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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

GUEST REVIEW: Adi Parva by Amruta Patil (Reviewed by Max Gladstone)

Official Author Website
Order Adi Parva here
Read The Mahabharata: A Recollection and Q&A With Max Gladstone
Read my thoughts on 18 Days by Grant Morrison and Mukesh Singh

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Amruta Patil is a writer, painter and illustrator. She is the author of Kari and Adi Parva; and her graphic short stories have appeared in anthologies and magazines around the world. She has an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Art, Boston. Adi Parva is based on the Mahabharata and the tradition of oral storytellers. It was selected as one of 2012′s best graphic novels by comic book historian, Paul Gravett. Amruta is currently working on Adi Parva‘s sequel, Sauptik Parva.

OFFICIAL BLURB: From the bestselling author of Kari comes a brilliant new interpretation of mythology. Combining stories from the Adi Parva which precede the main narrative of the Pandav-Kaurav war for succession.

Adi Parva is a graphic novel based on the Mahabharata and the tradition of oral storytellers. The timeline is circular in Adi Parva. The cast includes our ancestors – gods, demigods, queens, sages, seers, seductresses, hermits, kings, warriors, and navigators of the multiverse. With the celestial river Ganga as its narrator, Adi Parva has a backdrop that sprawls across heaven and earth.

FORMAT/INFO: Adi Parva is 276 pages long divided into thirteen titled but unnumbered sections. This is the first book of a graphic novel trilogy and the author is currently working on Adi Parva‘s sequel, Sauptik Parva.

August 30, 2012 marked the hardcover publication of Adi Parva and was published by Harper Collins India.

ANALYSIS: Not all great stories have small beginnings. Sometimes a storyteller meets a tale so vast she can only start with the gods.

Amruta Patil's Adi Parva is a graphic novel retelling of the first sections of the Mahabharata, that shelf-long Indian epic of heroism, love, sacrifice, and magical warfare. The Mahabharata should need no introduction, but it often does, at least in Western circles. This is a story of archers who can shoot down gods, magical weapons that break the world asunder, bridal games and gods of dice and solar raptors and curses and navigators of the multiverse. Pick your favorite fantasy or science fiction novel, go on I'll wait, and the Mahabharata will match it battle for battle, climax for climax, heartbreak for heartbreak. Not bad for a book that doubles as one of the world's great works of religion and philosophy.

Really, that should be enough to convince you to run out and buy Adi Parva now. But, if you need more, let's continue. I call Patil's work a retelling rather than adaptation because she has done more than put pictures to the original text. She's reinvented the story in the voice and person of a traditional storyteller—in this case, the goddess of the river Ganges.

Patil's Adi Parva opens under a tree beside a river. Not far away, smoke rises to the sky, and fiery sparks shoot up to burn the stars: King Jamejaya is burning snakes. All the snakes, in the entire world. He's summoned rishis and magicians to call the serpents into his fire, so to be sure he doesn't miss a single one. The king's mad for vengeance, and a group of farmers have gathered around this tree, where a mysterious woman offers to tell them why.

The goddess (for she is a goddess) begins her story with the creation of the universe—with Vishnu, recumbent in the coils of Anant the world-serpent, and his arguments with Brahma as to which of them is the true creator. The story spirals out from there, threads added and subtracted as her audience asks questions. Character by character, scene by scene, Patil builds the world of Indian mythology, and lays the groundwork for the colossal struggle between cousins that will shake and shape the next two books of her story.

Patil's use of the traditional storyteller as vessel for the tale allows her more formal range than a linear retelling. Individual moments in the long narrative are presented when they make the most emotional sense, as storylets which elaborate on particular themes, only to be set aside until they later reconnect with the main tale.

Her choice of graphic novel as medium is especially cool because of how it connects the Mahabharata to that most chaotic of American literary modes, the comic book. Comic universes are the only literary tradition I can think of in the West to approach the sheer intratextuality of the Mahabharata, with thousands of stories all connecting with and recontextualizing one another. This may just be a happy accident, but it's a nice, subtle thread to an already-impressive tapestry.

And speaking of the graphic novel—the art in this book is great. Patil's not a Juanjo Guarnido-style draftswoman, but she's not trying to be, and the book works better for this decision. Dealing with fluid and mythological characters requires a fluid and mythological style, and the combination of pencils, watercolor, oil, and fabric texture she uses to illustrate Adi Parva (whether real or digitally simulated) is evocative, lush, and lively without objectifying the characters it depicts—a nice trick for a plot that involves as much lust and love as does that of the Mahabharata. The art style also bridges the divine and mortal characters by portraying each with the same evocative and emotional touch. Only the modern framing narrative, set in a fallen time many years after the events the goddess narrates, is rendered in muted charcoal, as a sign of all that's lost.

CONCLUSION: Go find this book. Sit down, pour yourself a glass of something comfortable, and read. And once you're done, join me in waiting, eagerly, for the next volume of Patil's trilogy.


Official Author Website

GUEST REVIEWER INFORMATION: Max Gladstone has taught in southern Anhui, wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat, and been thrown from a horse in Mongolia. Max graduated from Yale University, where he studied Chinese. He is the author of Three Parts Dead and its upcoming sequel Two Serpents Rise that are published by Tor Books.


Aarti said...

This sounds great! But is about $50 to buy in the US. Yikes!

The Reader said...

Hi Aarti,

The $50 price is misleading, it's available for about $15 if you look at Amazon's new books from seller's section

I bought from there for around $17 odd with shipping & the book is gorgeous :)



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