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Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India Hardcover – October 27, 1998


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The eagle Garuda is on a mission to steal soma--an intoxicating liquid that was to the gods of India what ambrosia was to the Olympic pantheon--in order to ransom his human mother, Vinata, from the snakes who have held her captive since she lost a bet and became her sister Kadru's slave. He reflects to himself, "So many things happening, so many stories one inside the other, with every link hiding yet more stories...."

And so it is with Ka, Roberto Calasso's treatment of Indian mythology from the creation of the universe to the spiritual awakening of the Buddha. Employing the same fragmentary narrative techniques as in The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, Calasso builds his story by adding image after image, teasing out the hidden connections and submerged themes. He draws amply from the Vedas and the Mahabharata, "three times as long as the Bible, seven times as long as the Iliad and the Odyssey put together." Tim Parks's translation preserves Calasso's sensitivity to the visionary power of language, presenting the reader with a pathway that leads through dizzying awe to gradual recognition of a more familiar world.

From Publishers Weekly

Author of the imaginative retelling of the Greek myths in The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, Calasso takes on a more daunting task here: making the complex and less familiar myths of India tangible for a contemporary reader. Once again, narrative, commentary and linguistic analysis combine to provide both an exciting reinvention of the stories and a singular work of the imagination in its own right. Calasso explains little but steps directly into the sceneAdescribing the eagle Garuda flying with an elephant and a turtle in his claws and the creation of all things by father Prajapati, the progenitor, whose secret name is Ka, the space between. Ka: the inexpressible, boundless, overflowing. In scenes of startling freshness and immediacy, Calasso re-creates the historical atmosphere and mental outlook that created these stories and uses them to illuminate the shape of Indian thoughtAwhich in turn illuminates the frequent violence and eroticism of the tales. Even readers familiar with elements of Indian spiritualism, however, may find difficulty keeping up with such a bewildering succession of names and events. Yet even if it isn't a book for every reader, this, like Calasso and Parks's earlier collaboration (the translation is again able and fluent), is a unique, deeply rewarding reading experience. 17 illustrations.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 443 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1st American ed edition (October 27, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679451315
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679451310
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,081,344 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
With all the characteristic displacement of modern story-telling, Calasso's narration of myth seems, in its somewhat clumsy organization, a botched effort. However, it is a sensual and engaging interpretation of ancient Indian myth, and it survives on its strength as an personal interpretation and not a powerful invocation of a country's mythic past. As a raconteur, his ability to "feel" and convey Sukanya's longing, Shiva's maverick personality, or Krishna's eternal homesickness for Gokul, was something I never felt as poignantly before while reading Indian writing of myths. I can only remember my grandfather's narration of the story of Bhisma and Hidimba as evocative as any myth in "Ka". I think it is, overall, an amazing research and re-interpretation. He seems to "reveal," in a Heideggerean sense, the nature of myth through his own experience.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
highly interesting...........hats off to calasso, for interpreting sanyathan dharma, while preserving it's authenticity. Some parts of the book, can be very complicated, for people not familiar with sanyathan dharma, but remember this......the whole dharma, is based on what our rsis (seers) saw within their own body. The chapter on Prajapati, is well explained. Compare it to your own mind, remembering the dharma's basis, that we are a microcosm of the entire universe, and that all it's secrets, can be found within us. Thank-you calasso and parks, for a wonderful book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 11, 1998
Format: Hardcover
In the manner of Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, Ka is an exposition of the inner meaning of Indian mythology, theology. It has a brilliance that comes directly from what Roberto Calasso writes about. In our world that has so little understanding of what the ancient world was, reading Calasso is an inspiration. Spend time with this book and reread many times. Best regards, Kalev Pehme
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 10, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Roberto Calasso's lates book "Ka" takes the reader through a journey of the great Indian religions, from the beginning of the Vedic texts, through the Mahabarata all the way to Buddhism and its offshoots. Told through narrative form, the book focuses on the stories of the Gods and Goddesses of this ancient and understudied land. Even one not familiar with India and its religions will delight in the various stories. It centers around the creator, Prajapati, whose secret name is Ka, which means who. Everything relates back to this creator. It was a joy to read, and I couldn't put it down.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 6, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Calasso conveys the sense that myths infuse our memories. Like memories, they are fragmentary and elusive, but their residue lingers. Indian myths are about retelling stories. If you are not bothered by the lack of a traditional narrative structure, you will enjoy this retelling.
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