Pyre, the English translation of writer Perumal Murugan’s Tamil novel Pookkuzhi, has figured in the longlist for the International Booker Prize 2023. The translator is Aniruddhan Vasudevan, who also translated Perumal Murugan’s Maathorubhagan into English as One Part Woman.
“I am extremely happy as it is the first Tamil novel that has found a place in the International Booker longlist,” said Mr. Perumal Murugan, who wrote Pookkuzhi in 2012. The novel was published by Kalachuvadu. The English translation was first published by Penguin and later by the U.K.-based Pushkin Press and Grove Atlantic in the U.S.
“An intercaste couple elopes, setting in motion a story of terrifying foreboding. Perumal Murugan is a great anatomist of power and, in particular, of the deep, deforming rot of caste hatred and violence. With flashes of fable, his novel tells a story specific and universal: how flammable are fear and the distrust of others,” says the Booker Prize website, quoting the judges who have been asked to summarise each book.
The shortlist of six books will be announced on April 18. The winning title will be announced at a ceremony at the Sky Garden in London on May 23, 2023.
Set in the 1980s, Pyre exposes the blood-chilling vengeance by casteist forces against intercaste couple Kumaresan and Saroja. A reader engrossed in the narration in the dialects of the Kongu region may hope that time would douse the anger of the casteist forces, including Kumaresan’s mother and relatives, but disappointment ensues.
Casteism, with its innumerable tentacles, engulfs Kumaresan and Saroja, reminding readers of real-life incidents such as the killing of Sankar, a Dalit who married Kausalya, a woman from an intermediate caste; the mysterious death of the young Dalit Ilavarasan, who fell in love with Divya, again from an intermediate caste, and the brutal murder of Gokul Raj, a Dalit boy who was in love with a girl another community.
Aniruddhan Vasudevan says that translating Pookkuzhi has been a somewhat different experience. “I think the difficulty is because there is more direct speech involved in Pookkuzhi; the characters speak a lot and their streams of thought too bear the distinct mark of regional speech patterns. In the Tamil text, Kumaresan’s and Saroja’s people speak differently; their speech is marked by rural and semi-urban variations. It has been difficult to sustain that difference in translation. Perhaps this is an instance where specificity of language use resists translatability,” he writes in the translator’s note.
(Longlist can be found at bit.ly/prizebooker)