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on June 9, 2002
As a fan of Narayan's work, I was fascinated to see how he would tackle the grand subject of the Ramayana, a work that runs through and certainly influences all of Narayan's stories. The result is one of his most delightful and beautifully written novels. I think it is important to approach this book not as "THE" Ramayana, but one storyteller's unique vision of the timeless epic--even as a variation on one of his Malgudi novels (the characters certainly bare a distinct resemblance). Narayan's writing is extremely sensitive, refined, yet full of humor and charm. Throughout he adopts the tone of a storyteller, openly acknowledging that he is only "retelling" a story by a much greater storyteller, and leaving out the juciest parts at that. His little asides where he explains, "And here the poet described the scene so touchingly..." are at once reverent and amusing, as Narayan wisely omits anything too excessive or poetic that might derail his narrative. But the story itself is wonderful, a colorful, full-blooded telling of the Ramayana, sparse, fast-moving, but with all the hallmarks of Narayan's style. This book is a must for any fan of Narayan's fiction, Indian writing, or mythology. Narayan effectively conveys the epic's timelessness, with characters and situations that echo throughout literature and film, full of profound human emotions. And this is always one of Narayan's chief strengths, to create believable, complex human characters. In his treatment, even Rama and Sita emerge as sympathetic individuals, not the cardboard cut-outs all too common given their extraordinary powers. In short, this is a magical and engaging work that I know I will read again and again in the years to come. I invite you to do the same!
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on April 8, 2002
The story of Ramayana is in the blood stream of everyone from India. The original epic was written in the 4th century BC in Sanskrit, by Valmiki. Poets in every Indian language have retold this story. This present book relying on the Tamil Kamban version, presents before the reader the essential story of Ramayana. R.K Narayan, with the command of the English language and love for fast story movement, narrates the kernel of the epic poem in an engaging manner, for the sake of the English reader not familiar with the original version. Naturally, some of the elaborate details had to be left out and some narratives had to be condensed. This made the enormous epic into an enjoyably gripping story, in less than 200 pages.
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on June 5, 2000
This is a condensed version of not the original Ramayana as handed down to us in Sanskrit, but of the Tamil version of the story that Sri Narayanji grew up with. There are versions of the Ramayana in nearly all Indian dialects and languages, and as Tamil is one of the oldest, it is also quite interesting to see a translation from that language. The tale is told fairly faithfully, although much is left out (this is necessary to avoid having to sell several volumes to tell the whole tale, as the original tale is HUGE). I thought that it may have been a rather boring story, especially to a modern reader, but boy, was I ever wrong! This was one of the most entertaining and gripping books that I have ever read. It tells the story of Ramachandra's youth to his betrayal by his stepmother, his journey in the desert, and how he defeated Ravana, who had kidanapped Sita and brought her to Sri Lanka, as well as Hanuman's revelries. Rama is still an excellent example of Hindoo ideals, but the primary value of the story for me was not so much religious or ethical as much as it was simply a fascinating journey into the vast world of Indian literature. A wonderful read; I would recommend it to anyone.
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on August 31, 2007
I should say immediately that I have no background of any kind in Indian culture, myth or religion. So in reading this small volume I was a complete outsider and a complete beginner in the Ramayana epic. For me, this retelling (in prose) was an excellent first step into unknown territory. I was able to follow the thread of the story and at the same time get a good sense of the epic grandeur behind the myth. I learned about the inviolability and power of a promise, no matter how whimsical or ill-conceived it appears when given; the sacredness of all life, even that which appears lowly; the presence of gods among us in a great variety of forms; and at least one idealized view of the relationship between a man and a woman.

Oh, and it was a whopping good story, much deeper and more packed with meaning than the Greek and Roman myths I was raised on as a child. As I think back, I can recall the Greco/Roman mythology only as a collection of pleasant stories of gods who behaved like children, made decisions for petty reasons and who liked to interfere in the lives of men simply to cause trouble, fulfill sexual desire or seek revenge. I remember wondering when I read Greco/Roman myths how anyone could have "believed in" such gods or even taken them seriously in the way religion is taken seriously today.

The Ramayana conveys a completely difference sense of the divine which, although very ancient, is still significant in the modern world. In the Ramayana gods and humans are always seeking spiritual enlightenment, to do good in all the worlds and to honor each other. The Ramayana is inspiring in the best sense of word.

I also found the introduction by Pankaj Mishra very helpful in understanding the history of the epic and its continuing importance to Indians. There is also a useful Cast of Characters with name pronunciations and a small Glossary at the end explaining some important terminology that appears in the book. If you're new to the Ramayana, as I am, I highly recommend this book.
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on November 26, 1996
The book accurately translates the epic of journey of Rama with fluidity and is a joy to read. Though the translation is good, much of the of Hindu poetry is lost and therefore a vital part of Hindu culture is missing in the translation.
I would have liked to see more of music of India come through.
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on July 19, 2007
I'm an anglo-American who works at a U.S. company that includes thousands of Indian. Like everyone, I've found the more I know about a person's culture the better we work together. I think this stems both from better understanding values and thought tendencies, as well as good will from making the effort. While I've studied a lot about Japanese and European history and folklore, my knowledge of what an Indian child learns does not extend much past having watched the movie "Ghandi".

My 12-year-old son has been interested in Indian mythology and chose this book. I found it lying on the table one day, scanned the intro and got hooked. The fact that Ramayana is so pervasively known across the diverse states of India made it seem like an essential book for me.

As I enjoyed the adventures, romance and morality stories I kept wondering about what the original poem is like. Others reviewing here seem to agree that the while Narayan's adaptation is modern, accessible and abbreviated, it is faithful to the spirit of the original.

I plan to read it again, or perhaps another adaptation, in order to commit the character names to memory. It will be fun to discuss with my Indian friends -- especially if I remember it better than they do!
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on June 8, 2009
The Ramayana is a one of the most fabled classics of Indian literature, and though it is not technically a sacred scripture, it is so revered in India and by Indians it almost has the default status of being one. The original texts of the Ramayana are quite immense, and writer R.K. Narayan has condensed the epic down into a quite readable 150 page work. Those who are curious about this Hindu classic, who are first time readers, will probably find it very engaging. While there are alternate versions of this very popular epic, Narayan has selected one he considers most traditional and mainstream, and will be a very worthwhile introduction for a very important book.
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on February 8, 2009
Bear in mind that this is a translation of ONE version of the many, many versions of this story. This is roughly like the Indian version of The Odyssey but even Bigger and more pervasive in the Indian world.
A fantastic journey that covers love, action, betrayal, tragedy, and everything in between. The hero Rama can be a bit too perfect at times, but that only helps him to achieve greater feats.
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on September 4, 2000
Given the extensive length and painstaking detail of the original Ramayana, I welcomed the idea of a shortened prose version. Unfortunately, Narayan's version is poorly executed. First, he never quite manages to settle into a specific way of telling the story. Sometimes he writes as though he intended this to be a text book relating the events and variations of the original story. At other times, he writes as though he is a story teller himself. This uncomfortable juxtaposition detracts from the flow of the book. Also, while I realize that this is intended as a shortened version, I think Narayan goes too far. 171 pages is not nearly sufficient to adequately convey the stories and their intricacies. Narayan skips between detailed passages and quick, choppy narratives which ends up being distracting and interupts the book's continuity. Finally, I was appalled by the frequent gramatic errors in the book. Most noticeable were the dangling prepositions scattered throughout the text, which prove very distracting. All of these problems combine to make this book an unrewarding read as well as a shoddy version of a wonderful epic.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon October 6, 2010
When the ten-headed Ravana takes advantage of the powers he'd won from the gods, Supreme God Vishnu decides to do something about it. Ravana can't be harmed directly by a god, so Vishnu incarnates himself as the mortal man Rama, who is born as a prince to a great king. Initially unaware of his own divine identity, he meets and falls in love with Sita, who is stolen away from him by Ravana himself after they are exiled from their kingdom due to treachery. He faces down many hazards and destroys many demons, and must in the end join forces with the race of monkey-men, in order to take vengeance and win her back.

If you haven't read this, you owe it to yourself. It's a delightful epic of intrigue and wonder, that's as well known and influential in India and many other places in the world as the Homeric tales or even the Bible have been in the West. It really ought to be more widely known. It can be read and enjoyed on many levels: as a heroic epic, as Hindu scripture, as a great romance. As it is retold in Nina Paley's brilliant Sita Sings The Blues, it is also a story of how men get all the credit as they go off on big adventures and alternate between taking women for granted and behaving jealously. There's a great story in which Rama appears to act rashly, by intervening in the sibling rivalry between monkey kings Vali and Sugreeva, and that story can be read as a vivid ancient contribution to debates on colonialism or the more recently discussed issues of "cosmopolitanism" and "multiculturalism." An excellent retelling of a fascinating epic. Highly recommended.
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