There is not much to write about Thakazhi SivasankaraPillai’s Chemmeen, written in 1956 and translated by Anita Nair in 2011. The original novel written in Malyalam was a widely acclaimed classic, but the translated version was childish and silly. Undeveloped characters, and unexplained motivations made me lose interest in the book, but I plodded on with the hope that something would change.
Karuthamma, the daughter of Chakki and Chembakunji is in love with Parekutty, a Muslim living on the sea-shore in a shack. Chakki and Chembakunji are poor, but Chembakunji is clever and manages to borrow money from Parekutty to build up a fleet of fishing boats. He has no intention of returning the money to Parekutty and Parekutty is too nice to ask it back. Meanwhile, Chakki and Karuthamma plot to return the money back to Parekutty, but Karuthamma is married to Palani, an orphan. In a fit of rage (which Nair does not explain), Chembakunji asks Karuthamma to leave the house and never return. Karuthamm grows to love Palani, bears him a child, but in the end I was thoroughly confused because she ends up washed upon the shore locked in Parekutty’s arms and Palani is swept into a whirlpool.
I wish Anita Nair had explained the rationales behind the motivations of the characters. I wanted to see more depth to the characters and maybe the translation lost the nuanced depiction of the protagonists. A perfect case of what a book could have been if it had not been lost in translation.