Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Goat Thief by Perumal Murugan – Book Review

Genre: Short stories – narratives

Age group: 16+

The author Perumal Murugan is no stranger to controversy and before too long and considering his name continually featuring in the news, one can’t help but be curious of his works. The Goat Thief is a collection of ten short stories of Perumal Murugan in Tamil, translated into English by N. Kalyan Raman.

The stories explore various kinds of people whom we don’t normally read about – a night-watchman guarding a haunted house, a bunch of youngsters who discuss and offer solutions for every problem of the society but were unable to identify the problem in their own backyard, a goat thief in a village who is chased by a violent mob, an old woman who has forgotten nearly everyone in her life suddenly finds a meaning considering the unexpected visit by her great-grandson, etc.

The author in the preface talks about how the stories he picked up were featuring people who were exceptions in the society rather than conformists. The author touches upon various human qualities – for instance, the author brought out possessiveness and the need for space in the story Musical Chairs where there was only one chair in the house and the wife fights to get a second chair and gets too attached to it. In The Night the Owls Stopped Crying (my personal favourite), the author brings out how the night-watchman in his desperation to interact with people, especially women, decides to engage in conversations with a spirit of a rape victim in a haunted house he guards. The Goat Thief brought out the intention to seek revenge of a mob, which over the course of time becomes more of a matter of pride to attain the revenge than to seek any gains. The Man Who Could Not Sleep explore the jealousy and rage of an old man wherein his sons are lacking a vision whereas the neighbour’s son is building a house with a tiled roof at the age of 25.

I would not reveal the synopsis of any of the other stories but I would comment in general that wherever the stories had a rural setting, the author brought out the setting very well – a well, muddy roads, a house with a pyol where people sit and gossip, etc. The way in which the author brought life into non-living objects in some of the stories was also done very well, such as the well in The Well and the chairs in Musical Chairs.

What could pull down these books are normally the translations, but then, the translator has done a good job in bringing out the crux of the plot and even where he chose to retain the Tamil words (usually in case of pronouns), he did add a line to what that meant. Only translating proverbs was perhaps a grey area, wherein, some of them sounded weird like – ‘even a neem oil bowl could be of use someday’ – while the crux of the meaning is conveyed, a word for word translation makes the proverb lose the charm.

I would say that I thoroughly enjoyed nearly six of the stories and partially enjoyed two of them but then, while abstract elements with a lot of metaphors are quintessential of a short story, sometimes, it also renders the story incomplete leaving the author without a proper conclusion. I would also say that in this collection, two of the stories, The Well and Sanctuary was on very similar themes, just that the latter was less macabre and I felt that this repetition could have been avoided by placing some other short story of the author in the anthology.

This book would certainly be enjoyed by those who do enjoy short stories filled with imagery left to the interpretation of the reader and I did enjoy most of the writing and on that note, based on my above review, I award the book a rating of seven on ten.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,

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