“The Story of a Goat” by Perumal Murugan. New York: Black Cat Publishing, 2018, 183 pages, $16, translated from Tamil
An elderly subsistence farming couple in south India is given a sickly baby goat kid, the dark-coated female runt of a litter, by a mysterious and perhaps supernatural stranger. They name the goat Poonachi and the old woman coddles the little nanny goat and tries to find her a surrogate goat mother from whom to nurse in order to gain strength.
The baby she-goat is low in the pecking order among the herd of goats and has a hard time defending herself and finding succor. The old couple must also resort to a ruse in order to get her registered properly as their livestock with the provincial government.
“The Story of a Goat” reads like both an engaging animal story and an allegorical commentary on color, circumstance, and the vagaries of a rule-bound bureaucracy. The story is at its best when pointing out the exploitation of those of lowly status (women, the poor, racial minorities, and the uneducated) and when satirizing the excess of government regulation.
Poonachi, the little dark she-goat, eventually finds love in a nearby village, but her preferred mate meets a bad end. The old farmer then takes Poonachi to be mated with an elderly billy-goat in a union that the little goat finds repugnant and degrading. The old farmer must also pay a hefty stud fee for Poonachi to be impregnated. This seems to be a nod to the imbalance of power in societies that condone arranged May-December marriages at the expense of young females and that hold female self-determination in low regard.
While not political in nature, “The Story of a Goat” uses an easy-to-conceptualize animal parable to bring up serious social justice issues. It belongs to the genre of anthropomorphic tales, such as “Animal Farm” by George Orwell, that may be enjoyed on two levels–one literal and superficial and the other figurative.
The animal allegory turns dark at the end as famine stalks the land and Poonachi’s exit from the world seems just as mystical as her arrival in a nod to the folk tradition of the Tamil Nadu region that is not generally familiar to English readers.
Literary author Perumal Murugan, has written a dark commentary on the female downtrodden in this beautifully articulated animal story translated from the Tamil language. He speaks some true lessons from the barnyard of life, but this fairy story isn’t for the kiddies.
Lisa Kobrin is the Reference Librarian at May Memorial Library. She canbe reached at email@example.com