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Booker International Longlist 2023 – Pyre


Book 11 – Pyre by Perumal Murugan Translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan

Reviewed by Tracy & Rachel

Synopsis from Booker Prize website: Young love is pitted against social discrimination in Perumal Murugan’s powerful and compelling novel, set in the rural Tamil Nadu of the 1980s.

Saroja and Kumaresan are in love. And in danger. After a whirlwind romance they marry in a small southern Indian town, before returning to Kumaresan’s family village. But the newlyweds are harbouring a dangerous secret: they belong to different castes, and if the villagers find out they will be in grave peril.

Faced with venom from her mother-in-law, and pointed questions from her new neighbours, Saroja struggles to adjust to a lonely and uncomfortable life. Kumaresan throws himself into building a business, hoping to scrape together enough money for them to start over somewhere new. But as vicious whispers encircle the couple, will their love be enough to keep them safe?

Tracy’s Thoughts: This broke my heart. A young couple who love each other, and his mother doesn’t approve. It’s kind of a Tamil Romeo and Juliet- at least it starts that way. The end is a lot more ambiguous.

The caste system in rural India is examined in this story- a system that was supposedly abolished. But there is much more to this that I see. I see lack of acceptance, a young woman who is said to be of the same caste, but is from the city. So she can’t be the same.

I also see a young man who is afraid to stand up to his village and defend his love, and a close minded mother in law who turns a whole community against one person because she feels slighted. There’s a fable here. Not just a caste system story. This could be extrapolated to world politics. This is the brilliance of Murugan.

The end was abrupt- but it was meant to be. This isn’t a story that is meant to be neatly tied up in a bow, after all. It’s an ongoing fable.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 3.5/5
Character development: ¾
Plot development: 3.5/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 17/20

Rachel’s Thoughts: Saroji and Kumaresan, a mixed-caste newly-wed couple, return to Kumaresan’s home village, hoping for eventual acceptance. But coming from a caste where mixed relationships bring dishonour, how likely is this?

I was immediately absorbed into the couples’ world. You could almost feel Saroji’s anxiety, as she enters her new world and recognises what her life will be like; Kumaresan’s belief against the odds that things will be OK; and his mother’s vittriol, fear, and shame at the couple’s return.

Murugan writes sympathetic, complex characters – you even come to understand a little of why the mother-in-law reacts as she does – with a vivid sense of place. Although my understanding of caste is still minimal, I have a much better appreciation of its influence and impact. I’d like to read more by this author.

Writing quality: 4.5/5
Originality 4/5
Character development 4/4
Plot development 3.5/4
Overall enjoyment 2/2
Total 18/20

Have you read this one? Let us know what you thought.

Is Mother Dead 19
Standing Heavy 18
Pyre 17.5
Time Shelter 17.5
Still Born 17.25
Ninth Building 16
Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv 16
Whale 15.5
Boulder 13.5
The Birthday Party 12.75
The Gospel According to the New World 11.5

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