What We Are Reading Today: The Rāmāyaa of Vālmīki: An Epic of Ancient India

Updated 27 August 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: The Rāmāyaa of Vālmīki: An Epic of Ancient India

The seventh and final book of the monumental Rāmāyaa of Vālmīki, the Uttarakāa, brings the epic saga to a close with an account of the dramatic events of King Rāma’s millennia-long reign.
It opens with a colorful history of the demonic race of the rākasas and the violent career of Rāma’s villainous foe Rāvaa, and later recounts Rāma’s grateful discharge of his allies in the great war at Lankā as well as his romantic reunion with his wife Sītā.
But dark clouds gather as Rāma, confronted by scandal over Sītā’s time in captivity under the lustful Rāvaa, makes the agonizing decision to banish his beloved wife, now pregnant. As Rāma continues as king, marvelous tales and events unfurl, illustrating the benefits of righteous rule and the perils that await monarchs who fail to address the needs of their subjects.
The Uttarakāa has long served as a point of social and religious controversy largely for its accounts of the banishment of Sītā, as well as of Rāma’s killing of a low-caste ascetic. The translators’ introduction provides a full discussion of these issues and the complex reception history of the Uttarakāa. This translation of the critical edition also includes exhaustive notes and a comprehensive bibliography.

Robert P. Goldman is the William and Catherine Magistretti Distinguished Professor of Sanskrit and Indian studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and general editor of the Rāmāyaa Translation Project. Sally J. Sutherland Goldman is senior lecturer in Sanskrit at the University of California, Berkeley, and associate editor of the Rāmāyaa Translation Project.

- Robert P. Goldman & Sally J. Sutherland Goldman


Book Review: ‘Hookah Nights’ explores life in an ever-changing Egypt

In her latest collection of vivid short stories, “Hookah Nights,” author Anne-Marie Drosso takes her readers through Egypt’s political history. (Shutterstock)
Updated 19 November 2018
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Book Review: ‘Hookah Nights’ explores life in an ever-changing Egypt

CHICAGO: In her latest collection of vivid short stories, “Hookah Nights,” author Anne-Marie Drosso takes her readers through Egypt’s political history. Through Drosso’s 14 stories, one journeys through time, beginning with the Suez Crisis, and ends up knee-deep in the Arab Spring. While each story centers on the politics that alter the country, each also touches on the people affected by those politics — Egyptians and foreigners alike.

From the dry, hot winds of the khamaseens — cyclonic-type winds — that cover Cairo’s streets in dust and sand and welcome spring, to the shores of Alexandria and the pull of the Mediterranean Sea, Drosso introduces the reader to the landscape of Egypt and its multifaceted characters. Her characters’ lives revolve around politics — they have lost and gained through their leaders’ decisions and have had their futures altered by the governing powers in Egypt. From foreign diplomats and unwanted international attention, to argumentative brothers, troubled spouses, wayward journalists, revolutionaries and home-grown heroes and villains, Drosso showcases the difficult decisions one must make in order to secure a stable future.

Drosso’s characters live ordinary lives, but each is driven by politics, whether they know it or not. Her stories are about adjusting to life in an ever-changing landscape as much as they are about the rule of the land. From Gamal Abdel Nasser to Muhammad Mursi and the rise of the military under Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, each story plunges head-first into Egypt’s streets to understand its complex politics.

Able to show Egypt in different shades of light, Drosso’s stories bring some characters together and pull others apart. She touches upon generational differences in thinking and explores how staunch minds can sometimes cave in the face of adversity and fear.

Drosso portrays a full spectrum of relatable citizens, their fears and joys transcending borders. Her stories weave in and out of one another seamlessly, as if moving from city to city, street to street, peering into windows of homes and the families that occupy them. The ever-present common thread among all her characters is the resilience with which they live in an ever-changing Egypt.

Drosso was born in Egypt and is the author of another short-story collection and novel. “Hookah Nights” was published by Darf Publishers.