Art, Books, Family, Reviews

The Ramayana: An Illustrated Retelling : Book Review

This post includes more than just a book review. The book review is for ‘The Ramayana: An Illustrated Retelling’ written by Arshia Sattar and illustrated by Sonali Zohra. In addition, I also welcome you into our home to witness the Navaratri Golu. This is the festival of dolls celebrated this year from Oct 9th to Oct 18th , for a period of 10 days.

Playing Catch Up and this In-Between the Beloved Festivals post:

So you can see I have been playing catch up with the challenge of writing everyday this month. I had promised myself that I would have posts ready and scheduled for those days I KNEW I will be busy, but, well. Here we are, and I am running a few days behind at this time. One of the reasons was the festival of Navaratri.  It ended Thursday on the day of Vijayadashami – vijaya meaning victory and dashami simply meaning the 10th day. The festival is celebrated all across India in different ways. But one common thread is that it celebrates the victory of good over evil.

I had meant to feature this book ‘The Ramayana: An Illustrated Retelling’ as a timely post for the festival.  Here it is finally. In a way, it is still timely because the festival of lights ‘Deepavali’ is a few days away (Nov 6th this year) and one of the stories behind the festival is the return of a victorious King Ram to Ayodhya. The citizens of Ayodhya lit lamps all around the city to welcome their beloved king and to celebrate their joys.

So right in between these two beautiful festivals I totally love to celebrate, here is my review of the book.

The Book Review: The Ramayana: An Illustrated Retelling:

Title:  Ramayana: An Illustrated Retellingramayana for all ages arshia sattar
Author: Arshia Sattar
Illustrator: Sonali Zohra
Age Range: 10 years and above
Hardcover: 192 pages
Published by Restless Books
Type: Chapter Books (Illustrated)
Source: Library

Book Description:

One of the world’s oldest and best-loved tales, now retold and illustrated in thrilling detail for readers of all ages. 

“Rama pulled the splendid arrow out of his quiver. It had been given to him long ago by the sage Agastya who had told him that he could use it only once and only for a great enemy. The incomparable arrow held the wind in its feathers, the sun and the moon in its shining tip, the earth in its shaft and the power of the doomsday fire in its flight.” 

Ramayana—an unforgettable tale of love, adventure, flying monkeys and god acting in the world of humans—has been treasured by readers around the world for thousands of years. Now in an authoritative, gripping retelling by the renowned Ramayana scholar Arshia Sattar, readers have a new chance to explore this classic’s riches.

Rama is a brave young prince who is forced into exile. His brother Lakshmana and his wife, the beautiful princess Sita, loyally follow him into the depths of the mysterious forest, where they encounter strange and dangerous creatures. None is as terrifying as Ravana, the ten-headed demon king who kidnaps Sita and takes her to a fortified city in the middle of the ocean. To rescue her, Rama enlists the help of hundreds of thousands of magical monkeys and bears to fight the demon army and win her back. Even the gods gather to witness the harrowing battle. Will Rama and his friends prevail, and will Sita return to him? Only these captivating pages will tell….

My Thoughts:

Finally, here is my review of this edition of the book. Arshia Sattar presents the complex story of the epic Ramayana in a straightforward manner for kids. It is a hard task to maintain the essence and magnitude of the story while making it accessible to kids everywhere, even those who are not familiar with the stories of Rama. But Arshia Sattar manages it beautifully as is visible when you read this book.

The story starts with the birth of Rama, and takes the reader along on the journey of his life. We watch as he and his loyal brother Lakshmana learn much required skills from the revered sage, Vishwamitra at a young age. We smile as he captures the heart of his beloved wife Sita with a twang of the mighty bow.  As we read, more emotions join this list – sadness as the kingdom bids Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana farewell, frustration as Sita is captured by Ravana by trickery, joy when the monkey army along with Hanuman help in defeating evil Ravana and Sita is rescued.The book shows Rama in a more human light – with flaws and feelings like everyone. His unfair treatment of Sita is not hidden in this book in spite (or because) of its audience. Both this true portrayal of Rama and Sita’s relationship (the good, the bad, and the ugly) as well as Lakshmana’s reactions to his beloved brother’s actions, made me add plus points to this book. At the same time, these sensitive issues are handled appropriately with the target audience in mind. We need books and stories that portray the truth of the matter, and not gloss over them, no matter how unpleasant it might be.

And last but not the least, the illustrations! The double page spreads by Sonali Zohra are faceless, in silhouette, and yet full of life and vibrancy. They are wonderful complements to the text making this book a treasure to have.

Additional Thoughts and Many Stories (re)Discovered:

I ended up making notes of new(forgotten?) stories from the Ramayana as I read this book. I now need to go on a deeper fact finding mission for these. Because I am now curious.

Curious about how I missed these stories earlier? Or did I just forget about them? I have read the entire Valmiki Ramayana as a student. It was my most in-depth reading of the book. We had a supplementary  (don’t be fooled by the term – it was pretty long!) reading book in Hindi when I was in middle school.  In addition, almost every kid growing up in India during the 80s watched both the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha on TV. These serials were among the first mega TV serials, as epic as the books themselves. I think some of these stories and facts might have appeared there. So I will chalk my non-memories up to dreaded schoolwork and age!

As a child, reading (and watching) the Ramayana was exciting. I guess I only noted the magnificence and magic of the story – flying chariots, et al! Revisiting it as an adult, and in today’s world where we still encounter gender and race issues, the book raised many critical questions for me.Ramayana for Kids Arshia Sattar

In Summary:

Simple and elegant language woven together with gorgeous pen and ink illustrations to tell this epic story while maintaining its essence makes this book a must-read. This is a wonderful way to introduce kids to mythology, classic epic tales, and to get them curious. It also gets adults like me (as I mention above) to look at these stories from a different angle.

Rating: 5/5
Reading Level: 10 years and above
Reread Level: 4/5

The publishers include a reading group guide – available for download here. (free)

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Buy from Book Depository here

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Question to you, dear readers: Have you read either of these Indian epics? If you have, do share which editions/versions? And before you leave my blog, read on after these Amazon links below for a glimpse into our golu display – the festival of dolls. And feel free to ask me any questions about this amazing festival that I truly love!

Welcome to our Golu:

The photo below is the main display of our Golu – an odd number of steps setup, in this case, five, to display the collection of dolls over the years. We display the dolls in a certain order – from goddesses/gods (yes, in that order too as written), dolls of inspirational people, dolls displaying everyday life (Weddings/scenes from town/village and more), animal life.

My top most step in the central display includes the AshtaLakshmi – meaning the eight Lakshmis (goddess of Wealth); the second one includes the Dasha Avatar – the ten avatars/incarnations of Vishnu (one of which is Rama), the third one is the story of the birth of Kartikeya (son of Shiva and Parvati), the fourth includes various scenes from Lord Krishna’s life (another incarnation of Vishnu), while the fifth includes scenes from everyday life.  I have included links for each for further reading for those interested.

Golu Navaratri Festival of Dolls

This display below is a story from the Mahabharata. The Kauravas built a grand palace (of wax) and gifted it to the Pandavas for their use. Their ultimate goal was to burn the palace and kill the Pandavas. Unbeknownst to the Kauravas, the Pandavas had learned of this heinous plan. They began digging an underground tunnel for their escape. Bheema, the strongest of the Pandavas, carried his brothers and their mother, on his shoulders. They later reached the banks of the Ganges, where a boat waited for them.

Mahabharata Golu

Another story from the Mahabharatha, retold with a twist as I only had Rapunzel to help me here. My DH always wants us to include a current event theme in our Golu, and this was a last minute (one hour’s worth of work) attempt at the #MeToo movement using the story of Draupadi Haran from Mahabharatha. You can read the story in detail here.

Draupadi haran Mahabharat #MeToo #MainBhi

Writing this post as a series for the Ultimate Blog Challenge and Write 31 Days.  31 Days, 31 Books! This is for Day Eighteen (I know, almost a week later and catching up is what I am doing)

Day 0 Day 1  Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5  Day 6  Day 7 Day 8 Day 9  Day 10 Day 11  Day 12 Day 13   Day 14  Day 15  Day 16  Day 17


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