DCIB Book Club: Ponniyin Selvam Book 1 First Half

This is a very confusing series! I read the newest translation of Book 1, then started an older translation of Book 2 and went “wait, this doesn’t seem like it makes sense”, went back to another translation of Book 1 and found a whoooooooooooooole other part of the book! So I am calling this post “First Half” and trying to cover all my bases.

Ready for the gutsiest thing Book 1 does? At least in the first half and I think it continues through the second. We never actually see the two princes who are at the center of the story. We see their enemies, their allies, and hear about things they’ve done. But we don’t actually seem them “onstage” as it were.

What makes this particularly interesting is that everyone else in the book gets to meet basically everyone else in person. At first I was rolling my eyes a bit at the coincidences, but then I realized this is actually historically accurate. There were just fewer people in Olden Times. And there were big spaces with no people, and then a bunch of people clustered together who were all related and knew each other and stuff. Our hero comes to spend the night at his childhood friend’s house and stumbles into a Big Important Secret Meeting. But on the other hand, as a warrior, he would have known most of the other sons of big important people. And there were few enough Big Important People living in Big Important Places that odds are SOMETHING would be happening that night. It’s weird that he was there on this one important night, but everything else isn’t that unlikely.

The whole structure of the book is just excellent. We watch this one random dude wander about thinking “my country is awesome! My royal family is awesome! Wait, the situation is more complicated. Or is it? Not sure! Gonna keep thinking!” The book doesn’t spoonfeed us answers, we hear about how the Chiefs/Kings object to sending grain overseas to the army instead of the army taking from the local population, and it’s a valid objection. But on the other hand, it is up to us to understand the reasons that the army may have asked for grain from home.

The gender stuff is also FASCINATING!!! Part of the argument for why there should be a coupe is that the king gives too much power to the women around him. And again, it is left up to us to decide if that is a legitimate argument. We see this conversation, and then we actually see the Princess they discussed, and she is smart and confident and in charge and seems like a better leader than anyone else we’ve seen so far. Again, it is up to us the reader, and our hero, to decide if it is a legitimate argument or not.

Plus there are great one liners about swords and shields and bravery, and it keeps you guessing about what’s gonna happen next and who is on what side and all kinds of good things. I just really really liked it! Even if I accidentally only read half of it.

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6 thoughts on “DCIB Book Club: Ponniyin Selvam Book 1 First Half

  1. Well, I tried it. Kindle unlimited, why wouldn’t I? But then I couldn’t get through that never-ending description of the lake on the first few pages. Too slow for me right now.

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    • It picks up! But yes, there is a lot of scenic bits and history of the royal family bits. Probably not the best thing to read in between chasing Baby.

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  2. I read the CV Karthik Narayanan one and greatly enjoyed the books. Tried Pavithra Srinivasan but felt like she was condensing the story too much!! Also tried Indira Neelamegham’s translation which I really liked, so basically the first two books I read both Karthik’s and Indira’s in tandem until I finally commited to the former.

    I loved the wait to meet the Princes too. Good stuff! And I remember ruminating about the point on grains too, who was in the right??

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    • I find the double-historical element of the grain debate fascinating. It’s a historical book set during a particular time. But it was also written during a particular time, right after colonialism ended. Through that lens, I think the author is trying to make a point about not abusing and taking from expanded territories but instead giving to them. really interesting, right?

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