cover image One Part Woman

One Part Woman

Perumal Murugan, trans. from the Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan. Black Cat, $16 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2880-5

This beautiful novel from Murugan, winner of the Translation Prize from India’s National Academy of Letters, plunges readers into Tamil culture through a story of love within a caste system undergoing British colonization in the early 19th century. Everything in Ponna and Kali’s lives seems fruitful: they have a flourishing herd of cows and a stunning flower garden. But after 12 years of marriage, Ponna still has not conceived a child. Ponna has taken the strange, bitter herbs her mother-in-law gives her, has traveled to make countless offerings to the gods, and has tried many traditional rituals, but nothing works. A deep source of shame, their childlessness isolates Ponna and Kali from their community and becomes a subject of ridicule from their friends and neighbors. Their families scheme together in secret to push one last ritual on the couple—at the annual chariot festival celebrating the half-man half-woman god, where men and women are free to copulate with anyone. It’s unthinkable to Kali, but Ponna may be willing to give it a try if it means they will be blessed with a child and their suffering will end. Murugan’s touching, harrowing love story captures the toll that infertility has on a marriage in a world where having a child is the greatest measure of one’s worth. (Oct.)