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Yesterday's review. Via [personal profile] rachelmanija.

This? Is lovely.

It's a short novel that's a prose translation of a poem originally composed in Telugu sometime in the second half of the sixteenth century. The author comes from what is present-day Andhra Pradesh. This piece, the Prabhavati-pradyumnamu, is one of his several extant works; its story is taken from the Hari-vamsa, an ancient compilation of stories related to Krishna. I know nothing about the history of Telugu literature, but the translators make an interesting argument that this is one of the first pieces in that linguistic tradition to use novelistic ideas of individuality and interiority.

But honestly you want to read this for the talking goose.

Her name is Sucimukhi and due to family connections she was tutored by the Goddess of Speech and given the title of 'Mother of Similes and Hyperbole'. She is both an extremely good poet in the best classical tradition, and, as far as I can tell, a ninja. I mean, the book would not go any differently if she actually were. There is an amazing scene where she wrestles a parrot.

Anyway! There is a demon, Vajranabha, who has obtained from the Creator, Brahma, the gift that no one, not even the wind, can enter his city without his permission. With this as his base of power, he challenges Indra for supremacy over the gods. Indra's best idea is to go to Krishna, and Krishna suggests that his son Pradyumna could sneak into the city disguised as an actor. If only he had some motivation to do so. And hey, Vajranabha has a daughter...

Enter one matchmaking goose and a whole lot of running about that teeters on the edge between sitcom, irony, and genuinely sweet and erotic romance. The young couple actually work well together and their courtship is continuously interesting. The bit I laughed hardest at: Pradyumna is a mortal incarnation of the God of Love, Manmatha. At one point he is pacing back and forth, racked by angst, and shouts "The God of Love is tormenting me! Right, that's me. But still, the God of Love is tormenting me!" *facepalm*

The translation, by Velcheru Narayana Rao and David Shulman, moves neatly between the poetic and the prosaic, and is a nice blend of present vernacular with vaguely archaic-- a trick usually so difficult I don't recommend anyone attempting it, but it works here. All of the academic stuff you could possibly hope for is here, in preface and afterword and endnotes, but the text itself is intentionally designed so that you can just sit down and read it-- and highly readable it is. The translators have apparently done something else of Suranna and I will have to look it up.

In short, if you only read one sixteenth-century Indian poem this year, I can highly vouch for this one.

Also, if you put it in a blender with Longus' Daphnis and Chloe, a book from second-century-AD Greece that in some ways reminds me of this one only with pirates, you would in fact get THE BEST ROMANCE NOVEL OF ALL TIME. It is actually incredibly tempting.


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