Book Review — Poonachi: Or the Story of a Black Goat by Perumal Murugan, N. Kalyan Raman (Translator)

Book Review — Poonachi: Or the Story of a Black Goat by Perumal Murugan, N. Kalyan Raman (Translator)

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Poonachi: Or the Story of a Black Goat — by Perumal Murugan, N. Kalyan Raman (Translator)

Publisher: Context

Pages:179

Price: Rs. 499 INR(Hardcover), Rs. 299 INR (Paperback Edition) Rs. 250 INR (kindle edition)

ISBN: 978–9386850492

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Through a seeming act of providence, an old couple receives a day-old female goat kid as a gift from the cosmos. Thus begins the story of Poonachi, the little orphan goat.

As you follow her story from forest to habitation, independence to motherhood, you recognize in its significant moments the depth and magnitude of your own fears and longings, fueled by the instinct for survival that animates all life. Masterly and nuanced, Perumal Murugan’s tale forces us reflect on our own responses to hierarchy and ownership, selflessness and appetite, love and desire, living and dying. Poonachi is the story of a goat who carries the burden of being different all her life, of a she-goat who survives against the odds. It is equally an expression of solidarity with the animal world and the female condition. The tale is also a commentary on our times, on the choices we make as a society and a nation, and the increasing vulnerability of individuals, particularly writers and artists, who resist when they are pressed to submit.

About the author

“After two years of being in exile, I feared to write about humans and it was far more difficult to write about Gods. When I started to write, I didn’t know I knew so much about a goat and it later on developed into a book.” … “I don’t know if I believe in god or not; but I question the need to worship or believe in god.” … “The goat is one animal that is close to my heart and one that I’m quite familiar with, so I thought writing about the animal will help me break out of the writer’s block.”… “A lot of foreign literature focuses on generic issues. However, in India, there is a different story everywhere.”

– Perumal Murugan

Perumal Murugan is the author of six novels, four collections of short stories and four anthologies of poetry in Tamil. Three of his novels have been translated into English: Seasons of the Palm, which was shortlisted for the Kiriyama Prize in 2005, Current Show and One Part Woman. He was a professor of Tamil at the Government Arts College in Namakkal before taking to writing full-time.

N. Kalyan Raman is a Chennai-based translator of contemporary Tamil fiction and poetry into English. He has published ten volumes of Tamil fiction in translation, working with a range of authorial voices and has also translated and published over 200 poems by leading contemporary Tamil poets in journals and anthologies from India and abroad. He also regularly contributes essays, reviews and articles on literature, culture and public policy. In February 2017, he received the prestigious Pudumaipithan award, given by Vilakku, for his contribution to Tamil literature through his translations.

My take on this book

Poonachi, an orphaned goat kid is left with an old couple by its erstwhile owner. While the old couple are themselves struggling to survive given their meager income, the old lady takes a special liking to Poonachi from the day she comes home and brings her up against all odds. What follows is Poonachi’s struggle to survive without a biological mother, to her adulthood, making friends in her herd and then losing them, her heartbreak, from being termed a miracle, to experiencing motherhood, and back to struggle for survival.

The original story was written in Tamil in 2016 which was recently translated to English, and the translator does a wonderful job in preserving the original flavor while bringing the story to a wider audience. While it looks like story of a female goat at outset, the writer smartly weaves a plot which is similar to the story of any human.

It is a very emotional story which is sure to tug at the reader’s heart on multiple occasions. The story deals with various issues and has a piece of advise and wisdom for each of them. The reality of their short lives — how domestic animals are either sold as meat or offered as sacrifice. At less than 200 pages, this is a very quick and an absolutely delightful read, with not a single dull moment at all. A very different piece of fiction, and a must read! And bet you wont forget to think of Poonachi and her analysis of the world around when you come across a goat!!

My rating

4/5.

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