Book Review

Book Review: The Goat Thief by Perumal Murugan

Title: The Goat Thief

Author: Perumal Murugan

Translator: N. Kalyan Raman

Genre: Fiction / Anthology of Short Stories

First Publication: 2017

Language: English

Setting Place: Urban, Suburban and Rural Parts of Tamil Nadu

Major Characters: Well, Toilet Bowl, Chair, Tumbler, an Insomniac, A Security Guard
and obviously a Goat Thief ( and many others).

Book Summary: The Goat Thief

Selected by the author Perumal Murugan and Translated by N. Kalyan Raman, The Goat Thief is a collection of 10 short stories originally written in Tamil. To summarize 10 stories wouldn’t do justice to the craft of the author and the translator. So, I’ll just leave it here.

Perumal Murugan is one of the best Indian writers today. He trains his unsentimental eye on men and women who live in the margins of our society. He tells their stories with deep sympathy and calm clarity. A lonely night watchman falls in love with the ghost of a rape victim. A terrified young goat thief finds himself surrounded by a mob baying for his blood. An old peasant exhausted by a lifetime of labour is consumed by jealousy and driven to an act of total destruction. Set in the arid Kongu landscape of rural Tamil Nadu, these tales illuminate the extraordinary acts that make up everyday lives.

Book Review:  The Goat Thief

Growing up, my mornings would begin with gazing at the wide-mouthed canvas shoes that looked like mariachi band singers. Then talking to the runny nose tap about its never-ending plight, while brushing my teeth. This followed, chronically complaining to the school bag about its appetite and how it weighed a tonne. At present, being someone who still gives voice to inanimate objects or show these least noticed entities as major characters in my scribbles, the stories in The Goat Thief was something I could easily connect with.  So firstly, I would like to thank the Translator N. Kalyan Raman and Juggernaut for making the first acquaintance of Perumal Murugan’s world an eloquent one.

Of the few translated works I’ve read lately, the stories featured in this anthology leave an indelible mark. To choose the best 10 out of 80 short stories must have been quite a task for the Author. That said, the characters in each story are stranger than fiction yet deceptively familiar. Perhaps, you know what to expect from these stories after reading the list of Major Characters shared above. However, you will be in for a mild jolt as you lose yourself between the pages or should I say in the labyrinth that’s skillfully crafted in the author’s words. In fact, in the author’s preface, he sets the tone for what to expect in his tales:

“I realized all stories fall into one of two categories. The first category focuses on the problems of living according to the rules of society, while the second concentrates on exceptions of these rules. Both strategies have their advantages and disadvantages.”

Keep this in mind and tread carefully as you enter the world of Perumal Murugan, which is at the crossroads of R.K. Narayan’s fictitious Town of Malgudi and Stephen King’s bizarre reality. From the first tale which features a wily well, followed by a toilet bowl which triggers a sense of pareidolia to the protagonist, and then in the third story, an old chair becomes a prized possession; all seemingly inanimate objects which keep the story in motion. And just when you think that all the stories that follow will be on similar lines, Perumal Murugan proves you wrong when his quirky characters come marching in, one after another; a night-watchman and his brief affair with a mysterious girl, an old lady and her unexpected visitor, a wall which leaves an old man sleepless, and of course the Goat Thief, amongst others who I wish you discover as you read on.

The imagery, characterisation and the grey endings worked perfectly well for me. Looking forward to read other works of Perumal Murugan, maybe in the next few months. The Goat Thief definitely left me with a hangover that could take some time for me to sober down. To sum it up, this anthology is a barrel full of sweet, unadulterated, frothing toddy served by the countryside that’ll leave your head spinning after a while.

Serving Suggestion: Grab a Tumbler and slug slowly, preferably one tale at a time.

Reviewed by Amit Charles


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