Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction Volume 1, Edited by Rakesh Kanna, Translated by Pritham K. Chakravarthy

Source: Goodreads
The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction: Volume 1
Editor: Rakesh Kanna
Translator: Pritham K. Chakravarthy (from Tamil)
Originally published 2008, I read 2011
400 pages, pulp fiction (crime, noir, science fiction, fantasy)

Curious about the super-popular but untranslated books in other languages?

Have you ever wondered about the popular books in other languages, the ones that don't normally get translated into English but sell thousands or even millions of copies? This anthology of short pieces of pulp fiction gives you the opportunity to access those stories from one of the major South Indian literary scenes. These are the books that you could buy at the grocery store or gas station if you were in South India and spoke Tamil, all presented in wonderfully readable English with a spunky gun-toting heroine on the cover.

The collection covers a wide range of genres, so there is something for everyone who likes pulp! My favorites were "Matchstick Number One" by Rajesh Kumar (a tale about family and political corruption), "The Rebirth of Jeeva" by Indra Soundar Rajan (a college student on a field trip discovers the truth about her past life!), "Dim Lights, Blazing Hearts" by Ramanichandran (a sort of Pride and Prejudice love story where the woman makes assumptions and acts on stereotypes), and "Sweetheart, Please Die!" by Pattukkottai Prabakar (a mystery about a college student's disappearance).

First few pages available from the publisher.

Buy from Amazon: 

The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction

Too much crime! 

This anthology is a brilliant piece of translation and selection, and there really is something for everyone. I have a few complaints about the featured stories themselves. First, the selection seems to primarily focus on crime and detective fiction, which make up a majority of the book. This is probably because of the overwhelming abundance of crime fiction published, but I appreciated the other genres presented more. I am excited to read the second volume, in which it seems more non-crime stories are included.

Women's place in pulp

The second is that these stories, like pulp novels everywhere, are written for a mass audience and therefore leave something to be desired in their treatment of women and depiction of South Indian culture. I was frequently annoyed by the non sequitur sexual references, the passivity of some of the female characters, and the way that conservative stereotypes were considered to be the norm. The worst example of this was in the first story, Subha's "Hurricane Vaij," in which the male lead is more concerned with somehow getting his hand onto his girlfriend's breast than with paying attention to what the villain is saying. The worst part about this scene is that the female lead is pretending to be unconscious, so she cannot react to what her partner is doing. Besides this incident, there are many other examples where the stories made me uncomfortable because of the treatment of women, or for other social and cultural reasons.

All in all, a good read

Despite this, I would encourage you to read the book - these are extremely popular stories and it's more important to experience the phenomenon that has been rendered in English for the first time. And, after all, it is an anthology - you can always skip to another story if you don't like the one you're reading.

Blaft Publishing is a new company based in Chennai, and this book was one of their first projects. I encourage you to check out their website - they have published a lot of interesting things, including a 2nd volume to this anthology. I am very excited to read the 2nd volume, which features a full novel from my favorite author in this volume, Indra Sounder Rajan.

Are there any pulp fiction works that YOU want to see translated? Leave a comment below.

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