The Gypsy Goddess is set in Tamil Nadu, India, in 1968. This is the true story of agricultural labourers working under tyrannical, feudal landlords who begin to rebel and defy their masters in a campaign against poverty and corruption.
The book ends with 44 labourers, including women and children, being locked in a hut and burnt alive. Meena Kandasamy's The Gypsy Goddess fictionalises the events leading up to the massacre, and charts the class battle between landlords and the Communist Party who gee-up the rebellion.
The book itself exclaims that "you will learn that handfuls of rice can consume half a village", and it's true. The despicable, inhumane acts of the landlords, who are tied in with police and state corruption, leads Kandasamy to expose the injustice of the caste system, a state that is up to its neck in corruption, and the barbaric acts of a privileged few.
She directly addresses the reader, refuses to adopt a linear story form and, in many ways, revels in its graphic imagery.
The story is told through memoranda of the landlords association whose central aim is to protect their interests against the organising communists, Marxist pamphlets, police reports, eye-witness accounts, insights into the lives of the peasants, as well as a witty narrator that is the thinly veiled voice of Kandasamy herself.
The importance of this voice is that it conveys the impossibility of the task of describing and analysing a massacre. She does a fine job of telling events in an honest and knowing way.
This Indian English language novel wears its heart, and politics, on its sleeve and isn't afraid to challenge notions of individualism.
It is not a relaxing holiday read but one that startles disturbs and agitates. It talks about collective resistance in modern India and the revenge doled out by the state for acts of resistance.