Saturday, 5 November 2016

Book Review- One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan

What defines a perfect marriage? Man and wife who love each other, who understand each other and do not want to spend even a day without one another. To some of us, that seems like an ideal definition of marriage. But the majority would see a big deficiency in this equation. Being only husband and wife does not qualify as perfect marriage; they are expected to bear a child. Till then, the marriage is not considered complete. Perumal Murugan has beautifully captured this deep-rooted ideology in One Part Woman.
The story revolves around Kali and Ponna who live in Tiruchengode in remote interiors of rural Tamil Nadu. The couple is madly in love and complement each other in every aspect. However, 12 years into the marriage, they are yet to bear any children. And thus become the object of constant rebukes and taunts. Their childlessness is discussed and highlighted even at the slightest provocation. Kali is often reminded and overtly suggested to re-marry stating the fact that he needs an heir for his land and property. Both of them soon become social outcasts as Kali is unable to confront the constant attacks on his potency. Ponna, too, becomes highly impatient as every conversation conveniently turns towards her infertility. The desperate couple performs numerous acts of penance to pacify the gods and nullify the alleged curse on Kali’s family. At the insistence of elders of the family, they try to appease Ardhanareeshwar, the deity who is half woman and pray for a child. But to no avail.

Eventually, desperation pushes them to take a drastic step. On a certain day during the traditional chariot festival, strange men, incarnated as God, are allowed to copulate with childless women. Children born out of this tradition are accepted by the society as the children of God. To go down that path and shut the babbling mouths or be content with the love of their lives is the dilemma that Kali and Ponna face.

One Part Woman depicts a picture of typical rural society set some 50 years back. But this ageless classic seems highly relevant even today. Being childless is a stigma that our society still does accept. Marriage is considered complete only when it has a child. Murugan has been highly sensitive in approaching the subject. He expresses the predicament of the characters with strong yet considerate words. The yearning and longing ooze out from every page that you turn. Romance and physical intimacy has been treated tastefully and does not sound vulgar. The storyline smoothly flows forward taking the reader along as he/she witnesses the minute nuances of rural Tamil Nadu. The suspense has been delicately built towards the climax as the futility of everything lingers very close. Anirudha Vasudevan has ensured that the essence of the story and the master storyteller’s style is not lost in translation.

One Part Woman is a masterpiece in itself. Murugan had received a lot of criticism for his original work, Madhorubagan, for allegedly maligning Lord Shiva and the Kailasanathar temple. However, I opine that he has, on the contrary, depicted the strong belief that people hold in these deities. This tale is beyond any timelines and will be read and appreciated for all times to come.

My Rating:

About the Author: Perumal Murugan is a well-known Tamil writer and poet. He has written six novels and four collections each of short stories and poetry. Two of his novels have already been translated into English to wide acclaim: Seasons of the Palm, which was shortlisted for the prestigious Kiriyama Prize in 2005, and Current Show. He has received awards from the Tamil Nadu government as well as from Katha Books. 

One Part Woman is translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan who is a performer, writer, translator and activist. He documents various public health projects and art projects and is involved in LGBT advocacy work. He is currently a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Texas, Austin, and is also working on his first novel.

Buy your copy here


  1. Deepali your review for the book is simply awesome. These issues which are existing since ages and are still to stay. It urges me to get my first hand on the book.

  2. Four stars is great. I'm going to pick it up sometime soon