Praise for Mistress

With its poetic prose and grand subject matter, Anita Nair’s MISTRESS (BlackAmber, $34.99) is reminiscent of age-old Indian epics such as the Mahabharata. In Nair’s novel, love and history clash when cello-playing travel writer Chris arrives at Near-the-Nila holiday retreat in Kerala to interview famed traditional actor-cum-dancer Koman. There, Chris falls for Koman’s beautiful niece Radha, who in turn is trapped in a loveless marriage to Near-the-Nila’s possessive and scheming owner, Shyam. Nair cleverly compares and contrasts the complex web of deceit that ensues with a series of flashbacks to a youthful dalliance Koman indulged in with Anglo-German artist Angela in 70s London. The result is a sharply observed, character-driven story that uses the lives of small-town people with ambitious dreams as a framework for discussions about big issues like globalisation and autochthony.

- Listener, New Zealand

" The art of regaining humanity. Anita Nair builds her new novel on the structure of a kathakali performance ...Nair takes her own performance far beyond the limits of her initial promise...Nair kills the stereotype with emotions not listed in the glossary of the art she seeks as a form to place her imagination. ...The richness of Koman's back story - whose emotional texture, sensuous as well sorrowful is accentuated by the thrills and tribulations of racial overstretch and migratory woes alone will make Nair a novelist who stretches the geographical boundaries of imagination to accomodate the wayward orphans who dominate everyone's history. The newness is not in reducing the distance between the art of the novel and the art of kathakali, and it is not in interpreting a claasical form to suit the emotional or cerebral expediencies of the novelist either [Think of what Maria Varga Llosa did with painting in In Praise of the Stepmother and Umberto Eco with pop art in The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana.] Nair makes art a living experience, literally....When the performers in Mistress realise that they have to discard the costume to regain their humanity, it is too late. The art of Anita Nair does it for them , in style.

- India Today

'With her first two novels, the Better Man and Ladies Coupe, Anita Nair signalled the arrival of a sensitive writer who could delve deep into people's personalities and take the reader on a wonderful journey. With her latest book Mistress, she lives upto the promise of masterful story teller.....Some bonds grow and other break and in these intertwining relationships lies the beauty of Anita's saga.'

- The Times of India

'...like Michael Ondaatje?s Anil?s Ghost, this is one of those novels that brings a specialised subject alive for the novice. The story is imbued with rich descriptions of Kathakali positions, facial gestures and mythical stories. The reader discovers and experiences the dance without having to look up from the page.Mistress not only brings a traditional art form into the spotlight but questions its place in present-day India.....Mistress is a well-written novel that gifts the reader with knowledge of a magical art form. For that reason it should be read by all, from the uncompromising artist to the champions of contemporaneous India.'

- Tehelka

'Fiction and research go hand-in-hand in Mistress, Anita Nair's latest book...an absorbing story of two plots that run parallel, almost at the same pace...Kathakali, the exacting, vibrant dance form of Kerala, may seem to appeal to a niche segment. But the author has given its colour and character an appeal that cuts across geographical boundaries...While the words are well chosen, a lot of thought has gone into the layout. It is categorised into three books, each containing three rasas, culminating in the ninth rasa ? Shaantam. Even this has a role to play, as the characters express a kaleidoscope of emotions associated with the art form ? right from the strong sentiment like love to detachment, which arguably is a state of philosophical sublime. In fact, even the storytelling technique has overtones of Kathakali, which enacts the drama of life. The uninitiated, however, is led by a Kathakali lexicon while Kerala becomes the inevitable canvas.'

- The Asian Age

Art is a tough mistress. Exacting. Unforgiving. But beautiful and tantalising, all the same. When applied to best-selling author Anita Nair's latest novel Mistress. these truths prove double-edged, yet true as steel..... those who have read it will mull over issues inherent between its covers. Set in Kerala, spanning 90 years, Nair's third novel explores the depths of relationships while, in a parallel strand, it unravels the skeins that weave together a life in art.... As the turbulent eddies of life surround the protagonists, we are plunged into a multi-pronged narrative ? where the navarasas dictate the mood of each segment, where the main characters offer first-person slants on the evolving plot,? where myths are vigorously retold with local colour, where the artist and his art tussle for an equitable balance.?It is a formula that seems bound for literary magic. To me, Nair's narrative powers and mastery of minutiae remain her forte... this novel proves she is conscious of the trivialisation of art, a mistress who accepts no compromises.

- The Hindu

Kathakali is a complete art wherein you will find everything that is there in life. Like a true Kathakali spectacle performed by master veshakaars that lasts all night, Nair evokes in her readers wonder, delight and grief. She writes about man-woman relationships and complex Kathakali aesthetics with equal felicity. When you put down the novel, you feel as if you are walking back home in the pale early morning light at the end of a nightlong Kathakali performance. What fills your soul, then, is shaantam — the last of the nine bhavas.

– M. Mukundan The Hindu Literary Review

Like Anita Nair’s earlier works the Better Man and Ladies coupe, Mistress is firmly planted in the Indian context with no compromises but with a universal appeal.

– The Sunday Express

What sets the extraordinary tone for Mistress is its structure....The inclusion of Kathakali in the novel is much more than an exotic add-on. Its admission of how characters have varying shades of grey, of the past’s impact on the present, is vital to the storyline.

Mistress is a mature take on the compulsions of adultery and art. It sets up and resolves questions not through one grand meta narrative, but through little narratives. Each tale compounds the force of the one before it.

Opening up the rich world of Kathakali to English literature, Mistress achieves something rare in Indian writing. It proposes a natural assimilation of our artistic heritage in new fiction.


A grand saga on relationships, this novel is Anita Nair’s most ambitious opus yet. Through an array of complex narrative techniques, in a brilliant language sparkling with extraordinary intelligence, she unfolds a story, nay, a garland of stories, using kathakali, the classical performing art form of Kerala, as a mega-metaphor. That she picks kathakali, an international reference point to Kerala culture, and, to a large extent, Indian culture, for this purpose, is a statement in itself. Ruminations on the nature of true art, the artist’s jealous mistress who excludes everything else, expatiations on popular art that is obtained by diluting classical art to ensure global success and good money—all in the context of kathakali—are hitherto not encountered in Indian English fiction. It is heartening to note that this novel deals with such questions with the seriousness they deserve, unlike certain other very successful novels written in the backdrop of Kerala’s culture.

The narrative follows a unique pattern. Opening with a prologue and wrapped up with an epilogue, and, in between, the main body broken up into three books with three sections in each, making up nine in total, each titled with the navarasas as found in Bharata’s Natyashastra, it has each character speaking in the first person—long soliloquies, or dramatic monologues, reminiscent of long narrative sequences from a kathakali performance. The author expounding directly on each of the navarasas, at the beginning of the sections, produces a choric effect; the detailed interpretations are certainly meant for the outsider or for those less informed in ancient Indian aesthetics

– Sahara Times.

Kathakali lends the book its structure and grounds its even-handed, intense drama in a rich setting of myth and ritual; whether sketching Kerala's changing conditions, charting Radha's loveless marriage or describing the closed world of an Islamic village, Nair's third novel is consistently compelling.

- The Guardian

This intricately plotted novel by Nair blends myth, history, and human emotion into a mixture as sweet as the nectar of the jackfruit and as tangled as human behavior. It is the story of a love affair between Radha, the dissatisfied wife of an Indian businessman, and Chris, a visiting American writer; their affair parallels one between Radha's famous uncle, Koman, a Kathakali dancer, and Chris's mother 30 years earlier. Their stories and those of several others are interwoven with the tales danced in Kathakali and the emotions the dancers are trained to ortray…..Highly recommended.

- Library Journal Review

Lushly infused with Hindu mysticism and potently imbued with volcanic emotions of fury, contempt, fear, and wonder, Nair's spirited tale of forbidden love set in contemporary India mirrors the radiance and majesty of the traditional Indian dance form known as kathakali…. Tempestuously exotic, Nair's intricately woven multicultural and multigenerational saga pulsates with passion and desire.

– Booklist

Anita Nair's Mistress is written rendition of the traditional Indian dance form kathakali. American Chris Stewart comes into two lives. Radha is emotionally distanced and more than a bit contemptuous of her husband, Shyam; Chris has come to interview Radha's Uncle Koman, who was once a famous kathakali dancer. Both Koman and Radha feel an immediate connection to Stewart. The young woman must choose whether to stay in her marriage or to flaunt custom and risk the shunning of her society to find what she perceives as true love. The true richness of the story belongs to Koman and his pursuit of excellence as a kathakali performer. His protector is his parakeet, Malini, who watches over him like a jealous lover. Even in his old age, Koman pursues his own mistress, finding comfort and no less passion than that of Radha and Chris, but perhaps one more comfortable with human failings. This is a performance and a book that will not be
easily laid aside or soon forgotten.

- www.curledup.com.

Nair, the author of two previous novels, “Ladies Coupe” and “The Better Man,” has a talent for probing insular worlds. Much as she makes the closed realm of kathakali performers come alive, she paints a poignant picture of the segregated, cloistered Muslim village.

– The Washington Post

” The Indian author Anita Nair´s manner of narration in the novel “Mistress” is ingenius, complex and simple. …”

”In a rich, colourful and sensual language Nair tells the story of Radha´s family, seen through the past and the culture of today. ‘Mistress’ is a feast to read or: brings enormous pleasure to the reader whether the reader enjoys the sound of Ibsen or not. ”

- VG






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