Sunday, April 27, 2014

Karna's Wife - The Outcast's Queen: A Book Review

There are stories that we are told right from when we were wee little babies in our crib. Stories that have been passed down from one generation to the next - sometimes as a story that is told or sometimes as a book that is written. If there is one thing that is common about all these tales, it is the fact that they change as we age. What was a mere fable of how Good triumphed over Evil from our childhood suddenly turns into the perfect character study of the complex nature of the Human psyche. And if we were to line up all the stories of the world that boast of possessing such richness of depth, I am in no doubt that India's Mahabharatha will be among the top three.

I remember listening with wide eyes and a gaping mouth as my grandmother extolled tales of the Pandava princes and their quest for justice and cheered whenever they won over the evil Kaurava princes.
And now, a good two decades later, as I re-read the tales, I am able to read between the lines a little more and it amazes me how perfectly this particular epic manages to capture human emotions in all its complexities. The black and white world of my childhood has greyed out into a myriad shades as I see the goodness in the Kauravas and the sliver of evil in the Pandavas.
So, it would be the most obvious guess that I was delighted when I saw Kavita Kané's newest book, Karna's wife - The Outcast's Queen, calling out to me from the shelf of my neighbourhood book store.
"The Book"
The book is from the point of view of Karna's wife - a fictitious character who goes by the name, Uruvi. Uruvi, the kshathriya princess of Pukeya, defies societal norms by choosing the charioteer's son, Karna over the illustrious Arjuna for her husband. And from then on, the book goes on to tell the age old tale through her eyes.

Truth be told, I could not put the book down for the first fifty or so pages - the swayamvara - a ceremony where a suitor is chosen for the princess or one where the princess chooses herself a husband, was so well written that it felt like I was actually standing there, right beside Krishna (the only other person who knows the future), and watching the scene unfold.
But towards the middle, the story sagged a bit. The writer, suddenly, moved from telling the tale from Uruvi's point of view to just giving what seemed like a third person's point of view of the story, just that it was being quoted by some character to the protagonist. I find this a classic example of loss of focus. As an amateur writer myself, I know how it feels - being in the middle of the story, suddenly losing the drive to write, you feel lik you're being dragged down by the scene you're in. You see the end but it keeps moving farther away even as you inch towards it. But the mark of a true writer is not wavering from the mission set and finishing the story as one coherent piece. The prowess to do that sets apart the stalwarts of the trade from us, the mere mortals.
That said, I should say Uruvi is a character with a lot of potential. But towards the middle, she loses that something that makes her relateable. I found myself more attached to Karna - his character being truer to character than his wife. 
The dialogues were, truthfully, very painful to read. Half the time, I skimmed through them without missing much of the story. And that, again is not a good sign. I wish she had been a wee bit more intangibly descriptive - like Stephen King or Herman Hess. But I fear I have very high expectations out of my writers, don't I?!
Characters were slowly becoming two dimensional and the only one who stood above them all as a believable character was Karna. But since the book is not from his point of view, I had to wait with bated breath for him to make an appearance. Kane has managed to make Karna the vulnerable tragic hero that I loved. Towards the end, even Duryodhana, the 'vile' Kaurava prince was portrayed to have a sense of humanity. It brought a sense of familiar perfection that I had long since associated Mahabharatha with.
Everything said, I did feel a bit of a twang in my heart when the final page was read. And that must mean the author got something right!

This is the author's first work. So, I am sure she will only get better with the next one - a take on another amazing epic from India - the Ramayana; only this time, the story is from the point of view of Urmila, the forgotten sister of Sita and the dutiful wife of Lakshmana. I am looking forward to reading that.

All in all, I give this book 3❤'s out of 5.