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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Ponniyin Selvan


I have been reading the english translation of Volume 1 of Kalki Krishnamoorthy's Ponniyin Selvan - 'The First Floods'.  The book is translated by C V Karthik Narayanan and looks to be a literal translation rather than a work of paraphrasing.  To someone very ignorant about various parts of Tamil Nadu, this book was a very informative and thoroughly enjoyable read.  It has certainly increased my curiosity about my state and its history (a lot of googling to follow :)) 

The book is a historical fiction set in the Chola dynasty in the 900's AD.  I am not sure where the history part ends and the fiction begins - however, the characters of the royal dynasty atleast are as per history.  I could easily compare this book to others written by authors like Alexandre Dumas - there is a basis in historical facts, a swashbuckling hero and a rollicking adventure follows.

It isn't an easy book to read - the characters do get carried away with the similies and metaphors they use, the translation of the poetry quoted throughout probably does not convey the same feeling as the original tamil versions and for a few chapters, I did struggle to keep track of the various names and titles of the royal family members.  However, the book holds you rivetted with beautiful descriptions of the historical setting and the characters develop over the chapters rather than being described at one spot.  Kalki is a very considerate narrator to provide enough background to every situation and he shifts scenes fast enough to keep the reader interested. 

The translation is no doubt a wonderful effort - I specially enjoyed the detailed introduction that helps us understand the life and times of Kalki.  One flaw would be that the tamil names and words did not use any stress marks leading me to pronouce things wrong.

Though the title of the book is in reference to Arulmozhi Varman (aka Rajaraja cholan), atleast in the first book, Vallavarayan Vandhiyathevan is the hero we follow - a brave warrior on a mission entrusted by the crown prince who wants to deliver a message to his father and sister.  Vandhiyathevan encounters multiple dangers along the way and meets many interesting characters - scheming politicians, unlikely spies and various members of royalty to say the least.  However, his valour and wit help him escape each situation while providing us an entertaining account to read.   

A little googling led me to find out that the tamil text is available online in wikisource here and audio recordings of the first book is available here.  I can't wait to read the other four books now!
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