Book Review: The Gypsy Goddess by Meena Kandasamy

Spare, incandescently passionate, straining conventions, Meena Kandasamy reignites the Kilvenmany massacre: Urvashi Butalia in The Outlook

Gypsy GoddessThe Gypsy Goddess is clever, serious, witty, devastating, unusual and breathtakingly varied. In the first 30 or 40 pages, you read your way through the author’s anxieties about how to tell her chosen story. As this somewhat exten­ded, witty reflection on the writer’s relationship to the story, her choices of the standpoints from where to construct the narrative closes, you find you are already acquainted with the characters you will now meet, and indeed how the story will unfold.

A beginning like this may not be every reader’s cup of tea but then this novel is not a conventional novel. There’s no straightforward plot or narrative, there are no key characters, not even a central character. Nevertheless, once the aut­hor’s anxieties have been dealt with, you are plunged straight into the narrative and find yourself immersed in the story of a village and a people. If you know this story—for it’s a true one, part of the long history of caste conflict and the struggles of agricultural labourers in India—you will recognise it instantly. If  you don’t, you will ask yourself how the history you learnt could have passed this by. The bare bones of the story are as follows.

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