The male and female together make the world

One Part Woman coverOne Part Woman
by Perumal Murugan
translated from Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan

This novel is set in early 20th century India, focusing on a couple who are farmers in a rural area, steeped in religion and superstition. So it is perhaps surprising to find that it is one of the most relatable stories I have read in a while.

Kali and Ponna have been married for 12 years. They love each other and their little corner of Tamil Nadu, but their inability to conceive a child has come to overwhelm everything else. Ponna is excluded from the community, and even family flinch if she touches a child. Kali is alternately mocked and advised to take a second wife. They’re not sure they even want a child, but it seems to be all that the rest of the world cares about.

Their simple lifestyle means that the exact date when this is set was unclear to me, though references to British rule give at least some clue. (There are mentions of certain politicians and events that apparently reveal to those with better historical knowledge than mine that this is the 1940s.) So fertility treatment is limited even for those who have money and access to doctors.

For Kali and Ponna there are no doctors to help. Their only recourse is religion. They endlessly pray, visit shrines and temples, perform rituals. They search their family histories for wrongs done by their ancestors that they can put right. They spend their meagre income on offerings to deities. Hundreds of deities.

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K-drama review: Don’t Dare to Dream

Don't Dare to Dream poster

I loved this show so much. It’s not groundbreaking or original, but what it does, it does well. Don’t Dare to Dream, also known as Jealousy Incarnate (SBS 2016) is about TV news, family, love, jealousy and…cancer. It’s well acted, hits both light humour and real emotional moments in every episode and the credits feature cartoon aliens. It truly has everything.

Pyo Na-ri (played by Gong Hyo-jin) is a weather broadcaster who is frustrated by her TV station refusing to give her a permanent job and treating her as a general dogsbody, but can’t risk quitting as she needs to earn good money to support her younger brother Chi-yeol, who is still in high school. At work she is always professional, but at home she’s a bit of a mess, constantly behind on rent and shouting at Chi-yeol.

She jumps at an opportunity to work on a shoot with news reporter Lee Hwa-sin (Jo Jung-suk, who was the lead man in Oh My Ghost another K-drama that I rate highly), who she used to have a crush on. She had hoped this was finally her chance with him, but instead meets another man who takes Hwa-sin’s place in her affections – businessman Go Jeung-won (played by Go Kyung-po, who I swear looks like Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is Hwa-sin’s childhood best friend. Na-ri and Jeung-won begin dating, much to the despair of his mother, who is hoping to use his marriage as a business deal.

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Gladly will I oppose my body to his

The Mabinogion illustration by Alan Lee
The Mabinogion illustration by Alan Lee.

The Mabinogion
Translated from Middle Welsh by Lady Charlotte Guest

This was the first book I started for the EU Reading Challenge, but ended up being the 10th book I completed. Perhaps I should have searched out a more modern translation when I first started to struggle. These are ancient tales, widely considered the oldest surviving British literature in prose form. They were almost certainly oral tales for a century or more before their earliest known recording in 1350–1410. Lady Charlotte Guest translated the tales into both modern Welsh and English in the late 19th century. Which I thought made them an interesting inclusion on my EU list.

The 11 stories in this volume have different authors, all unknown, and in fact only the first four are strictly the Mabinogi. The rest are medieval romances; some early Arthurian knight tales; and the tale of Taliesin the bard. My particular edition of The Mabinogion includes full-page illustrations by Alan Lee, who is now better known for his Lord of the Rings illustrations. It is a beautiful object.

There is a bit of a theme in these tales of women with magical powers, many of whom have pretty awful fates. For instance, the first of the Mabinogi is “Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed” and tells the story of Pwyll’s attempts to romance Rhiannon, an Otherworld woman who runs rings around him rhetorically and literally (she’s pretty awesome), but eventually falls in love with Pwyll and marries him. However, when their son Pryderi disappears on the night of his birth, she is accused of matricide and imprisoned.

The story has a happy ending, but not before Rhiannon has spent years in prison. And she’s not the only wrongfully treated woman here. I can’t decide if this is fear of magic and witchcraft, or misogyny, or both. There’s plenty of magic, used for good and evil, but even when used for good it does tend to end badly.

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Dorama review: Mischievous Kiss – Love in Tokyo

Mischievous Kiss Love in Tokyo poster

Mischievous Kiss – Love in Tokyo (Fuji TV 2013) seemed like it was almost a carbon copy of Good Morning Call to begin with. And I enjoyed Good Morning Call. But where that show stayed just the right side of irritating cliches, Mischievous Kiss rode those cliches all the way through two seasons. It’s really not great on the gender politics front, but so light and fluffy that I kept on watching, hoping for improvement. It is based on the Japanese manga Itazura Na Kiss written by Tada Kaoru.

This show depicted everything that annoys me about gender stereotypes in Japanese culture. The man is rich, intelligent, calm, collected, cold and cruel but apparently handsome enough for everyone to desire him. (Does that really happen with cold men in real life? In my experience the friendlier, chattier men get all the romantic attention, but then I don’t live in Japan.) The woman is poor, not at all clever, giggles and daydreams through her days, is popular and a good friend, pretty but not beautiful. And for some reason the woman is hopelessly in unrequited love with the man. Man treats woman with total contempt until another man expresses interest and then jealousy prompts realisation of actual feelings. But this doesn’t result in man actually treating woman well, no no no. It means he gives her just enough attention to string her along while continuing to be a total asshole.

The style of Mischievous Kiss is very camp, overwrought and comedic (which is perhaps why it took me most of season one to realise that those gender roles were not getting any better). The acting is laughably bad, as is the set-up.

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