WHERE THE RAIN IS BORN: WRITINGS ABOUT KERALA edited by Anita Nair. Penguin India. Paperback. 315 pages.

When the sage Parasurama threw his battleaxe into the sea, creating the territory now best known as God’s own country, Kerala, he also unearthed a wealth of literary talent, it seems. Where the Rain is Born, an anthology of writings about Kerala edited by Anita Nair, features some of Kerala’s best writers alongside talents from all over the world.

The book has been called “a judicious mix of geography, history, social issues, culture, and samples from its rich literary tradition.” Thankfully, there is scant mention of the state’s overdone treasures such as ayurvedic spas, houseboats, and the ubiquitous Chinese fishing nets. Instead, it offers a contemporary narrative by diverse writers bringing to life the languid charm of the tiny state as well as the emerging patterns of social, political, and cultural development. They celebrate and illuminate the unique vibrancy and complexity of Kerala.

Writers as diverse as Arundhati Roy, Ramachandra Guha, Pankaj Mishra, O.V. Vijayan, Vaikkom Mohammad Basheer, and Kamala Das contribute to this intriguing compilation.

From Salman Rushdie’s evocation of life in Cochin, with its mixed Jewish and Portuguese legacies to Pankaj Mishra’s experience in a “no-Indians please” seaside hotel in Kovalam, from Lalithambika Antharjanam’s intensely personal address to her dead mother, bringing into light a Namboodiri woman’s plight in the early decades of the last century to Ammu Joseph’s revelatory article about a Kerala woman’s socioeconomic status (debunking the myth that the state’s matrilineal system or its much praised literacy rate has liberated Kerala women), the anthology also includes a meticulously edited collection of expertly translated pieces.

Anthologies play a useful role in representing a culture and telling its stories. Where the Rain is Born is an excellent collection of journeys, experiences, dreams, and histories—personal, cultural, and natural. It is an eclectic blend of nonfiction and fiction, field notes and poetry, through which artists of diverse backgrounds both celebrate and illuminate the unique vitality and complexity of southwestern Indian literature, proving that green is only one of many colors on their palette.

—Chitra Parayath