The Story of a Goat
LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR TRANSLATED LITERATURE
From one of India's best-known writers and the author of the National Book Award-longlisted One Part Woman comes a charming and surprising tale of an orphaned goat and the family that decides to take care of her, despite the potential cost to them.
As he did in the award-winning One Part Woman, in his newest novel, The Story of a Goat, Perumal Murugan explores a side of India that is rarely considered in the West: the rural lives of the country's farming community. He paints a bucolic yet sometimes menacing portrait, showing movingly how danger and deception can threaten the lives of the weakest through the story of a helpless young animal lost in a world it naively misunderstands.
As the novel opens, a farmer in Tamil Nadu is watching the sunset over his village one quiet evening when a mysterious stranger, a giant man who seems more than human, appears on the horizon. He offers the farmer a black goat kid who is the runt of the litter, surely too frail to survive. The farmer and his wife take care of the young she-goat, whom they name Poonachi, and soon the little goat is bounding with joy and growing at a rate they think miraculous for such a small animal. Intoxicating passages from the goat's perspective offer a bawdy and earthy view of what it means to be an animal and a refreshing portrayal of the natural world. But Poonachi's life is not destined to be a rural idyll--dangers can lurk around every corner, and may sometimes come from surprising places, including a government that is supposed to protect the weak and needy. Is this little goat too humble a creature to survive such a hostile world?
With allegorical resonance for contemporary society and examining hierarchies of caste and color, The Story of the Goat is a provocative but heartwarming fable from a world-class storyteller who is finally achieving recognition outside his home country.
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About the Author
PERUMAL MURUGAN is one of India's most well-known literary writers. He has written ten novels and five collections each of short stories and poetry. His best-known novel One Part Woman was longlisted for the inaugural National Book Award for Translation, and it won the prestigious ILF Samanvay Bhasha Samman for writing in Indian languages and the Translation Prize from India's National Academy of Letters.
A New York Times Book Review Paperback Row Selection
"[A] parable about village life, written with breathtaking and deceptive simplicity . . . Murugan traces the entire life of his little goat--her despair, her small acts of heroism, her longing--with Chekhovian clarity. Each sentence in Raman's supple translation is modest, sculpted and clean, but behind each you sense a fund of deep wisdom about the vagaries of the rains, politics, behavior--human and animal."--Parul Sehgal, New York Times
"Perumal Murugan said his career as a novelist was dead. Lucky for us, he was wrong . . . The Story of a Goat, translated from Tamil by N. Kalyan Raman, jumps nimbly from fantasy to realism to parable . . . The effect is not so much escapist fantasy as existential reflection . . . The elegance of Murugan's simple tone will lull you deeper into his story . . . The early scenes of tiny Poonachi wandering in the field and cavorting with other goats are as soft as cashmere . . . Woven through this slim novel is an acidic satire . . . As The Story of a Goat demonstrates, just because we've put away childish things doesn't mean we have to deny ourselves the strange pleasure of fiction in which animals articulate their own curious perspectives on their lives--and ours."--Ron Charles, Washington Post
"This slyly fabulist story inhabits the point of view of a sickly goat taken in by a poor Indian family. Murugan, whose novel One Part Woman was longlisted for a National Book Award for translation, fashions the goat's travails and victories into social commentary and a testament to nature's power."--New York Times Book Review
"This fable of society, bureaucracy, and rural life centers on a Tamil farming couple in South India and the female goat they receive from a mysterious man. The boundaries between human and animal consciousness are blurred as the frail foundling matures under the couple's care, encountering maternal bliss and heartbreak. The small triumphs and tragedies of rural life, such as drought, material wealth, and run-ins with a comically inefficient provincial government, are relayed through the goat's trenchant observations, which poignantly expose how tightly the lives of caretakers and their livestock are bound."--New Yorker
"The title character of Murugan's elegant new novel is indeed a joy . . . Murugan's marvelously observant narrative is equally interested in the visceral daily life of a farm creature . . . The greatest achievement of this remarkable novel is the empathy its adult readers will feel for a non-human creature; through Poonachi's tale we are reminded how much bonds us with the animal world."--USA Today
"Fantastical . . . Through the thoughts of a rare black goat and the couple who adopt it, readers witness famines, death, and moments of beauty."--National Geographic
"A narrative that goes beyond the humanistic toward a broader sense of universal empathy. Intimate and realistic in certain areas and mythic in others, this one might surprise you."--Words without Borders
"Through the eyes of this miraculous creature, we are taken through rural India. But it's not all sunshine-filled romps in the field. Perumal Murugan also gives us a glimpse at the nuances of class in this community from a unique and charming perspective. It's a joy."--Literary Hub
"A goat's life serves as an allegory for the human condition in this novel from an acclaimed Indian author . . . In anthropomorphizing Poonachi, Murugan finds a path to describe the essence of humans' struggle to survive while grasping for fleeting moments of joy and grace . . . In the tradition of George Orwell's Animal Farm . . . An affecting modern fable reflecting Murugan's enchanting capacity to make a simple story resonate on many levels."--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"This superbly fabulist tale from Murugan dives into the inner life and turmoil of a Asuras, a fictional farming village in rural India, through a small but determined goat and her unlikely caretakers . . . Murugan explores the lively inner life of an observant goat in this imaginative exploration of rural life under the caste system."--Publishers Weekly
"Moves fluidly between human and animal viewpoints, from detailing the humans' relationship with their land and flock, to anthropomorphizing Poonachi's maturation from fragile survivor into playful kid, longing lover, even miraculous mother. Yet as pastoral as this story seems, Murugan's multilayered intentions prove far more admonitory . . . Beyond the fields, a regime looms, fear controls, and societal rigidity rules as Murugan adroitly transforms his caprine idyll into cautionary tale."--Booklist
"A wholly human story wrapped up in the person of an orphaned black goat . . . As the story progresses, its sophistication and maturity more closely evoke Animal Farm . . . A frank exploration of oppression, greed, love, and what good can be made of even the most meager life."--Shelf Awareness
Praise for One Part Woman
"Murugan works his themes with a light hand; they always emanate from his characters, who are endowed with enough contradiction and mystery to keep from devolving into mouthpieces . . . It's not just the physical world Murugan describes so vividly--the way a cow clears its throat, for example--but the rural community, a village of 20 huts and a thousand ancient resentments, where there is no privacy and your neighbor's suffering can serve as your evening's entertainment . . . I'm hoping for a whole shelf of books from this writer."--Parul Sehgal, New York Times
"Intimate and affecting . . . Throughout the novel, Murugan pits the individual against the group. How far you willing to go, he asks, in order to belong? . . . Murugan's descriptions of village life are evocative, but the true pleasure of this book lies in his adept explorations of male and female relationships, and in his unmistakable affection for people who find themselves pitted against the world."--Laila Lalami, New York Times Book Review
"This subtly subversive novel examines the pang of childlessness experienced by Kali and Ponna, a couple living in rural southern India. In simple yet lyrical prose, Murugan shows how their standing in the world depends on offspring . . . The novel considers the constraints of tradition and beautifully articulates the couple's intense connection, even without a child."--New Yorker
"Beautiful . . . Plunges readers into Tamil culture through a story of love within a caste system undergoing British colonization in the early 19th century . . . 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."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"With a backstory as fascinating as the narrative, this intriguing work, longlisted for the National Book Award, will undoubtedly be appreciated by internationally savvy Anglophone audiences."--Library Journal
"Perumal Murugan brings a playful, fable-like quality to his tale of traditional values and their subversion."--Vanity Fair, "Fall's Best Books from Around the World"
"Perumal Murugan's One Part Woman contains the sweetest, most substantial portrait of an Indian marriage in recent fiction. A touching and original novel."--Karan Mahajan, author of The Association of Small Bombs
"Perumal Murugan's Tamil is vivid and terse, an instrument he uses with great care and precision to cut through the dense meshes of rural Tamil social life. The result, in this novel, is a brutally elegant examination of caste, family, and sex in South India."--Anuk Arudpragasam, author of The Story of a Brief Marriage
"The life of an innocent couple who are led to believe that the expectations of the system defines their own personal pursuit of happiness forms Perumal Murugan's captivating story of love and desire. With his brilliant artistry, he captures the ups and downs of their lives. Works such as these have the power to subject contemporary value systems to intense introspection, it is for the same reason they are met with resistance. This work of art by Perumal Murugan can be acclaimed as modern mythology for its unusual access to cultural memories of the land and language, and the extraordinary courage with which it is dealt."--Vivek Shanbhag, author of Ghachar Ghochar
"Murugan's writing is locally-grown literature, not a canned object sold on a supermarket bookshelf. It is rare to come across a writer who enjoys such intimacy with a land and those who live in close contact with it. One Part Woman is so rooted in the soil of tradition that its rebellion against it is all the more unexpected and moving."--Amitava Kumar, author of Immigrant, Montana
"A major Indian writer . . . Dark currents run through One Part Woman . . . Kali and Ponna, a couple who are erotically wrapped up in each other, withstand waves of derision because they have not conceived a child after a decade of marriage . . . When describing the farming communities of South India, Mr. Murugan is neither sentimental nor harsh."--New York Times (profile)
Praise for Poonachi, a Story of a Goat
"Time typically passes deliberately and routinely in a Murugan novel. The exterior world moves slowly and inexorably, closing in on characters fizzing with energy, practically spinning towards disaster. Poonachi is a taut, suspenseful extension of that universe, but with a difference--it is transformed by the sweetness of his protagonist. She is detached from the burdens of caste and religion, as her author intended. But more than that, this tiny goat, full of joie de vivre, is irresistible . . . A political novel, but it does not sacrifice its animals on the altar of allegory . . . For goats, as for humans, Murugan implies, love is easier to come by than freedom, and respite easier than mercy. In this small, stirring fable about a goat, we are reminded, and bereft to be reminded, that man is wolf to man."--Scroll (India)
"An ironic look at society, of power and abuse, bondage and greed, surveillance and the silent acquiescence of the weak in their own subjugation . . . Murugan's story is rich in detail. The semi-arid rural landscape thirsting for rain, in which it is set, throbs with life."--The Hindu (India)
"An extremely sensitive portrayal--of not just the central she-goat's life, but that of her fellow beings, [including] humans."--Outlook (India)
"A commentary on the human condition, and on the vulnerabilities of the artistic life."--Forbes India
"A significant novel of its time, Poonachi is a slow burn that pulls you in, bemuses and frustrates you before convincing you to commit to it . . . It captures in poignant, satirical strokes the relentless sense of the survival of both animal and human life in circumstances that conspire to eliminate them."--India Today
"A classic Perumal Murugan novel, empathetically illuminating lives of quiet dignity overrun by subjugation and hardship . . . He effortlessly evokes the sights, sounds and smells of [Tamil Nadu] . . . Its quiet reservoir of empathy and fortitude is slowly unraveled."--Mint (India)