Book Review: ‘Black Soil’ by Ponneelan

A story that the readers will remember for a long time.


Black Soil by Poneelan Book Cover
Black Soil by Poneelan Book Cover

Book Title: Black Soil
Author: Ponneelan
Publisher: Penguin Hamish Hamilton
Number of Pages: 368
ISBN: 978-0670096879
Date Published: Jan. 9, 2023
Price: INR 446

Book Review

“Black Soil” is a novel by Ponneelan, a renowned Tamil writer and the Sahitya Akademi award winner. The book has been translated into English by Dr. J. Priyadarshini and published as Karisal, originally in Tamil. It bears the atrocities farmers face and the human cost of their struggles. The story revolves around Kannapan, a school teacher posted in Karisal village school, which lies in the black soil region of Tamil Nadu.

This is the story of Kannapan, a schoolteacher assigned to the Karisal Village School. The village is in Tamil Nadu’s black soil area, near the Tamirabarani River. At first, he was stunned by the mundane village life, but steadily he became a part of them. He made them realize how the boss, the strong, sadist landlord, was exploiting them. Kannappan becomes a friend to the farmers. Kannappan, once established in his position, witnesses the farmers’ daily cruelty at the hands of the Master, the sadistic, all-powerful landowner. Child marriage is prevalent in the community, as is the heinous practice of marrying young boys to older women who serve as their father-in-law’s consort.

Kannappan tries to teach the locals a better way of living through soft yet penetrating discussions. The farmers who had started opposing the upper-caste landlord’s excesses soon found an ally in Kannappan. The schoolteacher’s sympathy for their cause lifts their morale and renews their determination to battle back.

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The book painted a vivid and moving portrait of life in a Tamil Nadu rural village when caste prejudice was widespread. The book is well-known for its graphic depiction of the characters and location and its examination of societal injustice, caste prejudice, and rural life. One of the novel’s assets is its ability to depict rural life realistically and nuancedly, with its complexities and difficulties. The book is renowned for its literary style and vivid depictions of Tamil rural natural beauty.

This story is presented with passion and tenderness by the author. The language and conversations in the novel are honest, pleasant, and nonchalant. Despite being a large book, “Black Soil” has an engaging narrative and a fascinating plot. A highly suggested novel for readers seeking the finest translation.

The Review was first published in Storizen Magazine March 2023 Issue.