19 mar 2023

Perumal Murugan's The Story of a Goat: A Review

Perumal Murugan, The Story of a Goat (Londres: Pushkin Press, 2018 [2016]). 183 pages. Translated from the Tamil by N. Kalyan Raman.
“The birth of an ordinary creature never leaves a trace, does it?” Well, it does, actually: for an old couple of the farming poor in India who have survived in a small, arid village in the south, the arrival of a puny black baby goat becomes an unforgettable event.

They name the kid Poonachi, and the ginormous man who leaves the goat behind in their care assures them Poonachi, a female, is truly a miracle. Despite their scarce resources, the old couple take the creature in and do their best to feed her.

The country depicted by Murugan has a government that is incredibly inquisitive about what animals people have. Strict controls take place and tough questions are asked if the animal’s provenance cannot be ascertained. At home, Poonachi is ostracised by most other goats and cannot feed on the nanny-goat’s milk. The old woman, however, ensures the little black goat will grow.

Murugan writes about the life of a goat while deftly constructing a more than entertaining allegory for the human condition. Through Poonachi’s story and point of view, we are ‘treated’ to the many misadventures, cruelties and sad events that mark a female animal’s life in a poor area. While Murugan is apparently focusing us on the hardships of people and the worries and humiliation the absurdly strict rules of the government of the country can inflict on the vulnerable, on another level the book works as a profoundly bitter denunciation.

Perumal Murugan: Another author to pay close attention to. Photograph by  Augustus Binu.

Poonachi’s survival as a baby goat just serves her on a plate for more brutality and disappointment: Murugan’s narrative includes scenes of castration, rape, erotic love and then frustrated romance. More than a sad fable, The Story of a Goat comes across as a seriously inventive reflection on existence, injustice and the human ability to withstand misfortune. Murugan subtly warns the reader against complacency in a world where ultraright-wing tumult and violence against women seem to go hand in hand. N. Kalyan Raman’s translation occasionally sounds brilliantly foreign yet neat. A nice little surprise of a book!

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