Book Review: Ponniyin Selvan

Slowly – very slowly – I’m coming out from under the ether.

After 10 magical days.

Where was I?

Transported into the past, a thousand years back. To the glamorous, glorious Chola period of Thamizhagam, in a narrative about the prince popularly known as ‘Ponniyin Selvan’.

  • And so, I missed writing deadlines.
  • Set my book launch on autopilot.
  • Left even important work pending.
  • Put off tasks for later – and then hurriedly finished them.

Just so that I could go back to reading this lovely book.

I felt a relentless tug, like gravity, to return to the story. To carry on with the activities of a cast of characters so vast it’ll make your head spin.

To follow events as they unfold in their myriad complexities, sub-plots within sub-plots creating twists and turns that alternately baffled and thrilled me.

I’ve written over one hundred book reviews. But with Ponniyin Selvan, I don’t even know where to begin – or how to go about it.

Nearly everything in this epic tale is stunning.

There’s the brilliant storytelling, that makes even this long novel that spans 500 chapters, 2,400 pages, an un-put-downable book. Of course, I established new reading strategies for it.

The tense verbal fencing and pithy dialogue that sparkles and shines in every conversation.

The never-ending cast with their unique personalities and characters – some noble, others dastardly, some ferocious, others cunning, some foolhardy, others ruthless.

And there’s the use of so many literary devices that make it an intriguing, gripping read.

Cliff-hangers end each chapter. Emotions surge and swell as opponents pit wits and weapons, strategize and conspire against each other. All through the book, I felt like I was riding an emotional roller-coaster.

And at the end, I’m all wrung out!

It’s a near-miracle that even Kalki Krishnamurthy, the author of ‘Ponniyin Selvan’, managed to keep track of the countless threads and open loops he sprinkles so generously across the five volumes. But there’s a resolution at the end that satisfies, thrills, and inspires.

I guess one way to sum up a review in a nutshell is to call this, in a sense, the equivalent of “Harry Potter for adults” – in the kind of feeling it left me with, at the end of it all.

If an English translation is so powerful, I wonder how much better it will be to read ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ in its original Tamil form.

I have decided to read that soon.

Ponniyin Selvan


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