There’s considerably less written about the the dark and brooding tragic hero of Mahabharata. Leadstart’s latest title, written by Umesh Kotru and Ashutosh Zutshi, focuses on Karna’s life after being abandoned by his biological mother Kunti.

The book starts on an interesting note, tracing Karna’s early life after being adopted by a charioteer and his wife. His early realization that he is different from other kids (Karna was born with natural gold armour and earrings) makes him aloof and a loner. He shows impeccable fighting skills as a kid which compels his adoptive father to take him to guru Dronacharya who trained Kaurava and Pandava princes. There he faces the ridicule and frustration of being a schedule cast, not fit to learn the skills reserved for the high borns. After a long spell of depression, Karna starts learning on his own and soon becomes a fighter of high caliber.

Karna’s fortune turns around after meeting Duryodhan, the eldest Kaurava prince and they form a strong bond of friendship. While Karna is made the king of Anga Desh, he still doesn’t get the respect he deserves. Being mocked by Pandavas and rejected by Draupadi, he swears to be on Duryodhan’s side and fight for him.

Karna is the most complex character of Mahabharata. He has high values but sides with Duryodhana who is on the wrong side of the dharma. He understands what’s wrong and right but is bound by duty and honour. Even after finding the truth about his lineage, he doesn’t leave Duryodhana to join his real brothers. This complexity makes the book worth reading. 

While the story pans out nicely in the beginning, it shifts it’s focus from Karna somewhere in the middle. The problem here is writing which lacks a certain flow. Scenes are repeated and the language isn’t casual or conversational, making it a heavy and at times tedious read. I would’ve loved to read more about his life as a king, husband, and father. I’ve also read folklores about the relationship between Karna and Draupadi, that they secretly and silently loved each other. The scenario would’ve added an interesting angle to the book.

Karna – The Unsung Hero of the Mahabharata is a decent read but not highly recommended.