Tag Archives: myths

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

A Thousand Ships by Natalie HaynesTitle: A Thousand Ships
Author: Natalie Haynes
Publisher: Mantle, PanMacmillan
ISBN: 978-1509836208
Genre: Myth Retelling, Literary Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Another Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 Long-listed title, which I read and thoroughly enjoyed. This is the book that The Silence of the Girls should have been but wasn’t. I am only too glad that this was published and I got a chance to read it. A Thousand Ships might seem like the regular fare of various perspectives and voices about The Trojan War, but there is more to it.

I liked the structure of the book, in the sense of it being an all-female perspective. Right from Penelope to Cassandra to Calliope to Hera and also the lesser-known women of this epic battle. The book’s characters are divided as per houses through which the battle was fought, but they only have similarities. The same grief and loss when men die. The same trauma when women are raped and married against their will. The same anguish of a mother as her child returns as a dead body. The helplessness of a goddess. The book focuses on events which happened before and during Homer’s two epics – The Iliad and The Odyssey.

The story starts with the sacking of Troy. The Greeks entering Troy through the Trojan Horse and raping, pillaging, and killing. Haynes lends structure and character to the lesser-known voices of the war. Women who have no voices in Homer’s poems. Whether they are Priam’s wife and daughters or Penelope’s pain and hurt, Haynes gives us deeper insight into their emotions and feelings. I just didn’t enjoy the constant Helen-bashing that took place at some points in the book.

The chapters are chronological, so there might be some confusion reading the book to begin with. At the same time, you don’t have to read Homer to know what happened. A quick summary of Iliad and Odyssey should be enough to venture into this read. A Thousand Ships is a great read of the retelling of a great myth.

Fabulous by Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Fabulous by Lucy Hughes-Hallett Title: Fabulous
Author: Lucy Hughes-Hallett
Publisher: Fourth Estate
ISBN: 978-0008334857
Genre: Short Stories, Fairy Tales & Myths
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

March 2020 is turning out to be a great month when it comes to short-story collections, and Fabulous by Lucy Hughes-Hallett is the third one.

These eight stories are derived from popular and not-so-popular myths. Myths are constantly being adapted and this is one example of that. Each of these stories is set in modern Britain. The characters therefore are in tune with people we hear of or meet; people-traffickers, prostitutes, migrant workers, estate agents, librarians, and office-goers. These are ordinary people really, but all their stories are inspired by Graeco-Roman myths, or from the Bible, or from folklore.

We know these stories. We have heard of them or read them in their original form (if that’s a thing really). We know of Orpheus, Psyche, Tristan and Isolde, the Pied Piper, and Mary Magdalene, and if we don’t then these stories will make you want to know about them.

For me the stories that stood out were Pasiphae and the minotaur with seaside gangsters, the one with Mary Magdalena and Joseph, and the Pied Piper one. Having said that, each story is a commentary on the state we live in and what we have become as a people.

Hughes-Hallett’s style is direct. The range of retellings is wide enough, so it doesn’t get boring or mundane. I love the way the themes are constructed and presented to the reader. The stories are familiar and yet not so familiar. She blends the everyday with the mythical with great ease, and with each chapter I was more hooked and intrigued to know more. Fabulous is a collection of short stories that are whimsy, fantastical, sometimes literal, sometimes metaphorical, and random which worked beautifully for me.

 

Hyderabad: A Graphic Novel by Jai Undurti and Harsho Mohan Chattoraj

Hyderabad by Jai Undurti and Harsho Mohan Chattoraj Title: Hyderabad: A Graphic Novel
Author/Illustrator: Jai Undurti and Harsho Mohan Chattoraj
Publisher: Syenagiri
ISBN: 978-8192920016
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 88
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 2/5

I thought this would be a graphic novel which would be worth my time. The premise seemed fantastic, though the execution fell short on so many levels that I do not know where to begin. I mean the book had so much potential and it is now all laid to waste. Sure the graphics are nice but when the story goes nowhere, it doesn’t add up to much.

“Hyderabad” is not a graphic novel about the city. Sure, it does dwell on some aspects but that is about it. There is nothing more to it. I did not understand where the novel was heading and if at all it made any point. When that happens to me (which happens very rarely by the way), then I know for a fact that it was just a colossal waste of time. I do not even want to get to the writing because there was really no plot – there was an honest attempt yes, but it didn’t work out the way it should have.

Just for the illustrations I gave it two stars. I would advise you to probably borrow it from someone but don’t make the mistake of buying it like I did.

Book Review: The Hindus – An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger

Title: The Hindus: An Alternative History
Author: Wendy Doniger
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143415343
Pages: 800
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

An extensive work on Hindus and Hindu Mythology isn’t something which I would’ve read a couple of years ago. Why? Because I would in all honesty find it boring and I am glad that was just a phase when I felt this way. I was introduced to Hindu Mythology and ancient culture by a friend, and I am glad that it gave me a different perspective and at the same time made me want to read more.

Wendy Doniger’s, “The Hindus: An Alternative History” is a big book about The Hindus. She has through extensive research almost dwelt on every topic in the book concerning religion and caste. However, the alternative history angle comes from the fact that the book is centred mainly on women and the lower caste.

The book isn’t about philosophy. It is more about a social history and of course that would involve various Gods and Goddesses. There are tribal tales as well, which are a totally different take on the regular epics – Ramayana and Mahabharata. I loved how Ms. Doniger brought these to the surface.

There is nothing new about the book per se. There are tales and facts and legends that most people are aware about. What is different is the way they have been documented. Wendy Doniger knows how to write and she does so without it being complex or difficult to read.

A beginner can read this book and understand The Hindu culture better. Each chapter has several textual examples – which are intended to communicate the beliefs and traditions in the form of myths and legends to the reader. This kind of writing always works with readers who may find the subject boring.

There is a lot of imagery in the book which probably could have been cut down on and yet that is one of the ways of better understanding while reading a book of this nature. At almost 800 pages though it does get tiresome to read. I for one had to put it down and pick it up several times before I could finish it completely.

Hinduism is an entire universe so to say. It isn’t easy to comprehend or chronicle and Wendy Doniger has done a reasonably good job in merging the old with the new. There will be times when an experienced reader will be tempted to argue with the writing, which is fair enough. At the same time, the book has a quite charm about it despite its flaws. I left taking in a stronger sense of how diverse a tradition Hinduism is and how it evolved over a period of time. There are many ways to represent Hinduism and how the world views it, and yet Doniger has given us another view – which is refreshing and conflicting at the same time.

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Jaya by Devdutt Pattanaik

I have always been fascinated by mythology. It has intrigued me in ways that no other field has managed to, and from there very early on stemmed the fondness for Indian Mythology. The rich and varied world that was right there before me, which was waiting to be explored and which I never had, till a friend advised I read, “Ka” by Roberto Colasso, surprisingly written on Indian Mythology by a foreigner. That led me to read “The Pregnant King” by Devdutt Pattanaik which I enjoyed thoroughly. I remember telling him at that time, “You must write something more on the Mahabharata. Something magnanimous” and he said he would and he wasn’t kidding.

So here “Jaya” by Devdutt Pattanaik was out and I was disappointed initially – only because of its size. I wanted more and more of it and only got this much, but whatever I read was brilliant. I believe that The Mahabharata is the greatest epic ever written and it surpasses even The Odyssey and The Iliad. Spread over eighteen volumes, to read the actual Mahabharata or to attempt to read it is no mean feat. I am doing that as of now through Bibek Debroy’s translation and that is another post altogether. Back to Jaya.

The story of the Mahabharata is not new to us – we know about it, we have heard about it, however how much do we really know? I guess not much and “Jaya” as a book makes you more aware about it. The various tales that took place in between till the battle, the nitty gritties you missed out on while watching it on the television (tsk tsk need I say more?), the stories that your grandmother forgot to mention and many such stories can be found in “Jaya”. The geetasar from Krishna to Arjun is beautifully written. It is my most favourite part in the entire book.

How is “Jaya” different from any other book on the Mahabharata? After all plenty have been written. It is an illustrated retelling and it lives up to that in every single way. The line drawings are brilliant – the strokes convey the expressions precisely – from anger to love to envy to sorrow to grief – after all that is what this epic is all about isn’t it – a melting pot of emotions.

Do not miss out on the footnotes at the end of every chapter – at times they are better than the actual chapter going by what they provide the reader – a better insight to the epic and why rituals are conducted the way they are, why is religion the way it is and so on and so forth.

At the end all I can say is that read “Jaya”. I have not said anything about the plot of the Mahabharata assuming that you know something about it and if you don’t then the net will always tell you more. However, to know a little more about the epic I highly recommend this book. Read it for the story it tells – about a family torn apart by greed and a war won by deceit, a blind king and his wife and their hundred sons, sons born from gods and women who turn into men. It will leave you speechless.

Jaya; Pattanaik, Devutt; Penguin India; Rs. 499