Penelope's Reviews > Sita's Ramayana

Sita's Ramayana by Samhita Arni
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Dec 18, 11

bookshelves: graphic-novels, feminism-gender-studies, winter-12
Read in December, 2011

This is a beautiful book and a well-written retelling of the Ramayana. I hadn't heard of this story before reading this book, and haven't read any other versions. After reading this one, however, it struck me as the Indian equivalent of the "Helen of Troy" story in a lot of ways. It's interesting how stories with similar themes pop up in different cultures. Of course, the details of the story are quite different, but I felt there were many similar messages.

There is a very brief essay at the end of the book describing how Sita's Ramayana fits into a "distinct female narrative tradition." I'd have loved to read more about this and wish the essay had been longer and included more detail (possibly even some sort of bibliography for further reading?). Similarly, there is a brief description of Patua graphics on the last page, after the female-narrative essay. Again, I'd have enjoyed reading a longer essay about Patua scrolls and their ancient/contemporary purposes.

I thought the story was excellent, subtle and complex, emotional and mythical without creating naive distinctions between good and evil. That was one of my favorite things about this story--Sita befriends a number of characters who are, as far as the war is concerned, on the enemy's side. The story makes quite a bit of interesting commentary relating to how individuals fit into the dynamics of war and how the effects of war (regardless of who wins or loses) are destructive to all involved.

The book design is unique and ambitious--and generally I think it's a great success. The scroll paintings are designed well and fit together with the text to create a well-paced narrative. I generally didn't have much trouble "reading" the images or keeping the characters straight. I think there were adequate visual cues to distinguish each character, and they have pretty distinct names. My only complaint is the typeface that was chosen and how it was inserted into the images. It's simple and fairly unobtrusive but the rectangles/speech bubbles with their black outlines and obvious computer-generated geometry don't fit very well with the organic hand-rendered scroll paintings. Also, there didn't seem to be much consistency in how all-caps type was used--I think it was just used for emphasis, but I kept trying to figure out if there was some other logic behind it. Aside from that small design flaw (from my perspective), I think this is a really beautiful book--both the illustrations and writing are excellent on their own, and are combined to create a wonderful graphic-narrative experience.
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