Let me open my list with a dodgy but enjoyable choice. The Tale of the Body Thief by Anne Rice is the first-ever vampire novel I read and it features the fabulous Vampire Lestat switching bodies with a psychic who refuses to switch back. Is it really a retelling of a myth? Well, sort of. It is a vampire story and a body swapping tale. Both are old stories and seem to tap into profound human desires and fears. Among the favourite stories of my childhood are those of body swapping or koodu vittu koodu paythal in Tamil (jumping cages). I could not imagine a worse fate—of being forced out of my body and exiled in another. I still find the idea of it appalling and thrilling.
Second on the list is a retelling of a story from the Mahabharata that will leave you wounded by its beauty. Yuvanashva is Devdutt Pattanaik’s Pregnant King, a man who mistakenly drinks a potion meant for his wives and becomes pregnant. Is he mother or father to his child? The novel bursts with characters for whom gender and sex are plastic—Shikandi, Arjuna, Sthunakarna, Somavat, Adi-natha, Ileshvara. Their stories will have you look at the world anew.
But how do you tell these stories to children? Which brings me to Arshia Sattar’s lovely retelling of tales from Hindu mythology for children, Garuda and the Serpents (forthcoming in May 2018 from Juggernaut). One of the stories she retells is of Ila (Illeshvara of The Pregnant King), the king who walks into the goddess Parvati’s grove and becomes a woman. It is but one of the stories in the collection in which magical things happen to strange and wonderful beings.
Now for a delicious adult love story set in the time of the Trojan war: Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. Here we meet the invincible hero Achilles in love rather than in rage. Born to a goddess and a human, educated by a centaur, celebrated as the hero of his age, falling in love with his best friend Patroclus and being loved in return…It all ends badly of course but what a journey! Who doesn’t love a tragic love story?
I am going to cheat at the close of the list with two gloriously different books I love and recommend to all: Roberto Calasso’s Ka, no one can make the Rig Veda sound more seductive and the Buddha more implacable, and Jose Saramago’s epiphanic reimaging of the life of Jesus, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. And that mischievous recommendation from the Devil regarding the goat – read to find out.