One Part Woman

Longlist, National Book Awards 2018 for Translated Literature

One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan book cover
ISBN 9780802128805
Black Cat / Grove Atlantic
Perumal Murugan author photo, credit Sathi RV
Perumal Murugan

Perumal Murugan is a prominent figure of contemporary Tamil literature. He has written six novels and four collections each of short stories and poetry. More about this author >

Aniruddhan Vasudevan, Photo credit: NDS24x7 Studio, Chennai
Aniruddhan Vasudevan

Aniruddhan Vasudevan is a performer, writer, and translator, and is currently a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. More about this author >

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Translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan

Set in South India during the British colonial period but with powerful resonance to the present day, One Part Woman 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 suspended, and consensual sex between any man and woman is permitted. 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 today.