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Kuvempu: Kānūru heggadithi (The House of Kanooru)

This book is often hailed as a great Kannada epic. That may well be somewhat of an exaggeration. It is certainly a well-written and highly enjoyable story about a part of India which is virtually untouched by the British and therefore spares us the story of the Indian who is unsure whether s/he is Indian or British or neither. It tells the story of a small village dominated by the cruel Chandrayya Gowda. Gowda is about to marry again – this time to the young Subbamma. But, as he marries increasingly younger women, he becomes more and more despotic – towards his own family, including his children from his previous marriages, towards his servants and, eventually towards Subbamma who is driven away and back to her family.

However, much of the pleasure of this novel is from the slices of life that Kuvempu gives of life in this village. Some of the action we see through the eyes of the educated Hoovayya and Ramayya but much of it we see through the eyes of the villagers with their fear of ghosts (or their use of the fear of ghosts to frighten others) and their preoccupations both with survival but also with having an easy life, where alcohol plays as strong a role as it does in many Western novels. Kuvempu’s skill is to give us many memorable scenes, from the tiger hunt, which results in one of the villagers being killed, to Subbamma’s flight from her abusive husband. Kuvempu is sympathetic to the plight of the women who, of course, have much less power and authority than their men folk and who get pretty well short-changed in this book, from Subbamma to the sensitive Seethe, stuck in a loveless marriage with Ramayya. It is definitely a highly enjoyable book and a very good read but probably not a great epic.

Publishing history

First published in Kannada 1938
First published in English 1999 by Penguin