t is Kamalakshi Amma's first child. A child born out of season. And he is unspeakably ugly, with a voice
like a buffalo's. The next child to be born is bright and beautiful. The local midwife gossips aloud to the
neighbours: what does Kamalakshi's unremarkable husband, Damodaran Master have to do with these
births? Is it the laughing, savage wind from the hills – that both uproots and brings life to the land – that
impregnates Kamalakshi when she is ripe with desire? Rumour is rife in the villge and stretches its
tentacles to more than one woman – and the question of their fidelity to man. Can the elements really play
paramour? But when water, in the shape of a great flood, swamps the teacher's home and the homes
around him, Kamalakshi exhibits loyalty to her husband in a way no one could imagine. And she
surrenders once more to the elements.
Sethu's work spans shadows in which legend, metaphor and mysticism share equal space. A dream-like
condensation of space and time and the constant empolyment of non-realistic narrative strategies mark
the style of this doyen of the Malayalam literary world.
In this English translation, Prema Jayakumar spools out a fabric that changes one language to another
lyrically and seamlessly.
(from the blurb on the book)
Set in a country where most of the rural population still survies on strange beliefs, vile gossip and ulterior
motives, Kamalakshi Amma's first child is born unspeakably ugly, and worse, with a buffalo's voice. But,
her next born is bright and beautiful, and the local midwife carries tales to her neighbours - does
Kamalakshi's husband have something to do with the children ? Or is it the wind from the hills that
impregnates the wife when she's fertile ? This rumour reaches every ear in the village and all the women
are questioned about their fidelity.
Kamalakshi gets no respite from the sniggers and jabs from the villagers. Her loyalty to her marriage is
tested when a huge flood swamps the village and she is left to rescue her husband. Will she be able to
stand up the task and surrender once again to the elements ?
HOT Tip : Pick this one if you're up for an earthy, yet mystic read that is seamless and lyrical.
(Times of India, Chennai dated January 1, 2009)
Translated from the Malayalam original Niyogam, the story is deeply rooted in rural Kerala, with its myths,
legends and traditions. The voice of women apart, nature is the strongest presence - the wind in its various
forms of gentleness and ferocity, the sun and the rain, darkness and moonlight. Imagination plays a
complementary role to reality and the characters balance each other. One one end of the spectrum there is
Kamalakshmi Amma running away from the seductive advances of the sun, and on the other is Ammu
Amma, turning her back on rumours. On one hand is Vishwanathan with his brute strength, and on the other
is Santhan, with the maturity of a sage. Karthu Amma, a witness to all the births in the village, finds a
companion in young Santhan with his unending questions about death. In this English version, Prema
Jayakumar captures well the lyrical imagery and earthiness of the original
(V. Savitha in Indian Express dated March 1, 2009)
Sahitya Academy award-winner Sethu wrote magic realism before the term was even coined. We know
how The Mahabharata's Kunti invoked the gods to beget sons and the Wind from the Hills (Niyogam in
Malayalam)hints that the feat could be duplicated in modern times too. It paints an accurate picture of rural
Kerala. Villages are places where everyone knows everything about you and where wagging tongues
won't rest till their curiosity is satiated. The novel's protagonist, Kamalakshi, goaded by taunts of infidelity,
goes through a heroic sacrifice in the climax to prove her loyalty. Interesting read.
(Books that'll hook you - Femina - April 8, 2009)
This is definitely the same writer, the same mastery of narrative technique and significant detail, the same
ellipses and perfectly crafted "gaps", and the same discerning "feminism" (that he calls modestly
"exploration of women's minds", but also a much larger array of characters and voices and a very different
pace in the building of emotions. I began reading from a distance and I ended up deeply moved by the
restrained, delicate and unmoralizing pathos.
Once again, I insist that "magic realism" is a notion that doesn't do justice to the aesthetics of his narrative
or serve well its interpretation....Certainly the fiction is deeply rooted in Indian culture, both traditional and
modern, but it draws from it aesthetic and philosophical qualities that can be equally appreciated by
non-Indian readers, whether in the "West" or in the Far East, for example.
(Prof. Didier COSTE, Université Bordeaux , FRANCE, in a letter to the author)