Aazhi Soozh Ulagu (ஆழி சூழ் உலகு) by Joe De Cruz is one of the important Tamil novels in recent times.
The story is set in one of the fishing hamlets of the south India, just below Tiruchendur. The novel starts with three fishermen lost in the seas in 1983. Then it switches back to 1933 and moves towards 1983, with interludes about the lost fishermen. Though the local dialect proves to be difficult in the beginning, the novelist succeeds in getting us overcome this as the story moves on.
The main difference between this novel and others that have covered the same locale, like Kadalpurathil by Vannanilavan, is the sea. Vanna nilavan's novel focused more on the shore, with sea as the background. In this novel, the sea becomes one of the important characters of the novel. Joe De Cruz's description of whale hunting in a catamaran rivals that of Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea.
The characters that populate the novel have all the human frailties and are well sketched. The Paravar community's characteristics and their attitude towards life are brought out with a good economy of words. The novel deals with their religion, their exploitation by the Catholic priests and the inland people, the shift of economic power from Paravars to Nadars in Tuticorin - all as part of the plot. Through out all this, the sea is there with them, forever nurturing life and taking life. The story is brought to a close when amongst the three fishermen struggling for life, the youngest one survives and is found by a passing ship.
This is one of the most important novels in Tamil in recent times. If you accept that a good novelist is a chronicler of his people and time, then do not miss this.
You can buy it online here.