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Sunday, March 31, 2019

Samhita Arni's The Prince and Juggernaut Books

Today is a day of two blogs posts; this one is a HAPPY post where I get to talk about a marvelous new book by Samhita Arni and a fascinating publishing platform in India, JuggernautBooks (the other post is an unhappy reflection on student data-mining: AI Overreach). I did the posts in order this way so that I could end on a happy note!

I'll start with some notes about Samhita's wonderful book, and it's one I can recommend to any and all readers (no knowledge of Indian literature required!). Then I'll say a few words about Juggernaut, which is both an ebook platform and  a writing platform for budding authors.


Samhita Arni's The Prince

I first learned about Samhita Arni's books when I was collecting resources for my course in the Epics of Ancient India; here's the author's page about her at my class blog: Featured Author — Samhita Arni. In my school's library, we have her illustrated Mahabharata (Samhita is a wonderful artist as well as being a wonderful writer), and we also have a graphic novel based on the Ramayana for which Samhita wrote the story, with art by Moyna Chitrakar: Sita's Ramayana. Both of those books are excellent ways to start exploring the world of the Indian epics. My favorite of Samhita's books (well, my favorite ... until now) is her novel The Missing Queen which is an ingenious retelling of the Ramayana that upturns everything you thought you knew about that epic, and about the hero Rama in particular. But I don't want to give anything away here. The Missing Queen is available as a Kindle book, which makes it easy for my students to purchase and read; having books available as Kindles has been really important for me because it means students can choose their own reading, rather than me having to order a textbook for the whole class. (More on that below.)

I think I first connected with Samhita at Twitter (@samarni) when Missing Queen came out, and that means I've been following her progress on this new novel, The Prince, over the past few years. I knew she was working on a Tamil epic, something about an anklet. And, to my shame, I really didn't get why she would be doing that; I'd never heard of the Silappadikaram, much less read it... but I figured that if Samhita was working on it, then it would certainly be worthwhile.

And, oh my gosh: IT IS SO WORTHWHILE. I had ordered a copy of the book from a reseller via Amazon since it does not have a U.S. publisher yet (hey, publishers! look at this book!), not knowing that I could simply grab it at Juggernaut (more about that below). So, the book arrived this past Monday:

I began reading it immediately, and finished on Thursday in the waiting room at my dentist. It was one of those oh-my-gosh moments, and since I was reading an actual hard copy I was able to wave it around in the waiting room and tell people how good it was. I mean, it was just SO GOOD: I had to tell people. Right away!

I'm going to write up a proper review to share at Amazon and at the Juggernaut site, and for here I'm just going to indulge in two very personal reactions.

First of all, it was so exciting to read something totally new, where I had no idea at all what was going to happen next. And the plot of the story is so unpredictable — and so un-Hollywood, so un-fairy-tale: be warned that there are grim things that happen, bad things that happen to good people, bad things that good people do, not even realizing what they are doing. Most of the novels from India that I read are remixes of and riffs on traditional epics and mythology. They are full of surprises, to be sure, like Samhita's own Missing Queen, but they do not have that walking-on-the-edge-of-a-cliff sense of the unknown that this novel had for me. Samhita does a fantastic job of bringing each character into focus and fully to life very quickly, and it was never overwhelming to keep track of who was who and what they were doing (don't let the list of character at the front of the book intimidate you). So, that feeling of newness was very exciting. And now I am also excited to read the novel a second time, knowing what is about to happen and being able to frame the characters in that new way.

Second, it was so affirming to read a novel that is not afraid of the world's pain, and which even provides an attempt at a response to that pain, an authentic response to real pain. I'll just include one quote here, out of context to avoid any spoilers; just some wise words to ponder:
We believe we live in a cruel, wretched world, and that moves us to cruel, wretched acts. The world is beautiful. The truth is that the darkness lies within us. You cannot force out darkness, you cannot cut it out or carve it out. How can you cut your own shadow from under your feet? It is impossible. Each one of us must learn to accept the darkness within us, those things we consider too horrible to reveal. And yet, once we learn this, we discover that this same darkness abides in every other soul, hidden away and in secret — and this moves us to an even greater realization — we find our own selves reflected in everyone we meet, we find out own soul in them.
So, don't you want to read the book now? Of course you do! It is BEAUTIFUL.

And............ you can easily snag a copy at Juggernaut Books, either in your browser or using the Juggernaut phone app.

More about Juggernaut

Juggernaut Books (Juggernaut.in) is the publisher of The Prince, and it is available from them as a hardback book; I ordered a copy from a book reseller at Amazon, thinking that I could not use the Juggernaut app in the U.S. The printed book itself is labeled "for sale in the Indian subcontinent only," and I had assumed (wrongly!) that Juggernaut ebooks were not available internationally.

But... I am so glad to have found out I was wrong about that: readers in the U.S. can indeed use Juggernaut ebooks! After reading The Prince I really wanted to tell my students how they could get a copy of this book and read it, so I decided to explore the Juggernaut Books app just to see what would happen. I installed the app on my phone, and, lo and behold, I was indeed able to purchase an ebook copy of The Prince. I used a credit card, and my credit card company pinged me for an extra security code that I had to use (presumably because it was an international purchase?), but it went through just fine, and I had The Prince on my phone. Even better: I then logged on to Juggernaut Books in my browser, and was able to access my account and read the book in my browser, not having to use my phone (with my eyesight, I do better with big fonts on a big screen).

And now... a whole world of delights awaits me at Juggernaut. I am especially excited to find a series of book-shorts by Arshia Sattar that I did not even know about, retellings of episodes from the epics and Indian mythology that would be wonderful reading for my students. Some of her books are available as Kindle books, but there is a whole series of shorts at Juggernaut that I had not seen before:


It's just a few weeks until summer begins for me and, as always, summer means READING... and I am excited about exploring this new treasure trove of books to read at Juggernaut. And honestly, I could not resist, so I bought just one of Arshia Sattar's shorts just now (my credit card required a security code again, so that is one extra step when purchasing at Juggernaut, but it's easy).


For the summer, I think I will need to subscribe to their Readers Club so that I can just read and read. Yay for summer!

Juggernaut... for Writers!

I've been following Juggernaut Books at Twitter for a while now (@JuggernautBooks) because I was interested in the way they are encouraging and recruiting writers, as you can see here at their About Juggernaut page. Their goals are to get more Indians to read books, to encourage more Indians to write, and to make books less intimidating.


Isn't that exciting? So, I am really glad that Samhita's book was my gateway to landing here at Juggernaut where I will explore and learn more. I'm actually thinking I might try to publish something there. For years, I've thought about doing an anthology of Indian and European fairy tales in order to explore the famous "Indian origins" hypothesis about the diffusion of Indian fairy tale motifs throughout Europe. Regardless of where you come down on that debate, reading Indian fairy tales side by side with European fairy tales is a mind-bending adventure, and maybe I could create an anthology like that to publish on the Juggernaut writer platform.


And if you're wondering about the name, yes, Juggernaut is a word that comes to English from India! More about that here: Sanskrit Word in English: Juggernaut.

So, Happy Sunday, everybody! I'm going to go read some more! :-)




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