Book Review | The One Who Swam With The Fishes by Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan


*book was provided for review by Harper Collins India

Rating: 4 stars


Who is Satyavati? Truth-teller. Daughter of water. Child of apsara and king. Cursed from birth. Fish-smell girl.

Growing up as a girl in the Vedic age is anything but easy – and even harder for the future Queen of Hastinapur, the kingdom of all kingdoms. She must contend with magic islands, difficult sages, calculating foster parents, sexual awakening and loneliness. Even when she is at the threshold of the capital, King Shantanu, smitten though he is with her, already has a crown prince from his marriage with a goddess. Young Satyavati must walk on thorns to reach her destiny in a world ruled by men.

Set in the Vedic ages, this story is narrated by Satyavati/Matsyagandhi, a lesser known female character of the Mahabharata. To be honest, I’m a bit shaky on the story of the Mahabharata (because as kids, the Ramayana was the tale we heard often and were made to put up performances of while the Mahabharata took a backseat) and yet I could see Satyavati as an entirely separate figure, who stood tall on her own.

There are only two ways women can be powerful in our world: you have to be born into power or you have to marry it.

The Mahabharata in itself is a male dominated story, and women make rare appearances, more often than not to drive the story forward, rather than be established as focal points (with the exception of Draupadi). However, this book was a fresh take on what it meant to be a woman in search of power in a world ruled by men.

At the start of her story, Satyavati is Matsyagandhi, and Satyavati is a persona she adopts later, which marks her transformation and willingness to go above and beyond to claim her rightful destiny, but we’ll get into that later. Satyavati is the adopted daughter of the fisher king, and not a day goes by when she’s not made to feel unwanted by her foster mother.

However, a series of events lead her to become stuck in the middle, neither here nor there, as she finds herself thrown out of her house, and she eventually ends up under the wing of a sage and an elderly woman on an island, and her experiences shape and influence who she becomes. And from there begins Satyavati’s drive to claim what is rightfully hers, and to see herself rule, not just by marrying into power, but also by giving birth to it.

The story isn’t about Satyavati’s entire life, just her childhood and a look into her adolescence. Sometimes, it was easy to forget that she was barely a teenager and yet managed to use her charm to her advantage, and have a king bow to her and concede to her demands.  From the start of the book, there are lush and vivid descriptions of life in the Vedic ages, which not only helped the story along but also aided in establishing what Satyavati’s early childhood was like.

What I loved about the book, though, along with the writing, descriptions and dialogue, was the use of the alternation of Then and Now chapters, giving us a clearer image of how her experiences influenced her choices, and giving us reasons as to why she did what she did. The narrative itself justified Satyavati’s actions, and that was my favorite thing about this book.

In all, I’d recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for a short yet though evoking read, as the book is 150-160 pages long, and a quick, engaging read. In fact, even those who are unaware of the Mahabharata’s story can read this separately, and not have to depend upon previous knowledge to fill in the gaps.

Thanks for reading!





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