Young love is pitted against social discrimination in Perumal Murugan’s powerful and compelling novel, set in the rural Tamil Nadu of the 1980s.

Saroja and Kumaresan are in love. And in danger. After a whirlwind romance they marry in a small southern Indian town, before returning to Kumaresan’s family village. But the newlyweds are harbouring a dangerous secret: they belong to different castes, and if the villagers find out they will be in grave peril. 

Faced with venom from her mother-in-law, and pointed questions from her new neighbours, Saroja struggles to adjust to a lonely and uncomfortable life. Kumaresan throws himself into building a business, hoping to scrape together enough money for them to start over somewhere new. But as vicious whispers encircle the couple, will their love be enough to keep them safe?

Pyre was longlisted for the International Booker Prize 2023, announced on March 14, 2023.


The International Booker Prize 2023
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Pushkin Press
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Perumal Murugan

Perumal Murugan

About the Author

Perumal Murugan is a professor of Tamil literature and one of India's most respected and bestselling literary writers.
More about Perumal Murugan
 Aniruddhan Vasudevan

Aniruddhan Vasudevan

About the Translator

Aniruddhan Vasudevan is a sociocultural anthropologist who writes and translates between Tamil and English.
More about Aniruddhan Vasudevan

Perumal Murugan on Pyre

‘I was compelled to respond as a writer following reports on honour killings in Tamil Nadu after 2000. The reports made me deeply sad because it also reminded me of other similar stories. It was a strong feeling to write through the grief. The novel was thus born.

‘Inter-caste marriages are one of the reasons for honour killings. There are different angles to it. One angle is that the male belongs to the dominant caste in the social herirarchy and the female to the oppressed caste. I was able to create a story using this angle.  

‘“Thalai muzugiruven” (to rinse one’s hair) is a term traditionally used in the region where I live. This means doing the rituals associated with death after the passing on of a person and completing it by washing oneself in a river. This metaphorically means that all the earthly bonds with that person are forever concluded. One should move on and carry on with the daily duties of life. To tell someone who’s still alive that they will ‘wash one’s hair’ is a threat to ‘kill them’; it is a warning that the person will be considered dead.  Parents use this traditional term when they come to know of their children’s love affairs. A traditional term doesn’t come into being easily. Many stories are buried inside the term. I extracted one such story and wrote this novel.’

Read the full interview here.

Perumal Murugan

What the judges said

‘An intercaste couple elopes, setting in motion a story of terrifying foreboding. Perumal Murugan is a great anatomist of power and, in particular, of the deep, deforming rot of caste hatred and violence. With flashes of fable, his novel tells a story specific and universal: how flammable are fear and the distrust of others.’

What the critics said

Jane Wallace, The Asian Review of Books

‘A novel with a title like Pyre is unlikely to have a happy ending. Nevertheless, the journey towards this inevitable outcome delivers a disturbing insight into human bigotry and brutality whose application extends far beyond the novel’s treatment of inter-caste marriage in contemporary Tamil Nadu […] The translation from the original Tamil relies on simple English and the occasional American idiom yet comprehensively captures the claustrophobic atmosphere in which the lovers exist.’

Vaasanthi, The Indian Express (IND)

‘Perumal Murugan, a poet and a scholar, knows how to handle masterful imagery and human emotions. Especially when he delves into the emotional space of his women characters, be it a coarse, unloving mother-in-law or the soft, sparrow-like, bewildered new bride […] It is a sensitive translation done with great care. There is not a single word that jars and the narrative is more tightly woven.’


‘An acclaimed writer in his native India, Murugan skillfully contrasts the young couple’s innocence with the increasingly caustic attacks on their marital union. His spare prose mesmerizes, and Vasudevan’s translation of the original Tamil conveys both meaning and needed context for Western English readers. India’s casteism is on full display, but what makes this novel so powerful is how Murugan shows that intolerance, cruelty, and bigotry are universal traits of humankind, even while tailored to the peculiarity of each society. Universal too, are the love, kindness, and familial bonds that exist between individuals who have the sensitivity to look beyond societal custom and coercion […] A haunting story of forbidden love set in Southern India that illustrates the cruel consequences of societal intolerance.’

Publishers Weekly

‘Murugan describes rural life in piercing detail, making the everyday toil and inner lives of humble people the backdrop to the unfolding drama of escalating threats from Kumaresan’s relatives and neighbors. The simple, elegant prose of Vasudevan’s translation ranges from poetic to suspenseful as the hopeful innocence of young love bristles against tradition and Saroja faces increasing danger from the villagers. The author himself was censored in 2014 by government-affiliated activists in India and briefly gave up writing; thankfully, he has returned. Murugan deserves worldwide recognition.’

Malavika Praseed, Chicago Review of Books

‘While Pyre is an exploration of the regional and specific, what with its integration of Tamil words even in the translated text, along with regional foods and turns of phrase, the broad strokes characterizations of caste and familial dynamics hinder the book from being as effective as it could be. Nevertheless, within its short page count, Murugan gives us a tight narrative, a memorable love story, and a truly unforgettable ending. This is far from my last exploration into Murugan’s work, let alone Tamil literature in general. Although, after reading this one and squeezing my eyes shut at the very end, I can completely understand my father’s lifelong preference for comforting Tamil comedies rather than dramas.’