By Elizabeth Wroten
Graphic Novel Review: Sita’s Ramayana
On 21, May 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: This version of The Ramayana is told from the perspective of Sita, the queen. After she, her husband Rama and his brother are exiled from their kingdom, Sita is captured by the proud and arrogant king Ravana and imprisoned in a garden across the ocean. Ravana never stops trying to convince Sita to be his wife, but she steadfastly refuses his advances. Eventually Rama comes to her rescue with the help of the monkey Hanuman and his army. But Rama feels he can’t trust Sita again. He forces Sita to undergo an ordeal by fire to prove herself to be true and pure. She is shocked and in grief and anger does so. She emerges unscathed and they return home to their kingdom as king and queen. However, suspicion haunts their relationship, and Sita once more finds herself in the forest, but this time she is pregnant. She has twins and continues to live in the forest with them.
I stumbled upon this one in the library about a week ago. I’m not a big browser at the public library (long enough to read list already!), but there was a screw up with the library my book request was sent to and it went to the library my daughter knows. She insisted on showing me around the children’s section and there it was calling to me on the shelf.
I am only familiar in passing with the Ramayana. I knew it was part of Indian folklore and I know a few of the characters, Hanuman mostly, but look at that cover! It’s lovely. And then I opened it up.
The art is stunning and, it turns out, done by a traditional artist as a Patua scroll. The Patua scrolls would be used much as we use picture books for storytelling. The storyteller holds the it and uses it to jog their memory of the story and to show the listeners parts of the story that are illustrated. The publisher broke up the scroll and put it into the left-right format Westerners use for books.
I actually read aloud the first 30 pages or so to my three-and-a-half year old and she was into it. The art pops beautifully and the story is incredibly exciting. Kidnapping a princess, an honorable prince (well, until later), a trickster monkey, battles, an excellent villain. My only complaint would be that Sita does a lot of telling. It’s primarily narrated with little dialog, but ultimately I think it works. The pictures support the story where it might drag and it allows there to be a lot more reflection and commentary made by Sita than we would get otherwise. And she often has wise things to say.
The story, as the title implies, is told by Sita and this gives is a very feminist bent. You see how she is expected both to remain pure and is doubted by her husband later. She shows how wrong it is that she can be used as a pawn in the war, but she is also incredibly sensitive to other’s pain and suffering, even the enemy. Many times she remarks that all this war takes loved ones from everyone. Apparently the Ramayana usually focuses on Rama being the hero and the man protecting his honor by rescuing his wife, but that isn’t the focus in this story. This isn’t a new approach, according to the notes at the back, and dates back at least as far as the 16th century.
As far as audience I don’t see why anyone should be excluded. It would fabulous for reluctant readers who like the graphic novel format. There are a couple breasts in one or two of the illustrations, but they’re not super prominent and I think if you approach them frankly and as if they are no big deal (they aren’t) kids will too. (But I know some parents may object.) The reading level is a little high and some of the narration does a story within a story which might make it a little difficult, but I would say fourth grade and up can handle it. The book would be awesome for a folklore study or for kids looking beyond the traditional German fairy tales. I would even hand sell it to kids who are into fairy tales and don’t know they can branch out from the western tradition.