Tomb of Sand
By Geetanjali Shree
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Written by Geetanjali Shree, translated by Daisy Rockwell
In northern India, an eighty-year-old woman slips into a deep depression at the death of her husband, then resurfaces to gain a new lease on life. Her determination to fly in the face of convention – including striking up a friendship with a hijra person – confuses her bohemian daughter, who is used to thinking of herself as the more ‘modern’ of the two.
To her family’s consternation, Ma insists on travelling to Pakistan, simultaneously confronting the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of Partition, and re-evaluating what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a woman, a feminist.
Rather than respond to tragedy with seriousness, Geetanjali Shree’s playful tone and exuberant wordplay results in a book that is engaging, funny, and utterly original, at the same time as being an urgent and timely protest against the destructive impact of borders and boundaries, whether between religions, countries, or genders.Tweet
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Well that was quite a read! Daisy Rockwell did a brilliant job translating all the word plays which make some of the longer, rambling passages more fun. There was a lot of very literary writing to get through with some really important issues discussed and at times it felt like hard work. But boy was it worth it. Once Ma makes the journey to Pakistan the book hits hard and all the earlier stuff falls into place. I felt as if I'd been punched. But the fun is still there - love that crow!
I must confess that commitment to our nascent village book club drove me to finish this book, but my reader resilience was sorely tested. I approached the hefty tome with relish as I enjoy the company of a long read; Miklos Banffy's "Transylvannian Trilogy" was a lockdown mainstay. However, Shree's 735 pages were far too overwritten for my taste. At best, the kaleidoscopic detail was a testament to the infinite range of her imaginatio·n but, too frequently, I found myself spinning in a picaresque, carnivalesque, anthropomorphic ball of psychedelic confusion!
The stream of consciousness narrative style didn't help much as the proliferation of detail, often in a breathless departure from standard punctuation, rather swamped, for me, meaningful engagement with the central character of Ma. After Joyce, I am wary of this narrative style and my misgivings were justified. I am prepared to accept that some nuance of Hindi wordplay was lost in translation but not to the extent that for much of the book, veering as it did from a Parliament of Fowls to Partition, I was quite bewildered.
Shree's brave confrontations of many current issues such as gender identity, women, globalism and borders were very promising when the reader could access them, and these were only some among many merits. I agree with my co-readers' acknowledgement of the tenderness developed in the relationship between Ma and Beti, for example. Shree also achieved a beautiful poetic level in some descriptions of the natural world: the opening of ch.20 when she took us to Khyber was very memorable. Indeed, for me, the drama of the final chapters in Afghanistan was the real success of the book.
A parting comment: the anthropomorphic door didn't work for me but I will miss the crow!
As part of the whittle reading group, I found this book a very different read for me it rambles on too slowly for me and I didn't really connect with the characters so far I have to be honest I am struggling reading this book and have not yet finished but so far not really for me
Read as part of the whittle book club. Thank you for the Opportunity to read Tomb of Sand.
Now, I admit I found myself struggling to read this book and had to keep putting it down.
The review I am giving is what I have read so far. Although some of the book flowed smoothly I found the in-depth information a lot to process and it took me off track. I liked and enjoyed the loudness and interactions between the family. The opportunity to see other peoples views and beliefs. The reservation and distance between sister and brother Beti and Bade.
How Ma felt after loosing her husband and the families worry about her.
Serious Son and Sid who I found as polar opposites were two characters I liked.
I look forward to trying to finish the book so I can see how the journey of Ma and family ends.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to read and review this book
The first thing that excited me about the book and raised my spirits is a gathering of a situation. A family. How they go and all that goes with them. Similar to tumbleweed the beautiful prose bounces and rolls along. Culturally stunning which is enhanced again and again, it led me to research in some depth, more than I would like to do due to time constraints. Expansive descriptions, the liveliness of the cane, for example, is fascinating. Characters Ma, Beti, serious son are well defined and sound. I like them. A very long book which required concentration. I found it difficult to follow and had to retrace my steps many times. However I have not read anything in this style and credit to the storyteller with an ability to share and teach.
I am part of Whittle book club and we were honoured to be chosen to review the Tomb of Sand.
I have to firstly say it's a book like no other I have read before except maybe Alice in wonderland with its twists and turns and an inside out written approach. It’s a magical mystery tour of intellect and diversity which has no limitations or traditional etiquette.
Despite being an international book it crosses all boundaries about the impact of bereavement within a context of complex family structures, albeit from a perspective of an interesting eastern culture. Although I found the book, certainly the first 2 parts of the book, a difficult and sometimes exhausting read however it's worth persevering because part 3 brought reason and understanding to what the whole book was working towards. It's a kind of relief too.
The character I admired and liked was Ma with her bravery and tenacity at a traditional written off age shows ability to learn, adapt and challenge her hidden ghosts rather than becoming stationary and old. it's an introspective journey into her true self seeking to fully know and accept herself.
Read as part of the Whittle Book Club group - we were so honoured and excited to be chosen to review the winning book no less!
This book was a challenge for me, it was very unlike any other book I've read - this is no bad thing - this book took me on a journey.
The writing style is like listening to a friend telling you their story, taking you on a journey and letting you explore their life.
It makes you think, the characters are so very quirky and interesting.
I struggled a little as it did not feel like much was happening within the book, there didn't seem to be much of a story - especially to begin with.
All in all this would be a great book for someone who wants to learn about other places & cultures, doesn't need a strong storyline and wants to be taken on a journey into someones mind.
Sadly I didn't enjoy this book at all and despite many attempts did not finish it. I found reading it was like wading through sand, the lengthy narrative overtaking the central plot line. I skimmed through huge descriptive passages in order to arrive at the parts necessary to understand the story. After a while this became laborious. Not for me, unfortunately.
TOMB OF SAND
WHITTLE BOOK CLUB – CHORLEY
I am part of Whittle Book Club in Chorley Lancashire , and we have had the absolute privilege of being chosen to review TOMB OF SAND through The Reading Agency.
This book was a challenge for me, but a good challenge as I have learned a little about the Hindi culture as I have read through it.
It is definitely not a quick read and I found myself Googling a few Hindi terms, to make sure I understood the context of what was being told. For example, it was really useful to Google what Rosie was – puts everything into context, but the more words I researched the more I lost the flow of the story.
Its clear from the beginning this story is about borders and boundaries on many levels: walls, doors, countries, class and people. There are many obvious and subtle references to borders and how they change .
Even the way the story unfolds challenges the borders and boundaries of what I am familiar with in books… it’s like trying to follow someone’s daydream , rambling thoughts and poetry; a modern fable.
The first part is treacly thick in metaphors and should be read with an open mind, not from a western perspective. Lengthy detailed descriptions and metaphors linking people and objects to nature (birds and flowers in particular) were at times, quite overbearing to me – forgot what was being described by the end of it!
I did really like the play on words: no, now, new, knew. I really liked HISTORY vs HERSTORY. The humour is there, but not it’s not in your face. It’s woven into the story
In fact, the Translator’s Note at the very end of the book was helpful and I wish I had read that first. I think it would have helped me settle into the rhythm of the book better.
My favourite character in here is Beti… She is portrayed as the outcast in the family as she breaks through cultural and family borders to grow into an independent non -conforming young lady.
Ironically, that turns completely around as she supports her mother in her final months of life .
I would recommend this book to anyone who has any level of understanding of Hindi culture and terminology.
This book for me was a heavy read but I am glad I persevered , and had the time available to do to it. I had to work at getting this read to the end , and that is not something I would normally enjoy in a book, but this has been a great education for me and a good look into another culture.
Tomb of Sand is storytelling like no other I have read. It takes time to adjust to the writing style where you are easily lost in the descriptive and colourful text, this often takes you by surprise as to how the words evoke emotion without, at first, fully understanding the reason. A haywire tale of life and death in which as the living we are part of in every way but perhaps don't fully understand unless looking retrospectively. That Shree enables the reader to do so, unknowingly, is really rather clever.