book review, One part woman

Why I picked this book?

One should read anything from the stable of Perumal Murugan. I first read a book of short stories by him, and I liked it very much, then I read Poonachi, a story of black goat, and Estuary all of these were brilliant. This book is among his famous and well-respected works, so is the reason I picked it up to read. Though the prime reason is Perumal Murugan himself.


The Book

“One Part Woman” is the English translation of the Tamil novel, “Madhorubhagan” which means half male, half female God, written by Perumal Murugan and translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan. The story is about a childless couple Kali and Ponna, living in a village in Tamil Nandu, and it captures how the couple has to face the taunts of the villagers and sometimes humiliation, just because they are childless. Set up in the pre independence era, it takes you through the customs and traditions of the people and the social values they attached to various things, lack of which may make you a subject of ridicule and even outcast in the society.

Kali and Ponna are married for twelve years and are very much in love with each other. Kali lives with her mother and Poona in a village. Having a child is a matter of pride and good luck. When after a year of marriage, they did not conceive, people suggested various things to the couple and especially to Poona. They  visited many shrines, prayed to their local deity, and have followed many local medications suggested by family, relatives, and villagers, which included drinking the juice of neem leaves. When even after all this they were not able to conceive, people started gossiping about them. Some even started to say that Kali is impotent and slowly he started to withdraw from his friend circle. Their family even suggested Kali, a second marriage, but he refused.

The humiliation she had had to suffer because of this one problem were endless. She could not even go to their own fields during the sowing season for the fear that other would broach the topic. So she would lock herself inside the house.

Despite not having a child, they loved each other very much. Ponna, sometimes felt guilty that she is not able to provide a child to Kali. Having a child, especially sons were a matter of pride and status among the villagers, and childless couple were considered unlucky, who might be paying the sins of their ancestors. Perumal Murugan, the master storyteller, brings to life a village from pre-independence era, he paints the picture of the village so beautifully that you visualize it. Along with that he brings the nuances of village life, the tradition, the rituals, the beliefs and how they affect the lives of Kali and Poorna.

Kali’s and Poorna’s mothers decided that this year they will send Poorna to the chariot festival in the temple of “Madhorubhagan” on the 18th day when consensual union between any man and women is allowed, thinking that this might grant the couple a child. Will the longing for a child make them accept this offer? Will Kali agree to it? Will Poona agree to it? If they agree will everything be same again? These are some of the answers you will find once you read the book.

Story telling at its best, a fine read that takes you through all sorts of emotions as you move along the story.

About the Author

Perumal Murugan is the star of contemporary Tamil literature. An award-winning writer, poet and scholar, he has garnered both critical acclaim and commercial success for his vast array of work. Some of his novels have been translated into English to immense acclaim, including Seasons of the Palm, which was shortlisted for the Kiriyama Prize in 2005, and One Part Woman, his best-known work, which was shortlisted for the Crossword Award and won the prestigious ILF Samanvay Bhasha Samman in 2015.

About the Translator

Aniruddhan Vasudevan is a performer, writer, translator and PhD student in anthropology at the University of Texas, Austin. His much-lauded translation of Perumal Murugan’s One Part Woman has become an award-winning bestseller. He has also translated other works by Perumal Murugan to wide acclaim, including Pyre and Songs of a Coward: Poems of Exile. 

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