'Once, in a village, there was a goat. No one knew where she was born. The birth of an ordinary life never leaves a trace, does it? Even so, her arrival was somewhat unusual,'
The opening words of Poonachi or the story of a black goat by Perumal Murugan, first published in Tamil fifteen months ago and now out in an excellent English translation.
The 'ordinary life', of course, is anything but - Poonachi is the seventh-born and runt of a litter and black all over, and this is the story of her hopes, fears, feelings and travails.
READING OF THE OPENING PASSAGES OF POONACHI
The novel is both hugely readable and exceptionally effective. As the translator, N. Kalyan Raman, remarks: 'As we track the destiny of this orphan goat, shaped by a force-field of humans and animals, we realise that the author's real theme is our own fears and longings, primordial urges and survival tactics. Through a feat of storytelling that is both masterly and nuanced, Murugan makes us reflect on our own responses to hegemony and enslavement, selflessness and appetite, resistance and resignation, living and dying.'
The author, Perumal Murugan, vowed not to write any more after his previous novel came under fire from right-wingers, He has broken that vow with a novel which is in part political allegory, about an oppressively vigilant state. But this is not an Orwellian novel, even though it explores the sentiments and experience of a farm animal. It is about using the imagined experiences of a goat and those who care for her to explore the most basic of human endeavours, instincts and emotions.
And while I was reading the book, I came across - yes - a black goat (or two)!
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