Author: R.K. Narayan, Illustrated by Lavanya Naidu
Publisher: Penguin Books India
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Malgudi Schooldays is a new, illustrated edition of Swami and Friends, meant to appeal to children.
As far as R.K.Narayan goes, there isn’t much point in ‘reviewing’ his work. There are some who question the literary calibre of his writing, but personally, I love it. To me, his books evoke the flavour of South India via colloquialisms and descriptions. Stricter and more exacting readers might frown upon these, but for me, the simplicity of his stories and language are a delight.
So what I’m going to try to do is review this particular edition – an abridged version targeted at young readers and illustrated by Lavanya Naidu – by comparing it with other, earlier versions.
What I liked
The cover is certainly attractive and is bound to draw attention in a bookshop. Parents who want to introduce their kids to RK Narayan might be drawn to this edition because of its cover.
The big change in the books is Lavanya Naidu’s illustrations. Compared to the original ones by R K Laxman, I felt they were more likely to appeal to younger children, being colourful, simple and bold and yet not too detailed. The larger print makes for good bedtime reading.
So, if this book is meant to encourage a younger generation to start reading Narayan, it certainly pulls all the stops.
What I didn’t
Though the original Swami and Friends is about a group of schoolboys, it is written from the perspective of an adult observing the children. Unlike traditional ‘children’s books’ it does not feature adventure, fantasy or childish humour. An adult reading the stories will appreciate the sharp delineation of childish qualities, may smile at the naivete of children, may even identify with certain parts, and will probably feel nostalgic about the simple joys of his own childhood. But it will be the indulgent glance of an adult that appreciate these things. Will a contemporary 8-year-old be able to do so?
Moreover, the language used in the books, especially as spoken by the main characters, is colloquial and therefore, for lack of a better term, grammatically incorrect. (For example” “My mother was all the time in the kitchen.” “When Swaminathan told them what action his father had taken…” It suits the time and place of the original stories. In fact it adds to the ambience of the tale. But a child reading it today would have to have this explained to him or her – which detracts from the joy of reading and prevents them from enjoying the book by themselves.
The attempt to introduce a new generation of readers to one of the classics of Indian literature is laudable. Given the number and nature of illustrations, I felt that the book was intended to be for 6-10 year olds, but I believe the writing will appeal more to teenage readers. However, precocious younger readers might enjoy this one, and go on to read other masterpieces by Narayan.