Eden Book Club: Kaikeyi Discussion
I knew before reading Kaikeyi that it would be one of my favorite fantasy books of 2023. I had heard of the bravery in its storytelling, of its willingness to attack patriarchy, of its ability to show the deep, lasting bonds that can form between women. I had heard that the main character was strong, that she was a woman of her own convictions, that this Kaikeyi made her own decisions. With those words in mind, I read the book. And now, with my own words in mind, I can say I loved it.
Kaikeyi is not so much a retelling of the Ramayana as it is a mythology-inspired fantasy that fills in the blanks to a forgotten history. It is a book of what ifs and could bes. Kaikeyi takes characters that were given just skin and bones in the Ramayana and fleshes them out. It offers an alternate universe, one where there is a push for women supporting women. It adds nuanced commentary to a world of patriarchy. It expresses love for a religion while also being critical of it.
I loved the risks taken in Kaikeyi. And I understand that depending on the version of the Ramayana you grew up with, this book might be a hit or miss for you. So tell me how you feel about Kaikeyi. I’d love to hear your thoughts on Vaishnavi Patel’s debut novel in the comments below!
Book Club Discussion Guidelines
Discussion posts (like this one) will have a series of questions as starting points. But honestly, you can talk about whatever you want regarding the books. You don’t have to answer all (or any) of the questions. I’d still love to hear your thoughts!
You can join in regardless of whether you’ve read, not read, or DNF’d the book! I understand that not everyone has the time to read or finish the book so I try to include a general discussion question as well to make the discussions more inclusive.
Kaikeyi Discussion Questions
- Have you read (or heard) any version of the Ramayana before? If yes, how did that impact your reading experience? Do you think people would benefit from knowing the story of the Ramayana before reading Kaikeyi?
- How do you feel about the Binding Plane? How did you feel when Kaikeyi used the Binding Plane?
- How do you feel about the feminist aspects of the story? What makes Kaikeyi feminist?
- How does Kaikeyi transform and grow (as a character) over the course of the book?
- What did you expect from Kaikeyi’s relationships with Kausalya and Sumitra? Did her relationships surprise you? If so, in what ways?
- How do you feel about the Women’s Council? In what ways did the Women’s Council shape the story?
- How do you feel about Vaishnavi Patel’s depiction of motherhood? How did Kaikeyi’s own relationship with her parents influence her role as a parent?
- There’s a recurring theme of owning actions in Kaikeyi (at no point is Manthara blamed). What does it mean to take responsibility for your actions? In what ways does Kaikeyi show that?
- How do you feel about the portrayal of Rama in this retelling? Ravana? Sita?
- “It is admirable to seek out more knowledge, so long as you form your own opinions,” is one of my favorite quotes from Kaikeyi. How do we form our own opinions from knowledge? What makes an opinion truly ours?
May 2023 Book Club Pick
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! Of course, these are just starter questions. There are no right or wrong answers. Feel 100% free to discuss anything regarding the book (or otherwise). I’ll be jumping in and responding as well!
Vyas NellutlaMay 1, 2023 at 2:13 PM
Great book! I was never familiar with the Ramayana growing up, and this was a very cool perspective that sparked my interest in the story.
FayeMay 1, 2023 at 2:21 PM
I’m not familiar with the Ramayana at all but I really liked this book. It felt like all the feminist myth retellings I read before (Witch’s Heart, Circe, Gods Of Jade And Shadow) but fresh. The mythology was new to me and I read commentary that there were parts of it that were wrong so I think not knowing the myth helped. Kaikeyi was a character. The depth that her character was explored amazed me. I got to see her at many different ages and see how her perspectives stayed the same and shifted. When she was a child, I could tell she was a child. When she was a teen, I could tell she was a teen. When she was a grown woman, I could tell she had matured. I loved that she didn’t actively distinguish between her blood son and Kaushalya’s and Sumitra’s blood sons. To Kaikeyi, they were all her son. That attitude is what made her endearing.
Anshula VarmaMay 2, 2023 at 3:41 PM
Adding all your myth retelling recs to my TBR (I originally DNF’d Witch’s Heart but I think I need to give it another go). I get what you mean about the writing reflecting her age. Kaikeyi’s stubborness and curiousity in the early chapters felt wrapped in her youthfulness. And her determination and strong-will in the later chapters felt like a matured, strengthened version of young Kaikeyi. The slow aging up in this story was so well done (I loved it).
There are indeed parts that aren’t true to the original myth (I agree with Maya on that front). Rama was banished for fourteen years. In the book, Kaikeyi banishes him for ten. Some of the small changes, I didn’t understand the purpose of (why ten instead of fourteen? Will Kaikeyi banish him again when he comes back?). There were larger character changes too that didn’t quite fit into the original myth.
I didn’t mind (even though I grew up hearing the Ramayana and watching the TV re-runs – anyone else?) because I felt like the intention wasn’t for this to be a direct retelling (even though that’s all it’s been marketed as). I think through the Binding Plane and some of the depictions of the Rakshasa, Kaikeyi felt more fantasy leaning, inspired by myth and legend, born of it but not raised by it. And while Rama’s character took me by surprise. In some ways, it didn’t (in one of the original versions, Sita has to prove her chastity through agnipariksha. And even if some stories claim she did seem to do so willingly, I personally feel it’s quite cruel to doubt your wife and ask her do that). Patel seemed to take these seeds of character traits and see “what if we take this all the way.” I liked that in a reimagination.
Part of Kaikeyi’s straying from Ramayana to me also felt like the result of the story being pushed and pulled by the thousands of variations of the epic. There are so many versions of Ramayana, and Kaikeyi encapsulates bits and pieces of many of them. Thus, Kaikeyi didn’t feel like a retelling of any one story.
I loved what you said about Kaikeyi’s sons. It gave a new dimension to her motherhood that I appreciated. And I felt like it made her more endearing too!
MayaMay 1, 2023 at 2:30 PM
I think not knowing the Ramayana benefits the reading experience more than knowing it. Kaikeyi really goes in a different direction from the original epic. It doesn’t feel like a retelling because it doesn’t hold true to the epic. Ravana is made kind when he is unkind. Rama, who is pure, is unpure, war hungry, and misogynistic. And I worry about what people will think of Hinduism if this book is their introduction to it.