Saturday, 23 May 2015

Book Review: One-Part Woman by Perumal Murugan.

Book: One-Part Woman

Author: Perumal Murugan

Translated By: Aniruddhan Vasudevan

Pages: 240

Read On: Paperback

How Long it Took Me To Read: Over 2 days

Plot Summary: All of Kali and Ponna’s efforts to conceive a child—from prayers to penance, potions to pilgrimages—have been in vain. Despite being in a loving and sexually satisfying relationship, they are relentlessly hounded by the taunts and insinuations of the people around them. Ultimately, all their hopes and apprehensions come to converge on the chariot festival in the temple of the half-female god Ardhanareeswara and the revelry surrounding it.

 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. Acutely observed, One Part Woman lays bare with unsparing clarity a relationship caught between the dictates of social convention and the tug of personal anxieties, vividly conjuring an intimate and unsettling portrait of marriage, love and sex. 

General Thoughts: I want to read more regional fiction and when this book showed up while I was browsing on an online bookshop it was perfect! I liked the premise of it and I was excited to read a book that sounded unlike anything I'd read before. 

Things I Liked: 

1. I loved the writing. And I can only imagine how beautiful and well-written the original in Tamil must be. :) 

2. The  world building was amazing. This village, it's people and it's social milieu all came to life and felt incredibly real. 

3. The issue this book tackles is still terribly relevant and tragic. If you are childless in India, everyone and thier mother makes it a point to ask you about it and question you constantly and even make jibes about it. It's sickening but true. What Kali and Ponna go through is sadly the reality for so many couples in India. Their struggle and strife was shown so well and so sensitively in this book. 

4. I loved the relationship of Kali and Ponna. They are so in love and so happy together, their childlessness not impacting the closeness that they share. It therefore, made it even worse that this couple that were genuinely so happy together were made to feel less than perfect by the people around them. 

5. I liked how Ponna changes and becomes bitter and resentful and angry as the years go by. This character development was so real and believable. If you are constantly made to feel inadequate and lacking and not a whole woman, it is bound to affect your personality. I also liked how Ponna sometimes over-reacted and saw slights and insults where they weren't any. The constant questions on her child-bearing prowess and even her sheer womanhood will make anyone hyper-sensitive and this was shown superbly in the book. 

6. I loved, loved, loved Kali's character. He was a village man. Not very lettered but still so evolved. He didn't make life hell for Ponna and automatically blame her for their childlessness. He was understanding, kind and supportive. 

7. The book is set around 70-80 years in the past and even though the world has significantly changed in these decades but the issues in the book and people's attitude are still sadly the same and therefore this book is still very relevant.

8. There are some very infuriating bits in the book. Most of the bits that chronicle Ponna's struggles were just so sad to read about. The way a childless woman is treated is so cruel. Ponna is kept from participating in religious ceremonies. She is pitied, ridiculed and sometimes even teased about her not having a child. Horrible but very interesting reading material.

9. The Chariot Festival sounds so fascinating- a place where morals and social-norms take a break and people are allowed to sleep with anyone they want and a place where childless women hope to conceive a child with a rank stranger. 

10. The second half of this book is un-put-down-able. I just wanted to keep reading to see what happened in the end and how this tragic story played out. The ending is heart-breaking and you see it coming but it still makes an impact. 

Things I Didn't Like:

1. The time-period of this book is never clearly stated. 

2. The first half was a little bit too slow for my liking.

3. A lot of time was spent in the first half of the book on all the religious ceremonies and Pujas the couple performed hoping to conceive a child. I found these bits a little repetitive and slow. 

Rating: 4/5

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