Until the Lions: Echoes from the Mahabharata (Paperback)
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A dazzling and eloquent reworking of the Mahabharata, one of South Asia's best-loved epics, through nineteen peripheral voices. With daring poetic forms, Karthika Naïr breathes new life into this ancient epic.
Karthika Naïr refracts the epic Mahabharata through the voices of nameless soldiers, outcast warriors and handmaidens as well as abducted princesses, tribal queens, and a gender-shifting god. As peripheral figures and silent catalysts take center stage, we get a glimpse of lives and stories buried beneath the dramas of god and nation, heroics and victory - of the lives obscured by myth and history, all too often interchangeable. Until the Lions is a kaleidoscopic, poetic tour de force. It reveals the most intimate threads of desire, greed, and sacrifice in this foundational epic.
About the Author
French-Indian, poet-dance producer/curator, Karthika Naïr is the author of several books, including The Honey Hunter, illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet and published in English, French, German and Bangla. Until the Lions: Echoes from the Mahabharata, her reimagining of the Mahabharata in multiple voices, won the 2015 Tata Literature Live! Award for Book of the Year (Fiction). Her latest book is the collaborative Over and Under Ground in Mumbai & Paris, a travelogue in verse, written with Mumbai-based poet Sampurna Chattarji, and illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet and Roshni Vyam. Naïr was also the principal scriptwriter of the multiple-award-winning DESH (2011), choreographer Akram Khan's dance solo; its family show-version; Chotto Desh (2015) and Until the Lions, Khan's adaptation of one of the chapters of her book. As a dance enabler, her closest association has been with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet as executive producer of works like Three Spells, Babel (Words), Puz/zle and Les Médusés, and as co-founder of Cherkaoui's company, Eastman.
"Naïr, in nearly three hundred pages of connected poems, reimagines the story of the Mahabharata as the lions’ story, giving a voice to nineteen of its characters and allowing them each to tell their own account ... Employing poetic structures including the canzone and the obscure French form rimas dissolutas, among many others, Naïr deftly shifts from one voice to the next." — Bibi Deitz, Bomb
“John Dryden famously spoke of translation taking three forms: metaphrase, paraphrase, and imitation. Though written in English, Karthika Naïr's Until the Lions certainly fits this last category. Her feminist take on the Mahabharata, India’s great epic, is an astonishing demonstration of the power of translation to reshape and renew the literature of the past.” —Edwin Frank, in Words Without Borders
"The Mahabharata, the larger of India’s two epics, was composed roughly 2,000 years ago...In reading Naïr’s book, I felt as if I had scratched the surface of a palimpsest (the epic) and discovered a room teeming with three-dimensional living souls...Until the Lions adds a brilliant new thread to this rich literary tapestry." — Harvard Review
"Karthika Nair, in Until the Lions, powerfully reimagines the national epic from the margins, allowing the suppressed voices to be centered and given subjectivity. Lyrical and somatically dense, the prose and verse of this book creates an intense and coruscating chorus. In a world that seems more riven by the political tensions of capital and multiplicity, that seems more dangerous and conflicted, this epic feels like a balm." – Kazim Ali
"Until the Lions" is the Mahabharata I longed for as a child. These are the voices I imagined as I sat through enforced viewings of the endless TV series, bristling with waxed mustachios and phallic posturing. Karthika Nair has pulled off a truly epic feat. Both the scope of her ambition and the skill of her execution inspire awe and elation." –Shailja Patel
"Whether it’s about war, grief, love-making, or revenge, every poem of Until the Lions is charged with Karthika Naïr’s electric voice. The lines fairly hum with it. In a strange unexpected way, this epic re-singing is also a deeply personal book." – Arvind Krishna Mehrotra
"The most eloquent meditation on the Mahabharata in this generation - a lyrical, unflinching exploration of the souls embodied in many of the great epic characters, a moving and intricate weaving together of their destinies and desires...and a profound lament for the suffering that all human beings must know. In her hands, the ancient epic assumes new life, one that is somehow close to our own experience of the world, familiar yet also utterly strange and new. No one has read the Mahabharata this way before her." -- David Shulman
"In this retelling of the Mahabaratha from the point of view of its hitherto minor female characters, Karthika Naïr uncovers a seminal feminist text." -- Jeet Thayil
"Has been rightly hailed as a magnum opus by the critics." -- Wasafiri
"The Mahabharata will always take you back to the deepest existential questions. It continues to instigate superlative writing as well. Karthika Naïr's Until the Lions is an unshakable masterpiece of modern poetry, one of the great retellings of the text." -- Indian Express
"Naïr's intervention -- a series of dramatic monologues that give the epic's women psychological depth, wrath and despair -- is brilliantly executed. -- Times Literary Supplement
"Karthika Nair explores the contrapuntal stories of the Mahabharata in a virtuoso collection of dramatic monologues. Queens, warriors, sages, slaves and peasants, even wolves have their say, as the tales of rulers and lovers, parents and children, gods and humans, are retold in metered prose and poetic forms of myriad origin: the Spanish glosa, the Malay pantoum, the Provençal sestina, the Pashtun landay, shaped stanzas and nonce forms. This is a glorious work of storytelling." - Marilyn Hacker
"Until the Lions is a triumph of narrative and poetic risk-taking. Five years in the making, Nair's collection of poems, written in the voices of women in the Mahabharata, has been rightly hailed as a magnum opus by critics." - Aditya Mani Jha, Wasafiri
"Until the Lions is a powerful lesson in how the legacy of hate can flow from one generation to another. Nair's writing is constantly informed by the intricate structures of choreography and, at the same time, has had a profound influence on several prominent dance artists of this generation." - Alistair Spalding