us. Although sometimes, as in the case of the old woman, just one particular melody line, the one that meant most to her in her last days, the one that muffled all others, the one she pursued as the path to her own personal samadhi.
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Tomb of Sand, winner of the 2022 International Booker Prize; written by Geetanjali Shree and translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell is the culmination of Women in Translation Month that came to me by chance, but just in time.
If not for a dear friend who mailed me her copy for infinite adoption after reading and reviewing it insightfully, then I would not have rushed into acquiring one.
Tomb of Sand turned out to embody in its polyphony the leitmotifs explored in my significant picks for #WiTMonth:
Egyptian Nawal el Saadawi’s The Fall of the Imam and Moroccan Leila Slimani’s Sex and Lies on gender and the freedoms or, to be more accurate, non-freedoms that come along with it.
Georgian Nino Haratischwili’s The Eighth Life on the topic of how we are all reflections of our own time but inheritors of intergenerational memory. In Shree’s words, “I feel as though a bullet was fired in some other century but didn’t stay in that century. It keeps hitting the people who came later…”
Hungarian Magda Szabo’s Iza’s Ballad on the relationship of mother and daughter and the collision of old and new.
Palestinian Adania Shibli’s Minor Detail on the painful subject of encroached boundaries and artificially imposed borders; reminding me that there were two massive Partitions in world history that transpired in 1947, and that both involved religious segregation. “Divisions. A jubilee of hatred. The joy of rifts.”
But Tomb of Sand’s old woman, whose life and interfaith romance was a victim of the Partition, has this powerful thing to say about how borders should be: “Do you know what a border is? What is a border? It’s something that surrounds an existence, it is a person’s perimeter…. However a border is not created to be removed. It is meant to illuminate both sides…. A border does not enclose, it opens out… Where two sides meet and both flourish.
Every part of the body has a border. So does the heart. A border surrounds it but it also binds it to other parts. It doesn’t wrench the heart from the rest. Fools! If you cut a border through the heart, you don’t call it a border, you call it a wound…
Asses! A border stops nothing. It is a bridge between two connected parts…
A border is a horizon. Where two worlds meet. And embrace.
A border is love. Love does not create a jail… A border is a line of meeting… It is a confluence…
A border, gentlemen, is for crossing.
The border exists to connect, one to another. If there’s one, there’s another. Through love.
If you hate, the blood that flows through arteries to deliver strength from here to there will flow out and away; each side will die bit by bit. What fool would want this?
But this is what you fools want. You’ve made the border a sort of hatred. Not an exquisite border enhancing beauty on both sides, but one that kills them both, a murderous beast cutting the artery. Ignoramuses!
…borders running with blood can have only one consequence. The blood will burst their borders and seep away, all the limbs will dry up and stiffen, but everyone will keep chanting Allahu Akbar and Hare Rama Hare Krishna.
Though it marches to its own rhythm, the literary symmetries it shares with the works of other women authors across borders only pronounce the universality of this novel.
It is life, crossing the boundary to literature.
Thank you, Gabi, for passing on the tears and the lessons along with a pretty bookmark!
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It is my first time to observe Women in Translation Month since its birth in 2014. I’ve never felt the need to participate because of a consistent presence of translated works by women in my literary diet. But now that I’m back to maintaining a book blog, I feel this is the time that observing #WiTMonth will make a difference.
Meytal Radzinski started this tradition after a critical assessment of the publishing world led to the discovery that only thirty percent of translated literature were works by women authors.
So here I am, along with those celebrating, reminding the publishing community that there is an overwhelming readership eager to tip the scales.
Freya Stark once wrote, “No medium has yet been devised for the translation of life into language.”
Most of this month’s selections come rather close.
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Minor Detail – Adania Shibli (Palestine) | Translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette
Life with Picasso – Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake (France)
The Fall of the Imam – Nawal El Saadawi (Egypt) | Translated from the Arabic by Sherif Hetata
Fire in the Blood – Irene Nemirovsky (Ukraine under the Russian Empire) | Translated from the French by Sandra Smith
The Mirador – Élisabeth Gille (France) | Translated from the French by Marina Harss
Embroideries – Marjane Satrapi (Iran) | Translated from the French by Anjali Singh
Sex and Lies – Leila Slimani (Morocco) | Translated from the French by Sophie Lewis
Love – Hanne Ørstavik (Norway) |Translated from the Norwegian by Martin Aiken
Celestial Bodies – Jokha Alharthi (Oman) | Translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth
Iza’s Ballad – Magda Szabó (Hungary) | Translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes
The Eighth Life – Nino Haratischvili (Georgia) | Translated from the German by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin
Sculptor’s Daughter – Tove Jansson (Finland) | Translated from the Swedish by Kingsley Hart
Tomb of Sand – Geetanjali Shree (India) | Translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell