Tomb of Sand

Geetanjali Shree

translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell
Tilted Axis 2021
A book review by Danny Yee © 2022
It ventures much further, but Tomb of Sand begins as a kind of comedy of manners, centred on a middle-class Indian family where grandfather has just died and eighty year-old grandmother is staying in bed, turned to face the wall. Son Badi is about to retire, daughter-in-law Bahu and independent daughter Beti dance warily around each other, and one of the two grandsons has moved to Australia.

The story is told from multiple perspectives, but it is grandma who is the central figure. She goes missing for several days and when she is found she goes to stay with Beti. The mother-daughter relationship becomes strangely inverted and grandma also develops a close relationship with the hijra (transsexual) Rosie. And then she visits Pakistan, taking Beti with her, and there are flashbacks to her memories of Partition and her life as a child.

"A tale tells itself. It can be complete, but also incomplete, the way all tales are. This particular tale has a border and women who come and go as they please. Once you've got women and a border, a story can write itself."

There are political ruminations in this, on borders and identity. There are metafictional elements, with observations on its relationship to the classic novels of Partition, hints at a concealed narrator, and so forth. There are elements of magical realism, with some of the story told from the perspective of birds. And there is a general playfulness with language (and a translator's afterword discusses some of the problems this posed). But none of this dominates or obscures the basic story, which moves along at a brisk pace in chapters of just a few pages. Tomb of Sand also remains light-hearted and playful, often verging on the comic, despite its serious themes and dark elements.

January 2022

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%T Tomb of Sand
%A Shree, Geetanjali
%M Hindi
%F Rockwell, Daisy
%I Tilted Axis
%D 2021
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781911284611
%P 725pp