My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I first heard about this book when its author declared that the writer in him is dead. The book raked up some controversy in Tamil Nadu about some of the events being derogatory to some caste-based community or whatever. Lot of noise later, Perumal Murugan comes out and says he’s done with writing. So, of course I had to read such a controversial book.
And I did.
It has been 3 days since I finished the book and I still don’t know which part was controversial. I looked that up on old news later and apparently it was the part about the ceremony that used to happen (pre-Independence, mind you!) when any consenting man and woman can end up having sex on a certain day, irrespective of their marital vows. So they can have children. You know, when there was no IVF or fertility treatments, not even proper hospitals for childbirth. I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s fiction. Who bloody cares? Well, looks like some nitwits do.
Anyway, history aside, the book was very average. Probably more poignant and real in its original Tamil, I’m assuming. In the English version, the prose is nothing to write home about. The plot is new, yes, but the build-up towards it gets very repetitive after a point. That said, I did enjoy the images the author conjured about Thiruchengode and the villages around. But that’s pretty much it. These are times when I wish I could read Tamil fluently enough (I can read, but not fluent enough to read an entire novel! More like skim through news headlines and read political posters on Chennai roads!) because I can sense the poetry the words might have had. Example, there’s a scene where Kali’s mother is lamenting about his childlessness and the English word used is ‘dirge’ – with my limited Tamil knowledge, I’m guessing the Tamil word would have been ‘oppari’. Now, dirge is the very literal translation of ‘oppari’ – what we hear in a funeral. But I feel ‘lament’ would have been a better word here, given the context. Yeah, small things like that do get lost in the translation. Pity.
Bottom line, if it weren’t for the controversy, it’s a pretty average book in its English avatar. In it’s Tamil version though – would’ve been a tad bit more enjoyable because the point of this book is the prose, not the plot (we know the plot from the blurb already!).