“Indian fairy tales are essential because they’re some of the earliest stories that we can track down. There’s a collection from the 11th century called Ocean of the Streams of Story, which includes some amazing, magical stories. One of them is about a king who has to carry a vetala, a corpse-occupying zombie, which tells riddles that he has to solve after each story. This book, Vetaal and Vikram, takes that segment as its center point…In this novel, the Indian writer Gayathri Prabhu has taken these stories and framed them inside a story about Richard Burton, the 19th-century Victorian explorer, and his wife, Isabel…when you read these 900-year-old stories in the original as a Westerner, it takes a few readings. There is a lot to unpack to get them. Prabhu has captured the strangeness of the stories and the poetry of them, but they’re much more accessible. What I found so enjoyable about reading this book is that you could really get through to the heart of these stories and see how they connect up with us today.” Read more...
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