Sri Lanka, 13th century. Asanka is the king’s poet and lives a placid existence composing new poems and teaching the art to some apprentices, and among them his lover, a girl belonging to a lower class.
Then the kingdom is invaded by Kalinga Magha‘s army, him a violent and ruthless man who soon becomes the new king. Asanka’s life is spared, but Magha imposes him the duty to translate from Sanskrit to tamil (a language used by common people) the epic poem Shishupala Vadha, with the aim to glorify the new king.
Asanka begins translating the complex text, at firstly rigorously, then introducing some little variations that are to taunt Magha – who seems to not noticing them. The translation, read in the nearby villages, becomes an asset in the rebellion army. Magha does not trust the poet completely, and Asanka keeps fearing for his life, also because he has to hidden some mysterious tamil poems where Shishupala Vadha’s protagonists tell their stories.
Concerning the plot the novel is interesting, because it tells a story far by place and time and traditions; on the other hand I think it lacks some context (a glossary, some brief explanation of the poems and its complexity).
I am partially convinced by the characters, or at least the poet: Magha is a violent dictator almost near madness, Sarasi is strong-willed, while Asanka is the one who most adapts himself to the external events, he adapts to survive and he choses to modify the poem for the love of Sarasi, who hopes for the revolution.
Concerning the narration the most interesting idea is to have a main narration line and the story within the mysterious scrolls Asanka receives, since they help develop new way to interpret the poem,
Thanks to the publisher for providing me the copy necessary to write this review.
* River of ink by Paul M. M. Cooper ★★★☆☆½
*I read this book in English