cover image Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India

Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India

Roberto Calasso. Alfred A. Knopf, $27.5 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-679-45131-0

Author of the imaginative retelling of the Greek myths in The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, Calasso takes on a more daunting task here: making the complex and less familiar myths of India tangible for a contemporary reader. Once again, narrative, commentary and linguistic analysis combine to provide both an exciting reinvention of the stories and a singular work of the imagination in its own right. Calasso explains little but steps directly into the scene--describing the eagle Garuda flying with an elephant and a turtle in his claws and the creation of all things by father Prajapati, the progenitor, whose secret name is Ka, the space between. Ka: the inexpressible, boundless, overflowing. In scenes of startling freshness and immediacy, Calasso re-creates the historical atmosphere and mental outlook that created these stories and uses them to illuminate the shape of Indian thought--which in turn illuminates the frequent violence and eroticism of the tales. Even readers familiar with elements of Indian spiritualism, however, may find difficulty keeping up with such a bewildering succession of names and events. Yet even if it isn't a book for every reader, this, like Calasso and Parks's earlier collaboration (the translation is again able and fluent), is a unique, deeply rewarding reading experience. 17 illustrations. (Nov.)