BOOK TITLE: Ponni's Beloved: An English Translation Of Kalki Krishnamurthy's Ponniyin Selvan
AUTHOR: Sumeetha Manikandan
GENRE: Fiction / History
NUMBER OF PAGES: 266
HOW I GOT THIS BOOK: I thank the author profusely for this review copy!
Kalki Krishnamurthy’s Ponniyin Selvan is a masterpiece that has enthralled generations of Tamil readers. Many authors have written phenomenal books in Tamil literature after Kalki Krishnamurthy, but Ponniyin Selvan remains the most popular, widely-read novel. It has just the right mixture of all things that makes an epic – political intrigue, conspiracy, betrayal, huge dollops of romance, infidelity, seduction, passion, alluring women, unrequited love, sacrifice and pure love.
The original Ponniyin Selvan by Kalki Krishnamurthy is a legendary piece of literature, (of course it was. It inspired this translation and some more like it). I have seen the set of 5 volumes, huge books that have adorned the shelves of many bookworms I knew, especially those from the previous generation. The books were treasured possessively and guarded with care. They were often perused in parts, with people seeking their favorite quotes or lines or events from the book. So from a bookworm's perspective, I knew it was a very important series of books.
Though my mother herself was a huge fan of the series and this was discussed at length with me, the only detail I managed to scrape through was the rough meaning behind the title. The reference to the river Ponni and the meaning of the word Selvan together combining to make the title seem interesting and alluring. But beyond that point, there was not much I knew about the actual story. It talked about the Chozha kings - that was an additional piece of info I had picked up from my dismayed mother's explanations. Despite being around this books since childhood, I have not read them. This was not due to lack of interest or enthusiasm, but due to the fact that I had grown used to reading English books and was not sure I had patience enough to touch the Tamil books. The series required a time investment I was not sure I'd be able to give.
This was probably why I jumped at the opportunity when an English translation of the book was offered for reading purposes. The fact that it was written by an author whose previous works I absolutely loved - was an added bonus. The cover looked perfectly fitting, of a man's profile tastefully drawn as a warrior's pose. The illustration will stand in your mind when you know what character it refers to and which point on the story it is relevant in. The summary, of course, covered just enough to keep the reader engaged without trying to best the original.
The first thing that struck me about Ponni's Beloved, once the initial thrill and magic subsided, was that, I would surely need to refer the glossary of 170 odd words and phrases the author has provided. And for this book, I felt very glad I was reading it in digital format which made the switch from and to the story and glossary easier with just a single click. Special praise to the team at IndiReads for this. The whole reading experience was made much better. I also thank the author dearly for translating these words and phrases patiently, and not resorting to changing them in the narrative or trudging on without explanation. Their combined efforts have made this a richer experience, and that attention to detail is the first thing I shall praise about the book.
It is not easy to translate a classic (how many ever times one has read and loved it). Nor is it easy to do justice to the original. The translator has to work with a knack that will make sure that the book does not confuse or disappoint the fans of the original and still manage to keep it entertaining to newer readers who have heard of it but not read it. Though I have not read the original, I still had to see the thought and dedication that has gone into the book and feel that, in some way, it was the best thing that could have happened to the casual young reader who wants to delve into classics but is afraid of losing interest midway. It takes special talent to narrate a well-known story in an engaging manner, and there, I feel, the author has done complete justice to the book.
The original Ponniyin Selvan was famous because it is an intriguing tale of politics, betrayal, love, conspiracies, passionate affairs and the actual events that moved and shook kingdoms. Ponni's Beloved captures all that beautifully, and hits the reader's imagination in the right spot. The characters are brought alive in front of the eyes by the descriptive narrative and the author has managed to successfully balance the description to be detailed enough without bordering on boring or long winded. The events in the story unfold in quick succession, with many characters making their mark on the reader's minds immediately. The whole book is an enthralling mix of emotions in a huge jumble that makes it an unputdownable read in places.
I am not elaborating on the story angle as it is already done by a legend. Instead, I focused on making this review about how effective the translation was. I have heard say that in translation, the beauty of the original is lost because certain word plays cannot be brought into another language. Especially since I knew Tamil well, and could sense how the original could have been, reading it in English was a very enlightening experience. But I would say the author has completely allayed my apprehensions. This book was written exceedingly well, giving me its own supply of beautiful, memorable lines. As with many IndiReads books, and from the previous books of the author I had read, the English was fluent without trying to sound like jargon, and it was a pleasure to read the Tamil words interspersed with the English narrative, effectively hearing how the original might have been.
That being said, maybe it was easy for me because I knew both the languages. I have read too many books that included slang and words from Hindi and other languages I couldn't really grasp to know how hard it would be if the words go over one's head. But since this is a translation of a Tamil epic, it has to use the words and nouns as is to maintain the story line. The names and places cannot be changed, and the occasional reference to the exhaustive glossary would really help move things along. Strangely, even perusing the glossary in between did not ruin the reading experience for me. This book is one I will treasure very much. The goal of a good translation is to bring the book to a language and open up the beauty of the original to new readers. It must also make the people (those who can, of course) eager to read the original. Ponni's Beloved does both, and I thank the author very much for that!
WHAT I LIKED:
- The way the originality was maintained in the words and descriptions
- The glossary was a lifesaver. Yes I knew tamil. But I needed it.
- The story kept me engrossed throughout after the initial few pages
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER:
- The words, names and places are difficult to follow at times, but this was necessary to maintain the originality.
- The translation itself worked wonders but there were places where I personally felt it could have been even better. But these are few and far between
- The book takes some pages at first to get into the heart of the story so these parts must be read with an acquired interest.
Whether or not you have read the original, the translation is a must read! It kept me engaged enough to read at a stretch. More such classics should be translated.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sumeetha Manikandan is a freelance writer and an author who loves to write and base her plots on the tambrahm community of Mylapore, Chennai. She is the author of ‘The Perfect Groom’ that has been a bestselling ebook on the top 50 charts of Amazon India ever since publication.
An avid reader, she loves to read across different genres – romance, historical fiction, non-fiction, mystery, fantasy etc. A history buff to the core, she is currently translating Ponniyin Selvan – the evergreen tamil classic epic history by Kalki Krishnamurthy into English.
Married to film maker K.S. Manikandan, Sumeetha lives in Chennai, along with her six year old daughter.
EDITIONS AVAILABLE: Kindle
PRICE Free for Kindle Unlimited, Rs. 150 to buy
BOOK LINKS: Amazon