Friday, February 05, 2021

Along With The Sun - Book Review

A unique anthology of short stories from the 'Karisal' or 'Black Soil' region of Tamil Nadu.

Edited by Ki. Rajanarayanan, one of the most acclaimed and influential writers in Tamil, these stories tell, with genuine affection and concern, of the lives of people living against the backdrop of the black soil land. Here the rain plays hide-and-seek, sometimes oppressing them with drought, sometimes with floods; caste and religion still form a large part of the social order; cattle and moneylenders decide the fate of populations; and local gods are a very real presence.

Written by celebrated contemporary Tamil authors in a range of literary styles, these are stories that will resonate universally long after they are read.

About the Authors

Ki. Rajanarayanan (b. 1922) is an acclaimed writer and folklorist. He started writing in the late 1950s. With his firm conviction that the spoken language was the correct language to use while writing, he was a pioneer in the introduction of dialect in his works. He has over thirty books to his credit, the most recent being the novel Andarandap Pakshi (The Andaranda Bird). In 1991, he was honoured with the Sahitya Akademi Award for Gopalapurathu Makkal (The People of Gopalapuram), a novel about a community of Telugu-speaking people who had migrated to Tamil Nadu. He was also the recipient of the Ilakkiya Chinthanai Award in 1979, as well as a Literary Achievement Special Award from the Toronto-based Tamil Literary Garden in 2016. From 1998 to 2002, he was a member of the General Council and Advisory Board of the Sahitya Akademi. As a member of the Communist Party of India, he was twice imprisoned in the late 1940s and early 1950s, for his support for and participation in peasant rebellions. To mark his sixtieth birthday celebrations in 1982, he embarked on the publication of this anthology, Karisal Kadaikal. He lives in Puducherry.

Padma Narayanan (b. 1935) is a short-story writer and the translator of numerous works of literary fiction from Tamil to English, including a collection of stories by the noted writer Imayam (forthcoming), Aadhavan's I, Ramaseshan (2008), La. Sa. Ramamritham's Apeetha (2014), Indira Parthasarathy's Poison Roots (2014), Ramamritham's The Stone Laughs and Atonement (2005), and two collections of short stories by Appadurai Muttulingam (2009 and 2017). Her work has appeared in Agni (Boston), Words Without Borders, and elsewhere. Her translation of Dilip Kumar's 'The Story of a Clerk', published in Caravan in 2012, inspired a celebrated movie adaptation, Nasir (2020). She has also translated several books from English into Tamil, and has written and spoken on the subject of translation. She lives in New Delhi.

One of the things that I really admire about my country is its diversity. There are innumerable cultures to delve into, numerous languages to communicate, and a variety of people with whom one can interact. These bring out a wide plethora of stories which have unique regional fragrances in them. Take for instance my latest read, ‘Along With The Sun’, which is laced with beautiful tales of Tamil Nadu’s black soil.

One assurance that I can provide you is that this book will keep you hooked. There are multiple stories, each exploring a different theme, written by a different writer. As such, the writing style and plots are unique in itself. No two stories are alike, but they do have a beautiful similarity in backdrop that binds them together – the black soil region of Tamil Nadu.

The stories revolve around subjects like broken dreams (‘Along With The Sun’), devotion (‘A Fierce Love For One’s Soil’), politics (‘Helpless’), rituals (‘Gruel For Rain’), and so on. The tales are well laid out, and do touch the inner chords of one’s heart. Special credit should be given to Ki. Rajanarayanan for the flawless editing and Padma Narayanan for the brilliant translation. The cover too is beautiful, reflecting the plethora of stories that can be found in its pages.

Though there is a ‘Glossary and Notes’ section towards the end, I felt an index of regional words with their meanings/ descriptions with the exact page number would have helped. Often, when I came across a regional word that I was not acquainted with (and there were several of them), I had to browse through ‘Glossary and Notes’ to comprehend it. Mention of exact page number where that word was defined would have been more helpful.

Nevertheless, I do recommend this book, not only to those who would like to connect with the regional flavors of the beautiful Tamil Nadu, but also to all those book lovers who are in search of good stories. Do give it a try and let me know what you think about it.

Title: Along With The Sun
Editor: Ki. Rajanarayanan
Translator: Padma Narayanan 
Publisher: Harper Perennial India
Publication Year: 2020
Language: English
Binding: Paperback
No. of Pages: 314
Price: INR 399
My Rating: 4/5