The “intimate and affecting” novel of an Indian couple’s quest for a child that sparked national conversations about caste and female empowerment (Laila Lalami, New York Times Book Review).
Set in South India during the British colonial period, One Part Woman tells the story of Kali and Ponna, a married couple unable to conceive. The predicament is of major concern for their families—and the crowing amusement of Kali’s male friends. From making offerings at different temples to circumambulating a mountain supposed to cure barren women, Kali and Ponna try everything to solve the problem. But a more radical plan is required.
The annual chariot festival, a celebration of the god Maadhorubaagan, who is part male and part female, may provide the answer. On the eighteenth night of the festival, the rules of marriage are relaxed, and consensual sex between unmarried men and women is overlooked, for all men are considered gods. The festival may be the solution to Kali and Ponna’s problem, but it soon threatens to drive the couple apart as much as to bring them together.
Wryly amusing and deeply poignant, One Part Woman is a powerful exploration of a loving marriage strained by the expectations of others, and an attack on the rigid rules of caste and tradition that continue to constrict opportunity and happiness.
Longlisted for the National Book Award
This beautiful novel from Murugan, winner of the Translation Prize from India's National Academy of Letters, plunges readers into Tamil culture through a story of love within a caste system undergoing British colonization in the early 19th century. Everything in Ponna and Kali's lives seems fruitful: they have a flourishing herd of cows and a stunning flower garden. But after 12 years of marriage, Ponna still has not conceived a child. Ponna has taken the strange, bitter herbs her mother-in-law gives her, has traveled to make countless offerings to the gods, and has tried many traditional rituals, but nothing works. A deep source of shame, their childlessness isolates Ponna and Kali from their community and becomes a subject of ridicule from their friends and neighbors. Their families scheme together in secret to push one last ritual on the couple at the annual chariot festival celebrating the half-man half-woman god, where men and women are free to copulate with anyone. It's unthinkable to Kali, but Ponna may be willing to give it a try if it means they will be blessed with a child and their suffering will end. Murugan's touching, harrowing love story captures the toll that infertility has on a marriage in a world where having a child is the greatest measure of one's worth.