Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction: Vol. II, selected and translated by Pritham K. Chakravarthy and edited by Rakesh Khanna

Source: Goodreads
The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction: Vol. II
Selected and translated by Pritham K. Chakravarthy (from Tamil)
Edited by Rakesh Khanna
Originally published 2010, I read 2011
467 pages, mystery, horror, detective, romance

In this second volume of Blaft's Tamil Pulp Fiction anthology, the editors have chosen to translate full-length novels and novellas from a variety of authors, including one from Singapore. Whereas a majority of the pieces in the first anthology were detective stories (a fact I mentioned in my review), this volume is mainly horror focused.

The stories include: 

"The Palace of Kottaipuram" (1990) by Indra Soundar Rajan 

The royal family has been haunted by a curse for generations: the men all die before they turn 30, and no female children survive for long after their birth. The younger prince of the current generation is well-educated and does not believe any of this nonsense - until his brother is killed by a cobra. Now the younger prince's girlfriend has to investigate the origins of the curse and the strange social order surrounding the royal family if she wants to save the man she loves.

"Highway 117" (1980) by Jeyaraj & Pushpa Thangadorai

This full-length comic book features Karate Kavita, a super-strong female hero, who teams up with an archaeologist to uncover the man responsible for stealing the treasures from several temples.

"Hold on a Minute, I'm in the Middle of a Murder" (1979) by Indumathi

Inspired by the Exorcist and similar movies, Indumathi's horror novella is a tale of demonic possession and murders by supernatural forces. When the doctor and head of a psychiatric institution finds one of his patients has killed his colleague, he is stunned. The police take up the investigation, but very odd things begin to happen to everyone even vaguely related to the doctor or his patient.

"The Bungalow by the River" (2000) by M. K. Narayanan 

A ghost story by a Singaporean Tamil author. A woman flees from her alcoholic husband when she learns about the affair that is consuming him. Years later, a lawyer contacts their son with the message that the father has died and left the property to him. The son wants nothing to do with it, but decides to visit the property with his lawyer before it is sold. Strange things start happening when they arrive. As they find themselves trapped by a sudden monsoon, will they be able to survive in the house until morning?

"Hello, Good Dead Morning!" (1986) by Rajesh Kumar

A detective wakes up to a phone call - the police have found a body, and they're not sure if it's a murder or suicide. As he investigates, we are introduced to a young woman who has recently become obsessed with "blue films" (i.e. pornography). To maintain and hide this obsession, she begins to lie to her brother and others, resulting in the murder of one of her brother's employees...

"Sacriledge to Love" (2009) by Resakee

A girl is plagued by unwanted suitors and an overprotective brother who violently punishes anyone who falls in love with her. Then she falls in love herself, and the former targets of her brother's ire conspire to help the lovers deal with him.

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I applaud the translator for selecting works that depict strong, active female characters (again, something that I complained about in my review of the first volume). 

My favorite story was, again, the novel by Indra Sounder Rajan. His female protagonist demonstrates courage and intelligence throughout the story; in fact, if not for her investigation the source of the curse would have gone unnoticed. She is the active one in contrast to her boyfriend's weepy terror. 

Something that bothered me, however, was the way she was frequently over-sexualized in descriptions that had no basis in the plot. It seemed like the author felt that he had to sprinkle references to her glorious curves or swelling breasts in order to make the rest of the novel palatable. Despite this random over-sexualization, I really enjoyed her character and the rest of the novel. 

In "Hello, Good Dead Morning," Kumar gives a depiction of repressed sexuality that has no legal outlet. The girl's friend illegally obtains pornography; they watch it secretly and lie about what they are doing; and then, since pre-marital sex is taboo, they have no way to channel that energy productively. In fact, (highlight to reveal spoilers) she ends up raping the employee who comes to fix the air conditioner, and then accuses him of raping her when her brother catches her. While the book condemns her sexuality by causing it to ruin her life (an example of the misogynist idea Death-by-sex), I felt that the much more important lesson was that sexuality should not be so taboo so that girls can have a better way to express those emotions. 

The better of the two volumes

I enjoyed this second volume of the series much more than the first one. Whereas Volume 1 attempted to give a wide variety of short pieces (some of which were mediocre...), Volume 2 is much more substantial. I appreciated the full-length novels and novellas, which give the reader a much better picture of each writer's style. 

This volume also demonstrates some of the variety available in the Tamil pulp fiction world. From comics to Exorcist-style horror stories, I enjoyed these peeks into other areas outside of the detective story. The inclusion of a work by a Singaporean Tamil writer was also brilliant, as it emphasizes the importance of the non-Indian Tamil population. 

Once again, Blaft has created a unique and brilliant collection, and I'm hungry for more. I hope to see a third volume soon, and maybe some other novels by Indra Soundar Rajan? 

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