Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Man-Eater of Malgudi: R. K. Narayan


R. K. Narayan, an Indian writer, is the creator of the fictional town of Malgudi, in South India. He wrote many books and short stories about this town and its inhabitants. The first book he published was Swami and Friends, in 1935. Swami and Friends was rejected by many publishers in London, until Graham Greene read it and helped to get it published. The book I am reviewing, The Man-Eater of Malgudi, was published in 1961, and it is dedicated to Graham Greene, "to mark (more than) a quarter of a century of friendship."

Description from Goodreads:
This is the story of Nataraj, who earns his living as a printer in the little world of Malgudi, an imaginary town in South India. Nataraj and his close friends, a poet and a journalist, find their congenial days disturbed when Vasu, a powerful taxidermist, moves in with his stuffed hyenas and pythons, and brings his dancing-women up the printer's private stairs.
Vasu is a bully, who worms his way into some empty rooms over Nataraj's business. Nataraj is a man who cannot say "no," whose natural mode is to give in to all demands of his friends and business associates. This is the story of how Vasu affects the small town he moves into, and how the problem is dealt with.

My copy of this novel is in an edition that also includes A Tiger for Malgudi, published in 1984. There is an introduction by Pico Iyer, which was very useful to this novice reader of Narayan.

I found this book very interesting and enjoyable to read. The story affected me very much. I was easily irritated with Nataraj; I wanted to scream at him to stop giving in and placating Vasu. I was surprised by the ending. It was not so much a happy ending as a satisfactory ending.

I look forward to reading more stories of Malgudi by Narayan. I am not sure if I want to get one of the earlier novels first, or a book of short stories, or continue with A Tiger for Malgudi.

This book completes my requirements for the Global Reading Challenge. When I signed on for the Global Reading Challenge, Prashant at Chess, Comics and Crosswords suggested several Indian writers for me to try. I chose R.K. Narayan and was glad I did. This has been an entirely different reading experience for me.

15 comments:

  1. Hi Tracy

    So glad that you read Narayan.

    My favourites among Narayan's works are Swami and Friends; The Vendor of Sweets; and The Grandmother's Tale. His most trail-blazing work though is The Guide where a woman enters into an affair outside her marriage. It made quite a statement in the days it was written.

    I didn't enjoy Maneater much but liked Tiger.

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    1. Thanks, Neer, for the suggestions. I think, having read a bit more about Narayan's writing, I will start at the beginning books. I will find a copy of Swami and Friends. The Guide also sounds good.

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  2. Tracy, thank you for the kind mention. The late R.K. Narayan was one of India's most celebrated writers and, I might add, the father of Indian fiction. He was a close friend of Graham Greene, as you mentioned, and was also briefly associated with Somerset Maugham, I think. His younger brother, R.K. Laxman, has been the country's most famous cartoonist. I was delighted to know that you liked this book which contains two of his popular stories. Neer has already filled you in on his other work. I also recommend MALGUDI DAYS, the television series based on many of Narayan's stories. You'll enjoy it for its rustic appeal.

    I'm not surprised that your copy had an introduction by Pico Iyer, a terrific writer, who along with Salman Rushdie (Booker), Amitav Ghosh, Rohinton Mistry, Khushwant Singh, Vikram Seth, Upamanyu Chatterjee, Anita Desai and her daughter Kiran Desai (Booker), Kiran Nagarkar, Githa Hariharan, and Ruskin Bond (who made India his home long ago), among several others, form the bulwark of award-winning Indian writers in English. Besides, there are hundreds of authors who write fiction in India's numerous regional languages with translations available for many of the books. One can spend a lifetime reading Indian fiction in English or in translation.

    I hope you get a chance to read some of these writers. Frankly, I haven't read all of them myself.

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    1. I forgot to mention that Pico Iyer is of Indian origin, born in Britain. Also, Jhumpa Lahiri, the Indian American writer, is noted for INTERPRETER OF MALADIES, a collection of short stories (Pulitzer) and THE NAMESAKE which was made into a very nice film starring Irrfan Khan, of LIFE OF PI fame. I have read the first book.

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    2. Thanks for all the additional information on other Indian authors, Prashant. I will definitely try some of these authors. I do have The Namesake by Lahiri.

      It is also interesting that R. K. Narayan's brother is a well-known cartoonist. Thanks so much for introducing me to this writer.

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  3. Tracy - What a terrific story and a great choice for a post. I clearly must read some of Narayan's work. I've heard of it but hadn't (yet) tried it. Time to change that. Soon.

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    1. Margot, definitely an interesting book, and I am sure you would enjoy his writing.

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  4. Off to find this one. Thanks for the review Tracy and Happy New Year :-)

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    1. Keishon, I hope you like this one. You have a Happy New Year too.

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    2. Just FYI, I opted to try A Tiger for Malgudi. Read the first chapter and like the writing style. Took a big risk because there wasn't a sample to be read. It was filled up with front matter. I promise to share my thoughts on it sometime next year. Again, thanks.

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    3. Keishon, that's great. Just based on the description, Tiger for Malgudi sounds very good. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it.

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  5. An interesting book, and I can't claim to have read any Indian fiction, so one to mull over, thanks.

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    1. Col, I hope to be following this up with more by Narayan. And possibly some other Indian authors, although I have to curtail my buying in 2014. Went wild in 2013.

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  6. I have been hearing about the Malgudi books for years, but have somehow never tried them - perhaps your review will give me the push I need!

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    1. Moira, I found the book a change of pace and plan to continue reading them.

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