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Giving a “Tweak” to a Beloved Story

What is it like to create a modern, feminist retelling of an ancient, foundational text? Vaishnavi Patel–author of the instant New York Times bestselling novel Kaikeyi, a reimagining of the Hindu epic the Ramayana–paints a vivid picture in this episode of Book Dreams. Vaishnavi’s novel “tells the story of the evil stepmother character [Kaikeyi], who sets off the whole epic by exiling Rama, and then just sort of disappears. [The novel] asks, What if she had reasons for doing what she did? What if the story was a little bit different and we can understand her actions rather than them just being spur-of-the-moment jealousy, which is what we get in the Ramayana?” In this conversation with Eve and Julie, Vaishnavi relates why she became fascinated by Kaikeyi’s story; how her research led her to surprising evidence of feminism in the Ramayana source material; how she’s handled backlash from people who “believe in some sort of Hindu supremacy” and who deem her novel a threat; and why the novel in fact strengthened her relationship with Hinduism, as well as the connection of some of her readers to their Hindu faith.

Vaishnavi Patel is an attorney focusing on constitutional law and civil rights and the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Kaikeyi. She writes at the intersection of Indian myth, feminism, and anti-colonialism.

Kaikeyi: A Novel

"Mythic retelling at its best: entrancing, troubling, and complicated. Kaikeyi is marvelous."―R. F. Kuang, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Babel

"A thought-provoking, nuanced new look at one of humanity’s most foundational stories."―Shannon Chakraborty, national bestselling author of The City of Brass

"A powerful examination of a woman maligned by myth and men. Patel’s imagination takes a hammer to the image of a stonehearted villainess and reveals the woman within, whose choices sparked immortal legends. Compulsively readable and infinitely compassionate, this is the story I’ve been yearning for all my life."―Roshani Chokshi, New York Times bestselling author of the Aru Shah and Gilded Wolves series

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