VIEW PDF
Please Share

One Part Woman

This passionate novel has become symbol of freedom of expression in its native India for laying bare with unsparing clarity a relationship caught between the dictates of social convention and the tug of personal anxieties.

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 Tamil Nadu during the British colonial period but with powerful resonance to the present day. It 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. (Grove Atlantic, US)


Reviews

'Murugan works his themes with a light hand; they always emanate from his characters, who are endowed with enough contradiction and mystery to keep from devolving into mouthpieces . . . It’s not just the physical world Murugan describes so vividly—the way a cow clears its throat, for example—but the rural community, a village of 20 huts and a thousand ancient resentments, where there is no privacy and your neighbor’s suffering can serve as your evening’s entertainment . . . I’m hoping for a whole shelf of books from this writer.'

'Intimate and affecting . . . Throughout the novel, Murugan pits the individual against the group. How far you willing to go, he asks, in order to belong? . . . Murugan’s descriptions of village life are evocative, but the true pleasure of this book lies in his adept explorations of male and female relationships, and in his unmistakable affection for people who find themselves pitted against the world.'

'This subtly subversive novel examines the pang of childlessness experienced by Kali and Ponna, a couple living in rural southern India. In simple yet lyrical prose, Murugan shows how their standing in the world depends on offspring . . . The novel considers the constraints of tradition and beautifully articulates the couple’s intense connection, even without a child.'

See More Reviews


Perumal Murugan

Perumal Murugan, elected PEN International Vice President, is the star of contemporary Tamil literature, having garnered both critical acclaim and commercial success for his work. An award-winning writer, poet and scholar, he has written several novels, short-story collections, poetry anthologies and works of non-fiction. Some of his novels have been translated into English to immense acclaim, including 'Seasons of the Palm', which was shortlisted for the Kiriyama Award in 2005, and 'One Part Woman', his best-known work, a powerful exploration of caste and identity as well as a moving story of love and family (in Tamil 'Madhorubhagan') has been a bestseller, having sold over 100,000 copies in India. It was shortlisted for the Crossword Award and won the prestigious ILF Samanvay Bhasha Samman. Perumal Murugan’s works have won critical acclaim and earned him several national Awards.


More Reviews

'Beautiful . . . Plunges readers into Tamil culture through a story of love within a caste system undergoing British colonization in the early 19th century . . . Murugan’s touching, harrowing love story captures the toll that infertility has on a marriage in a world where having a child is the greatest measure of one’s worth.'

'With a backstory as fascinating as the narrative, this intriguing work, longlisted for the National Book Award, will undoubtedly be appreciated by internationally savvy Anglophone audiences.'

'Perumal Murugan brings a playful, fable-like quality to his tale of traditional values and their subversion.'

'The Tamil Irvine Welsh.'

'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.'

'With a backstory as fascinating as the narrative, this intriguing work, long-listed for the National Book Award, will undoubtedly be appreciated by internationally savvy Anglophone audiences.'

'Versatile, sensitive to history and conscious of his responsibilities as a writer, Murugan is . . . the most accomplished of his generation of Tamil writers.'

'A fable about sexual passion and social norms, pleasure and the conventions of family and motherhood . . . A lovely rendering of the Tamil.'

'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.'

'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.'

'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.'

'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.'

'A superb book in which tenderness, love and desire kindle each other into a conflagration of sexual rapture.'

'Perumal Murugan opens up the layers of desire, longing, loss and fulfillment in a relationship with extraordinary sensitivity and surgical precision.'

'Murugan’s writing is locally-grown literature, not a canned object sold on a supermarket bookshelf. It is rare to come across a writer who enjoys such intimacy with a land and those who live in close contact with it. One Part Woman is so rooted in the soil of tradition that its rebellion against it is all the more unexpected and moving.'

'Perumal Murugan’s Tamil is vivid and terse, an instrument he uses with great care and precision to cut through the dense meshes of rural Tamil social life. The result, in this novel, is a brutally elegant examination of caste, family, and sex in South India.'

'The life of an innocent couple who are led to believe that the expectations of the system defines their own personal pursuit of happiness forms Perumal Murugan’s captivating story of love and desire. With his brilliant artistry, he captures the ups and downs of their lives. Works such as these have the power to subject contemporary value systems to intense introspection, it is for the same reason they are met with resistance. This work of art by Perumal Murugan can be acclaimed as modern mythology for its unusual access to cultural memories of the land and language, and the extraordinary courage with which it is dealt.'

'ONE PART WOMAN contains the sweetest, most substantial portrait of an Indian marriage in recent fiction. A touching and original novel.'

Reviews