Short Book Review: Pyre by Perumal Murugan

Pyre by Perumal MuruganSBR: My feelings for Pyre by Perumal Murugan fall somewhere in between those for One Part Woman and Poonachi by the same author. One Part Woman was a revelation, Poonachi was a bit of disappointment. Pyre was a pleasure to read, but the story doesn’t tell you anything new. It reveals the characters and the society beautifully and conveys the pathos of the situation young lovers across the caste boundaries find themselves in very well. You can feel a small, but bustling, town and an isolated village with equal ease around you. And you can identify with the couple’s optimism and despair both.

The translation is well-done and even the translator’s note is worth reading.

To read or not to read: Yes, although no need to move it to the top of your To-be-read pile.

Short Book Review: Poonachi, Or the Story of a Black Goat by Perumal Murugan

SBR: Having read and admired One Part Woman, I was looking forward to reading this “comeback” novel by Perumal Murugan. The most interesting part of Poonachi, Or the Story of a Black Goat, however, is its preface and not the actual content. The author’s frustration takes a witty turn in it when explains why he chose to write about a goat. The actual story itself seems to be concerned with too many things at once – poverty, authoritarian and paranoid regime, parental oppression, the lot of women in the society, agrarian distress, etc. A few more were left dangling some of which I could make out, others I couldn’t. The issues are all important, but they seem to be forced down the reader’s throat one after the other and I couldn’t quite connect with the story.  I am happy that the author has come back after the pathetic and dangerous controversy around One Part Woman had made him swear to never write again. But he appears to be in a hurry to write about everything to make up for the lost time.

To read or not to read: You can skip. Read One Part Woman, if you haven’t already. Perhaps other earlier books by the author would also be better picks than this one.

Tamarind Trees and Vintage Bollywood @ BYOB Party in July 2017 (Part 8)

Sudharsan got a translated book that reads more like a fable- Tale of a Tamarind Tree by Sundara Ramaswamy. The story is set in a town that resembles Madurai and talks about how a town evolves around a large tamarind tree. The author has tried to convey the oral storytelling tradition, something that is now lost as are the trees around which they were told. The tamarind tree oversees everything- the people there as they play, work and grow older; it gives fruit over which people squabble and is ultimately cut down so that a park can be built instead. If Tamil literature interests you and you want to know more about this story, this review is a good one, though there will be spoilers!

Carrying on with the theme of Indian literature, Sunny surmised that he preferred this time to dabble in a book from India, a Hindi book called Godan by Premchand. Anyone who knows Hindi is familiar with Premchand as he is still the most popular writer in this language even though his work is quite dated. The story is what can be described as Bollywoodesque and vintage 70s. The characters have no gray and are definitely good or bad. There is no middle class as such, only the zamindar, landlord, and his fiefdom. Hori Mahato is a farmer. He is married and has two daughters and a son. The story revolves around Hori’s desire to own a cow and the problems that ensue. Other works written by Premchand were mentioned including Mazdoor and Nirmala.

Many books in regional languages including those by the renowned Perumal Murugan focus on the social problems that exist in village communities. Abhaya mentioned an English book in this context called Nectar in the Sieve by Kamala Markandaya. The story is based on a child bride who must deal with the travesties of drought and monsoon, the realities of any agrarian tragedy. Abhaya also mentioned Neem Ka Ped, a long-ago Indian television drama-series written by famous writer Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza where feudal hierarchy was depicted in pre- and post independent India. Have you seen it?

And with that, we come to the end of the BYOB Party in July 2017. Such a long list of book recommendations! What are you reading?