Ramayana – An Illustrated Retelling by Arshia Sattar with illustrations by Sonali Zohra (book review).

The ‘Ramayana’ is one of the oldest pieces of Hindu literature, thought to date to somewhere between the 7th Century BCE and the 3rd Century CE or so Wikipedia tells me. This has to position it as one of the earliest works of fantasy from any culture and as such should be on the ‘to be read’ pile of any fantasy fan. I think we often consider fantasy to be a fairly modern invention, disregarding the various myths, legends and epic sagas like the ‘Ramayana’, but they’re really the root of all we love in the genre today.

It tells of a young prince named Rama, who is forced into exile. Taking his wife and brother with him, Rama lives in the forest, where life is pleasant enough until Rama’s beautiful wife Sita catches the eye of a vicious demon named Ravana. When Ravana kidnaps Sita and takes her away to his fortified city in the middle of the sea, Rama and his brother Lakshmana must enlist the help of mystical creatures, not least of which are magical flying monkeys who try and rescue Sita and return her safely home.

But as the gods gather and Arshia Sattar has produced an updated version of the text to make it accessible to modern readers, breathing new life into a sometimes dry epic and with beautiful illustrations by Sonali Zohra, this is a lovely book to add to your collection. The format it’s printed in, a squat, almost square matt covered hardback with pleasingly thick pages feels great in the hands and the double page illustrations have great visual impact.

In truth, it’s the illustrations that make this book something you want to read and own. The style has bold contrasts and bright colours, keeping things simple but striking. Even after finishing the story I found myself turning back through the pages to look at the illustrations again, they’re so vibrant and full of energy and really help to bring the story to life.

In this day and age, where fantasy readers are used to characters full of depth, worlds that are described down to the last detail and action filled stories told through the minute details of every moment, the ‘Ramayana’, even in this retelling, is quite a contrast. It presents the events as they happen and leaves the rest for the reader to fill in rather than going into tiny details. The story doesn’t dwell on every character’s motivations and desires, but instead forces the reader to simply accept that this is the way things are and the why of it doesn’t really matter.

It won’t appeal to everyone but those who dismiss it too quickly will be missing out on a really magical story. So many things from this feature in more modern works. The flying monkeys in ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ are the most obvious ones that spring to mind, that it’s a really interesting read even if you don’t like the story.

It’s not the most engrossing piece of fantasy fiction, but it is an insight into a different era, a different culture and a history of epic storytelling and as such, I’d heartily recommend it.

Vinca Russell

July 2019

(pub: Restless Books, 2018. 224 page square hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-632061-77-5)

check out website: www.restlessbooks.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.