If stripped of the Tamil context, “One Part Woman”, a novel about a childless couple in rural India during colonial rule, could be just a book about the problems couples experience when they aren’t honest enough with each other, and how things implode when societal pressures build up too high. That’s a plot that could just as well work in a Netflix series or a prestigious American novel, as it does in this book and while masterfully done, it’s pretty benign. None the less, this is the exact same book that caused such upheaval among the far-right in India, with book burnings and censorship galore. Just like with many other banned books, it shows that the fantastical with which the author took liberties was a poignant enough satire of the existing condition that it angered so many. Kudos for that. Again, as with many other banned books, the reputation overarches the novel itself. It’s a tight, beautiful book, that’s talks about very important things and is also infinitely easy and accessible. A little too easy and accessible, I think, but that’s exactly why it managed to stir the pot so effectively. Simple books about simple things from authors who care enough to imagine are what drives us further as a humankind.
One Part Woman by Perumal Merugan
Translated from Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasedevan
Published by Grove Press, Black Cat in 2018