Now I’m moving on to the first novel translated from Tamil to receive an International Booker nod. The last book of Perumal Murugan’s that I read was the fable-like The Story of a Goat. Pyre takes more of a realist tone, yet still has heightened aspects of its own.
The novel begins with a couple, Saroja and Kumaresan, getting off the bus:
Beyond the tamarind trees that lined the road, all they could see were vast expanses of arid land. There were no houses anywhere in sight. With each searing gust of wind, the white summer heat spread over everything as if white saris had been flung across the sky. There was not a soul on the road. Even the birds were silent. Just an action dryness, singed by the heat, hung in the air. Saroja hesitated to venture into that inhospitable space.translation from tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan
Straight away, we have a vivid sense of place, and the feeling that all is not going to be well. Saroja and Kumaresan met and fell in love in her home town, where Kumaresan had gone for work. Now married, they have come to live in his village. The problem is, they are of different castes.
Whenever anyone asks about Saroja’s caste, Kumaresan tries to deflect attention by saying she’s of the same caste as him and everyone else in the village. But this is not enough: questions and gossip persist, and haunt the narrative. Murugan never actually specifies whether Saroja is of a higher or lower caste, which is one of the little touches that, for me, contributes to a heightened atmosphere. Murugan builds up the tension over where this will go, to a striking ending.
Book published by Pushkin Press.
Click here to read my other posts on the 2023 International Booker Prize.