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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Maniyambath Mukundan

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To purchase Nrittam

Title: Nrittam
Author: Maniyambath Mukundan
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 200 pages
Original in: Malayalam
Availability: Nrittam - US
Dance - US
Nrittam - UK
Nrittam - Canada
Dance - India
  • Published as Nrittam in a translation by Mary T. Mathew in 2007, with a Foreword by A.J.Thomas (Mellen Press)
  • Includes the Malayalam text
  • Published as Dance in a translation by D Krishna Ayyar and KG Ramakrishnan in 2008 (Katha)

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Our Assessment:

C- : weak translation(s) and poor (copy-)editing don't leave this story with much of a chance

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Telegraph . 28/3/2008 .
The Sunday Tribune . 16/3/2008 Randeep Wadehra

  From the Reviews:
  • "The storyline is flimsy, and the prose sometimes a little too smart for its own good." - The Telegraph

  • "This readable work would have become absorbing had various mindscapes been explored, and emotional interplay been depicted. Characters have not been fleshed out, barring, to some extent, those of Raji, Agni and Sreedharan." - Randeep Wadehra, The Sunday Tribune

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Maniyambath Mukundan's 2000 Malayalam novella has been published in two different translations, as Nrittam (in the US, in an outrageously expensive (and presumably 'academic') edition) and as Dance (in India). The American edition is particularly poorly copy-edited, but does also offer the full Malayalam text; the Indian edition reads better and, for those interested in only the English version, is obviously preferable (especially given the enormous disparity in the suggested retail prices of the editions).
       The way Mukundan presents the story is reasonably interesting: he introduces the character T.P.Sridharan, who has just gotten his very own e-mail address. He's never been much of a letter writer, but he hopes to correspond with friends and relatives now, but most of his mail is just junk mail. Finally he gets a message from agni@aol.com, a name he doesn't recognize; the message doesn't reveal much either, but after he replies he begins getting e-mails from that address: Agni identifies himself as a dancer, and recounts his life-story. This is very much to Sridharan's liking [All quotes, except where otherwise noted, are from the Mary T. Mathew translation]:

He had no story of his own, so he enjoyed stories by strangers.
       Sridharan also recognizes:
All serials work on the same principles, whether published in a journal or sent through e-mail.
       And, drawn into the story, he eventually finds:
As for Agni, he seemed to possess all the skills of a super-smart editor or serial writer, winding up each of his installments just when the story reached a suspenseful moment.
       Readers of the book may not be quite as taken by Agni's efforts, but the story does move along fairly quickly in short chapters. Agni's name is Balakrishnan (though Agni toys around a bit with the question whether or not he really is identical with the person whose life he describes ...). A restless kid, Balakrishnan was discovered by Patrick Rodolph, a "famous European dancer on a visit to Kerala", and is invited to join Rodolph's group of dancers, which he does. He does leave behind the girl he loves, Raji -- but she's philosophical: "I'll just marry someone richer and fairer than you and live well."
       Balakrishnan has some success in the dance group, and is especially close to Rodolph -- but eventually abandons him, taking up a fabulously well-paying gig in the United States. After Rodolph commits suicide, Balakrishnan returns to India again for the first time in some sixteen years; he meets the still philosophical (and now married) Raji there ... before vanishing into cyberspace.
       Mukundan does a few things quite well. The way Agni presents his story is underdeveloped and not entirely convincing, but aspects of this are quite clever, as when the story gets more complex and the episodes longer:
     Agni now sent them as attachments, which Sridharan found increasingly difficult to download. Some messages had to be converted.
       There's also an interesting racial issue that is left far too underdeveloped: Balakrishnan is particularly dark-skinned (hence also Raji's jibe that she was going to find someone with fairer skin than his), and only once is this really dealt with, as he finds in Europe:
     My dark body always stood out amidst the whirling bodies of the dancers. The color I considered a curse now turned into a blessing. I had to borrow the white man's perspectives to appreciate the beauty of a dark complexion.
       Unfortunately, there are misspellings and inconsistent spellings in both translations of the work; Mary Mathew's is the considerably more disappointing one, especially for all the mistaken transliterations of easily checked European and American locales and landmarks (though the "Groove of Honour cemetery" where Krishna Ayyar/Ramakrishnan place Beethoven's tomb is also a nice howler). A nice (inadvertent ?) touch in Mathew's translation is the transliteration of one character's name as 'Alfred Knopf' (Krishna Ayyar/Ramakrishnan make him 'Alfred Nope') -- though consistent spelling would have helped (i.e. no 'Alfred Knopp' ...).
       But it is a copy-editing error in Mathew's rendering of one pivotal scene that ultimately completely disqualifies it -- the one when Alfred breaks the bad news:
     "I called you to convey some news," he said. "Our Patrick Rodolph committee suicide."
       (And, by the way -- in case it had somehow escaped you --: I'm here to convey some new to you, too: that the translation is pretty bad too.)
       Krishna Ayyar/Ramakrishnan make of that:
     "I called to give you an important piece of news," Alfred said. "Our Patrick Rudolf died. Suicide."
       Which is certainly preferable.
       The American edition of the book also can't be bothered even just to reconcile spellings -- A.J.Thomas spells the name 'Sreedharan' in the Foreword, while in the text proper it is given as: 'Sridharan'. Given the price they're asking for this volume -- a list price of US $ 109.95 (compared to Rs 175 -- ca. $ 3.75 -- for the Indian translation) -- you're definitely not getting what you pay for.
       Both translations give a sense of what the Malayalam original might offer, but fall far short in their English expression. The elliptical tale, with a curious mix of the subtle and the obvious, needs a much lighter touch -- though the story itself seems a bit too flimsy and underdeveloped. Quite a disappointment.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 November 2009

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Nrittam: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Malayalam-writing author Maniyambath Mukundan was born in Kerala, India, in 1942.

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