Thursday, May 18, 2017

Review: The Palace of Assassins by Aditya Iyengar

Re-tellings of Indian myths are steadily gaining popularity in Indian writing in English. While there are plenty of people who object to the new writing on grounds of the storylines being implausible/devoid of accurate period detail/not fitting in with the accepted version(s) of the myths already in existence -- it is also true that these books are selling to another, avid market. There is an interest in grounding the myths in our times, or referencing parts of modern life or even just showing the ancient heroes as regular flawed modern heroes and anti-heroes.

The Palace of Assassins is Aditya Iyengar’s second novel based on the events of the Mahabharat. While his first book -- The Thirteenth Day -- examined the war through the eyes of Yudhishthira, this is the story of Ashwatthama the mighty soldier and son of Drona. Ashwatthama is the only survivor of the Kaurava leaders after the war, and his shameful killing of the Pandava children has condemned him to an eternal curse from Krishna. He is doomed to immortal life as a leper.

The novel starts from here, when Ashwatthama wakes up in the desert, cursed and in pain. It follows his rescue by the widow Kasturi and his attempts to come to terms with his fate. Surviving soldiers from the Kaurava army invite him to join their plot to revenge themselves on the Pandavas by massacring the Pandava lineage. The story moves fast and is fairly well plotted though some of the details can raise a reader's eyebrow. The occasional Americanism too, can jar slightly, though I admit this is a very subjective concern.

This is a quick holiday read. I read the book from start to finish over two aeroplane journeys in one day and it was gripping enough for me to go through security etc reading the book from my free hand. If you enjoy myths and fantasy (as I do), you might want to get this one.

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me for review.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: Current Show by Perumal Murugan

P. Murugan came into the national spotlight a couple of years ago when he came under attack for blasphemy for his novel Madhurobhagan. In protest, he publicly announced that he was giving up writing novels altogether. A highly decorated Tamil scholar, teacher and writer, he has written several novels as well as collections of poetry, short stories and non-fiction.

Current Show is a translation of his Tamil novel 'Nizhal Muttram' and is one of a series of translations of Murugan's work by Penguin Random House, aimed at readers who don't read Tamil. It is a powerful, gripping story of several young boys who live and work at a cinema hall in a small town in Tamil Nadu. The prose is raw, powerful and evocative. It is peppered with curt, coarse language that has one automatically translating the lines into vernacular in one's head. Sathi, the protagonist, has run away from his leper father, trying to leave the taint of untouchability and beggary behind him. He hopes to somehow make a life for himself in the alleys behind the cinema hall, selling 'colour soda' to the patrons of the theatre and doing odd jobs for people in between shows. The story is presented in a series of quick cinematic 'shots' as it were, rapidly creating a story of the days of these boys. They live in a world of filth and squalor and are exploited as cheap labour. They eat badly and escape into ganja-fuelled stupor in the evenings. And yet, despite their fights and seeming hostility towards one another, they band together as a group, reaching out for each other for solidarity during their waking hours and comfort when they sleep.

A word on the translation: The novel is translated by feminist historian and publisher V Geetha of Tara Books, who has also translated several other works by Murugan. She has deftly created a manuscript that reads fluidly in a language that it was not written in. It's not an easy job but she has done it remarkably well.

An interesting piece on Perumal Murugan's writing here at The Caravan.

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me for review.