Selling over 100,000 copies in India, where it was published first in the original Tamil and then in a celebrated translation by Penguin India, Perumal Murugan’s One Part Woman has become a cult phenomenon in the subcontinent, captivating Indian readers and jump-starting conversations about caste and female empowerment. Set in South India during the British colonial period but with powerful resonance to the present day, One Part Woman tells the story of a couple, Kali and Ponna, who are unable to conceive, much to the concern of their families—and the crowing amusement of Kali’s male friends. Kali and Ponna try anything to have a child, including making offerings at different temples, atoning for past misdeeds of dead family members, and even circumambulating a mountain supposed to cure barren women, but all to no avail.
A more radical plan is required, and the annual chariot festival, a celebration of the god Maadhorubaagan, who is one part woman, one part man, may provide the answer. On the eighteenth night of the festival, the festivities culminate in a carnival, and on that night the rules of marriage are relaxed, and consensual sex between unmarried men and women is overlooked, for all men are considered gods. The festival may be the solution to Kali and Ponna’s problem, but it soon threatens to drive the couple apart as much as to bring them together. Wryly amusing, fable-like, and deeply poignant, One Part Woman is a powerful exploration of a loving marriage strained by the expectations of others, and an attack on the rigid rules of caste and tradition that continue to constrict opportunity and happiness.
Praise for One Part Woman:
“A major Indian writer . . . Dark currents run through One Part Woman . . . Kali and Ponna, a couple who are erotically wrapped up in each other, withstand waves of derision because they have not conceived a child after a decade of marriage . . . When describing the farming communities of South India, Mr. Murugan is neither sentimental nor harsh.”—New York Times
“A fable about sexual passion and social norms, pleasure and the conventions of family and motherhood . . . A lovely rendering of the Tamil.”—Biblio (India)
“Perumal Murugan turns an intimate and crystalline gaze on a married couple in interior Tamil Nadu. It is a gaze that lays bare the intricacies of their story, culminating in a heart wrenching denouement that allows no room for apathy . . . One Part Woman is a powerful and insightful rendering of an entire milieu which is certainly still in existence. [Murugan] handles myriad complexities with an enviable sophistication, creating an evocative, even haunting, work . . . Murugan’s writing is taut and suspenseful . . . Aniruddhan Vasudevan’s translation deserves mention—the language is crisp, retaining local flavor without jarring, and often lyrical.”—The Hindu Business Line (India)
“An evocative novel about a childless couple reminds us of the excellence of writing in Indian languages . . . This is a novel of many layers; of richly textured relationships; of raw and resonant dialogues and characters . . . Perumal Murugan’s voice is distinct; it is the voice of writing in the Indian languages rich in characters, dialogues and locales that are unerringly drawn and intensely evocative. As the novel moves towards its inevitable climax, tragic yet redemptive, the reader shares in the anguish of the characters caught in a fate beyond their control. It is because a superb writer has drawn us adroitly into the lives of those far removed from our acquaintance.”—Indian Express
“Murugan imbues the simple story of a young couple, deeply in love and anxious to have a child, with the complexities of convention, obligation and, ultimately, conviction . . . An engaging story.”—Time Out (India)
“One Part Woman has the distant romanticism of a gentler, slower, prettier world, but it is infused with a sense of immediacy . . . Murugan intricately examines the effect the pressure to have a child has on [the couple’s] relationship . . . One Part Woman is beautifully rooted in its setting . . . Murugan delights in description and Aniraddhan translates it ably.”—Open (India)
“A superb book in which tenderness, love and desire kindle each other into a conflagration of sexual rapture.”—Bapsi Sidhwa, author of Water
“Perumal Murugan opens up the layers of desire, longing, loss and fulfillment in a relationship with extraordinary sensitivity and surgical precision.”—Ambai, author of In a Forest, A Deer
Praise for Perumal Murugan:
“Versatile, sensitive to history and conscious of his responsibilities as a writer, Murugan is . . . the most accomplished of his generation of Tamil writers.”—Caravan
“The Tamil Irvine Welsh.”—Guardian
“Powerful . . . lyrical.”—The Hindu