Jaya by Devdutt Pattanaik (review)

Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata by Devdutt Pattanaik

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The trouble with this book is that it reads like a school text book. A textbook that has abridged an epic to the point of turning it into a series of interconnected fables. The kind with morals. Minus the animals. Mostly.

Maybe this only bothers people like me who’ve read so many masterful translations of Mahabharat before this. I really only bought this book because the cover intrigued me. And also because Pattanaik called his book ‘Jaya’ which was the original title of the epic. It was clever and caught my attention.

Unfortunately while this book does do an excellent job of viewing the characters and their motives through clear, critical eyes, it simply doesn’t tell enough of the story. There are too many sub plots missing. Too many characters put aside for the sake of expedient writing.

What this book is, is a fantastic introduction to Mahabhrat. Anyone uninterested in mythology but eager to know the basic flow of the story would love this.

Actually, let me correct myself. I think if I was twelve again and just as interested in reading all the mythological stories I could find as I was back then, this would have been an ideal present for me.

Part of the reason is that Pattanaik doesn’t use the plodding, pedantic language that other, longer translations inevitably do to preserve the feeling of the ancient text. And also because he refuses to hide behind euphemisms when narrating the deeds – foul and seedy – of both the heroes and the villains. Making the essential point – for any student of the epics – that by the end of the book neither side could escape the stain of dishonour and no one could claim higher moral ground.

Not even a god.

So. Good book. Too simplistic. Hoped for more…just more. Not two page synopsis of hundred pages of the actual story.



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