WINNER OF THE 2022 INTERNATIONAL BOOKER PRIZE
A playful, feminist, and utterly original epic set in contemporary northern India, about a family and the inimitable octogenarian matriarch at its heart.
“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 . . .”
Eighty-year-old Ma slips into a deep depression after the death of her husband. Despite her family’s cajoling, she refuses to leave her bed. Her responsible eldest son, Bade, and dutiful, Reebok-sporting daughter-in-law, Bahu, attend to Ma’s every need, while her favorite grandson, the cheerful and gregarious Sid, tries to lift her spirits with his guitar. But it is only after Sid’s younger brother—Serious Son, a young man pathologically incapable of laughing—brings his grandmother a sparkling golden cane covered with butterflies that things begin to change.
With a new lease on life thanks to the cane’s seemingly magical powers, Ma gets out of bed and embarks on a series of adventures that baffle even her unconventional feminist daughter, Beti. She ditches her cumbersome saris, develops a close friendship with a hijra, and sets off on a fateful journey that will turn the family’s understanding of themselves upside down.
Rich with fantastical elements, folklore, and exuberant wordplay, Geetanjali Shree’s magnificent novel explores timely and timeless topics, including Buddhism, global warming, feminism, Partition, gender binary, transcending borders, and the profound joys of life. Elegant, heartbreaking, and funny, it is a literary masterpiece that marks the American debut of an extraordinary writer.
Translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell
Author’s name pronounced: Ghee-TAHN-juh-lee Shree
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.