cover image Tomb of Sand

Tomb of Sand

Geetanjali Shree, trans. from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell. HarperVia, $29.99 (624p) ISBN 978-0-06-329940-5

This alluring, International Booker–winning saga from Shree (The Empty Space) employs magical realism to recount a matriarch’s rebirth in contemporary India. After Ma’s husband dies, she refuses to get out of bed, leaving her oldest son, Bade; his wife, Bahu (also known as “Mem Sahib,” which means white woman living in India); his sons Siddharth and Serious Son; and his feminist sister, Beti, to worry. After receiving a cane covered in colorful butterflies from Overseas Son, Ma holds the cane up and says, “I am the Wishing Tree. I am the Kalpataru.” From there, she gives away most of her possessions and disappears. Later, Ma returns—not to her wealthy son, Bade, but to Beti, and bonds with her old friend Rosie Bua, a hijra who understands the power of the Wishing Tree. The prominent characters’ names are honorifics (“beti” means daughter), as in the charactonyms of E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, and Ma goes on to challenge expectations of her role as a mother in her rebirth by pursuing autonomy and enlightenment. The leisurely pacing and drawn-out accounts from the various characters make for a slow burn, but Rockwell does a lovely job preserving the Hindi wordplay in Shree’s kaleidoscopic epic. This is worth signing up for the long haul. (Jan.)