Saturday, June 22, 2024

‘River Prince’ book review: An Epic Translation of an Epic


Kalki was the consummate storyteller and in his chosen genre of historical fiction, showcased a dazzling skill for resurrecting the past with his immersive style of narration, intricate detailing, humour, masterfully crafted plot, and ability to create memorable characters capable of worming their way into the hearts of readers. His beloved series – ‘Ponniyin Selvan’, a murder mystery and thrilling adventure focuses on Raja Raja Chola, when he was still Prince Arulmozhi Varman, a remarkable youth with all the potential in the world, but beset by a treacherous web of deceit, conspiracy and betrayal within his family and the royal court.

 Nandini Krishnan has undertaken the task of translating his magnum opus from the original Tamil in a ten – part series and is doing a tremendous job. Balancing with aplomb on the tightrope between nailing the essence of the original text and making it more accessible to modern readers who may not necessarily have the patience for verse and lyrical prose at its most descriptive. This reader was charmed by her decision to transliterate the original verses with the translations beneath so that one may savour the exquisite wordplay achieved by a brilliant wordsmith without fumbling unduly for the meaning. The addition of notes enhances the reading experience without ever disrupting the flow as it is replete with nuggets of historical facts and delectable particulars pertaining to Tamil culture and the ancient language itself.

 In her skilled hands, ‘River Prince’, book 3 of Ponniyin Selvan is unputdownable and so deeply engrossing and fun, readers are likely to pester the translator and publishers to complete the series in one go and drop it all together on the market so that they can binge read and re-read to their heart’s content. In the River Prince, readers who in the first two books had only been given tantalizing glimpses of the jewel of the Chola Kingdom who went on to become one of the greatest emperors in history, finally get to meet him, at the exact same moment, as the protagonist and ever popular Vandiyadevan who has risked life and limb to come face to face with the prince, who is in the thick of fighting at Lanka in order to personally deliver a message. But this meeting would not have been possible without the cleverness, resourcefulness, and daring of beautiful Poonguzhali, the boat girl and fan favourite, whose heart and intentions are as unpredictable as the choppy sea she effortlessly traverses.

Meanwhile in Thanjai, Princess Kundavai crosses swords with the exquisite and deadly, Nandini, who has sworn to destroy the Cholas. The beauties who are at cross purposes with each other keep the reader mightily entertained as they battle it out, both determined to outmanoeuvre the other. A secret from the Emperor Sundara Chola’s past which contains a clue to the identity of the mysterious Oomai Rani is also revealed. The rip-roaring pace never lets up and every juicy plot twist leaves one hankering for more.

Kalki himself was unprepared for the impact the Ponniyin Selvan had, and though he is gone, it would have no doubt pleased him to witness the enduring popularity of the book with succeeding generations of readers, thanks to the efforts of committed translators like Nandini Krishnan.

This book review was published in TNIE magazine.

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