cover image The Saga of Dharmapuri

The Saga of Dharmapuri

O. V. Vijayan. Penguin Books, $6.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-14-010787-6

To save the people of Dharmapuri from their oppressive, racist President comes the mystic Siddhartha, in this novel translated from the Malayalam (a language of Southwest India) by the author. A series of vignettes propels the evil President and the good Siddhartha to flex their exaggerated muscles amid a perpetually changing cast of dozens--peasants, children, ministers, maids--whose exchanges translate the central, cosmic agon into bawdy but easily assimilable terms. The subplots here are wild, lusty, irreverent, graphic: the tale begins with a complicated exposition of the defecations of the President, which are ritually observed by his ministers and avidly discussed by his subjects. The brief scenes contain elaborate descriptions of sexual encounters (including bigamy, child-molestation and necrophilia) but are allegorical, each with its own clear message about love, integrity, decency. Siddhartha's role is exhausting, the cruelty he witnesses unrelieved, but he overcomes his misery to heal and inspire his followers. (June)