One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan

Original title: Madhorubhagan
Translated from Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan 

(Preview post with excerpt here)

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Kali and Ponna’s efforts to conceive a child have been in vain. Hounded by the taunts and insinuations of others, all their hopes come to converge on the chariot festival in the temple of Ardhanareeswara, the half-female god. Everything hinges on the one night when rules are relaxed and consensual union between any man and woman is sanctioned. This night could end the couple’s suffering and humiliation. But it will also put their marriage to the ultimate test.

I had initially given 3/5 for this but then upon giving it further thought for the review, I have revised it to a 2/5, which in Goodreads terms is “It was ok”. That pretty much sums up my feelings about the book. And all the hype and hoopla around the book didn’t help.

Somehow I had been thinking that it was set in contemporary times – turns out it’s set in the immediate post-independence period so that was a surprise.

The positives first ….

The story is definitely unique and the author claims he has done years of research for this so credit to that.

I liked how Kali and Ponna’s relationship has been portrayed – the story starts 12 years after their marriage and in all this time they have been quite happy with each other. They don’t blame each other for not being able to conceive a child. When others insult them, they withdraw into a shell and gradually cut down on socializing but never take it out on each other.

It also highlights how society reacts, superstitiously at times even, to couples who don’t have children.

The negatives …

The writing goes from one extreme to another – one line is a lyrical description of palm and the next line is full of someone hurling abuses. The abuses made me cringe and I suspect they have actually been toned down by the translation. Of course, this is subjective – another reader may justify it as being real so it depends on you.

The blurb is pretty much the story. In an effort to make it into a full-fledged novel, the author has dragged it on and on. There are so many repetitive threads in the novel ! For instance, if you had presented 5 cases of people insulting them, wouldn’t that have been sufficient enough to drive home the point ? But no, every alternate chapter has a description of one such incident. Similarly there is the non-conformist uncle Nallupayyan who turns up every few chapters to dispense unsolicited advise. There is also a random (and unnecessary, in my opinion) story about how Kali’s great-grandfather won a competition held by a British officer. Beyond a point they get tiring.

Final thoughts …

I wouldn’t recommend it. The ending is ambiguous and the journey towards it gets boring very soon.

Have you read it yet ? What do you think ?

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