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Archive for the ‘Historical Novels’ Category

The Ocean’s Own‘ is the third volume of Nandini Sengupta’s Gupta trilogy. I loved the first two parts, ‘The King Within‘ and ‘The Poisoned Heart‘ and was excited when I discovered that the third part was coming out. I just finished reading it.

The Ocean’s Own‘ is not a sequel to the first two parts but is a prequel to the first part. It tells the story of the Gupta emperor Samudragupta, when he was still a prince. The story starts with the newly married Prince Kacha (Samudragupta’s name before he became the emperor) going on his honeymoon with his young wife Datta with their best friend Harisena accompanying them. The young couple are enjoying the first days of their married life together, when they receive news from the palace, which is not good. Soon they are attacked by unknown people in the forest. The subsequent action moves the story fast and we can’t wait to find out what happens next and who these unknown assailants are and as Holmes is fond of saying, what plots are afoot. To find out what happens next, you have to read the book 😊

Historical fiction in English written by Indian writers is typically set in the British colonial era or during the Mughal era. This is probably because many Indian writers feel that these are the eras in Indian history which international readers are interested in and so if they want a book to be widely read, it is better to set the story in these time periods. This is odd, because India has a rich history stretching back to centuries before the Mughal era. The Mughal era started in 1526 CE and the Buddha was born at around 480 BCE (according to one estimate), so that is 2000 years of history out there, for which some kind of evidence is available, even if we ignore the mythical origins of Indian history before the Buddha. But Indian historical fiction writers writing in English have ignored this vast span of time filled with amazing events and have focused only on the past five hundred years. Nandini Sengupta has tried to redress that and has set her trilogy during the Gupta dynasty which was there between the third and fifth century CE. This era was regarded as the golden age of Indian history and culture and it was the time that the great poet and dramatist Kalidasa lived. So Nandini Sengupta has broken new ground here, in terms of Indian historical fiction writing in English, which is inspiring.

The three books in the trilogy focus on three different emperors and this third volume, ‘The Ocean’s Own‘ is about the Emperor Samudragupta. It has all the things that Nandini Sengupta’s fans have come to expect from her books – a wonderful start filled with mystery and intrigue, unknown assassins trying to do bad things, palace intrigue, beautiful friendship, wonderful descriptions of sword fights and battle scenes, passionate romance. And last but not the least, the amazing strong women characters. There are the quiet strong women, like the princess and the empress. And then there is the courtesan, the assassin, the warrior, all amazing women. This book features the Pallava princess and warrior, Angai, who is a fierce warrior like Penthesilea, the Amazon queen who fights Achilles, and who teaches Emperor Samudragupta one or two things about how to fight in a battle, and gives him an education that he never forgets. She is one of the great characters in the story and the trilogy.

I loved ‘The Ocean’s Own‘ and the whole Gupta trilogy. Unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end, and I had a bittersweet feeling when I finished reading this final volume. I can’t wait to find out what Nandini Sengupta comes up with next.

Have you read ‘The Ocean’s Own‘ or other books in the Gupta trilogy? What do you think about them?

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I haven’t read a book in my native language Tamil in a while. So I thought that before I forget it completely, I’ll read a book in Tamil  I decided to read ‘Ponniyin Selvan‘ (Ponni’s Son) by Kalki.

Ponniyin Selvan‘ was first published in the 1950s, when it was serialized in Kalki magazine. It was probably the first (or one of the first) historical novels in Tamil and it got great acclaim and a huge fan following when it first came out. It led to a whole historical-fiction-industry in Tamil, when everyone and their brother and sister started writing historical novels. I think that craze died sometime in the 1990s.

I first read ‘Ponniyin Selvan‘ when I was in school. It was reissued againΒ  in Kalki magazine. We used to read a couple of chapters every week and then wait for the next week’s issue. The story ran for nearly three years. A few years back, one of the publishers decided to publish the book in the format in which it originally came out in the 1950s, with the same font, and the illustrations by the original artist. When this edition came out, I got it. It was beautiful. That is the one I am reading now. I finished reading the first volume today.

What is the story about? Well, ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ has a long, epic, rambling plot. It is a historical novel set at around 970 C.E. It is about the Chola king and queens and princes and princesses and their friends and enemies. It has everything that one would expect in a historical novel – many characters, intricate plot, conspiracies, palace intrigues, romance, war, amazing adventures, secrets from the past, charming characters, spies, badass villains, many surprising revelations. The influence of Alexandre Dumas is deeply felt in Kalki’s book – there is a young man, Vandhiyadevan, who looks like D’Artagnan, there is a beautiful woman, Nandini, who looks like Milady de Winter, and there is even a minister like Cardinal Richelieu. Of course, the actual plot and characters are different and fascinating in their own way.

One of the things I loved about the book is that it focuses on the plot and the characters. There is a lot of charming dialogue, but there are no long monologues or boring descriptions. There is rarely a dull moment in the story. Another thing I loved about the book is that, the author gives the required historical background, whenever it is required for a better understanding of the story. He doesn’t push the historical background into the footnotes or into the notes at the back of the book, but provides it in the middle of the story. That way he makes us learn history on the way and I loved that. Another thing I loved about the story is that different characters in the book quote classic Tamil poetry, and they follow it up with a commentary on the poem. Sometimes a poem has mythological allusions which are not readily apparent while reading the poem and the author, through a character’s voice, explains them. It was fascinating to read.

I read the book for the first time when I was fifteen and now when I am reading it again after many years, my reading experience is totally different. For example, when I read it the first time, I unconsciously classified the characters as good and bad, the way we tend to do when we are younger. But reading it now, I realized that the way Kalki has depicted the characters, they are complex and imperfect and fascinating. The bad characters are not really bad, and the good characters are not really perfect. It is fascinating how we see a book with new eyes, when we read it again after many years.

The artwork in the book by Maniom, is very beautiful. It has a classical, vintage feel to it. I’m sharing some of my favourite pictures from the book, below. Hope you like them.

Left : Vandhiyadevan ;
Middle : Aazhvarkadiyaan
Left : Nandhini ;
Right : Vandhiyadevan
Palace sculpture
Palace sculpture
Left : Vanathi ;
Right : Kundhavai
Left : Vandhiyadevan ;
Right : Kundhavai

Hoping to start the second volume later today 😊

Have you read ‘Ponniyin Selvan‘? Do you like re-reading your favourite books? Do you relate to them differently when you read them again?

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