Novels By Indian Authors To Discover India: How many books have you read by Indian writers? It doesn’t matter whether they are historical, contemporary novels, travel books, adventure books, or essays … how many? Do you remember any title?
However, you have likely read Kim of India, by Rudyard Kipling, or Passage to India, by EM Forster, to name just two of the best known. And it is that the vision that we have of India has been “sold” to us, as in the case of Africa, by writers from outside. Mostly English, because they ruled the subcontinent for two hundred years. Furthermore, they have sold it to us with a considerable load of more or less explicit imperialism. And the worst thing is that we bought it.
But India is much more. What the heck? It is a continent in itself, the second-most populous country on Earth, with more than 1,300 million inhabitants. And among them, there are a lot of great writers. We will never meet most of them. They are authors who offer us a look at their country from within. Sometimes though, sometimes amazing, and often gripping.
I have selected books for this blog. Almost all novels (although some essays) talk about India. That they get into its streets and its history, who dive into society as complex as it is attractive. Among them, there are undoubted masterpieces that have made me enjoy as it had not been for a long time. Works that have transported me to a country in effervescence, full of injustices and misery, but also vitality and drive. I leave you with them.
A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry
This masterpiece tells the life of four people in India in the 1970s who, forced by necessity, learn to maintain a perfect balance between hope and despair. We are in 1975, in an Indian city by the sea. The government has just declared a state of emergency, and given the housing shortage, four people are forced to share a small apartment.
They form a special quartet: Dina, a forty-year-old seamstress, widowed for twenty years, determined never to remarry. Maneck, who left his mountain village, forced his parents to leave home to study in the city. The optimistic Ishvar and his nephew Omprakash, two tailors who have fled the terrible caste violence in their small village of origin.
United only by the impersonal thread of common need, these four characters see their lives inexplicably and inseparably interwoven. The trust, humor, and affection, gradually growing between them, become a bulwark against the rigors and machinations of everyday life, holding them together for both good and bad.
A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth
“You too will marry who I say,” Mrs. Rupa Mehra tells her daughter Lata at the beginning of this story. From that moment, the search for a good match for Lata became the driving force behind this extraordinary fresco of India from the fifties, a country that remains the wounds of its recent independence and the trauma of the Partition; where modernizing efforts run up against ancient customs of centuries of tradition and where marriages are arranged for family interests.
Hand in hand with Lata, our young, practical, and lively protagonist, and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, so given to tears and sentimental excesses, we enter a complete gallery of characters that represent the entire social fabric of India: nawabs, rajas, peasants, untouchables, university professors, shoemakers, Anglophiles to hammerheads, devout Hindus and Muslims, courtesans, writers, emancipated women, and women proud to be housewives, ministers, judges, revolutionaries.
And among them, naturally, the three suitors that Lata will have to choose from: the handsome Kabir, the dynamic Haresh, and the dreamy Amit. With a transparent, poetic style steeped in subtle irony, in the tradition of Tolstoy, George Eliot, or Jane Austen, Vikram Seth offers us a true tranche de vie in which the characters live, feel, love, hate, and fight to escape or to reach his destiny, where the love story is superimposed on the political story, where religious prejudices coexist with tolerance and where the fight against injustice can lead to madness.
The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga
Novel winner of the Man Booker Prize 2008. We present to you Balram Halwai, alias White Tiger, servant, philosopher, entrepreneur, criminal.
For seven nights, in the dim light of a ridiculous spider, Balram will tell us his story. Born in a village in the heart of India, he works in a tea shop. As he crushes coal and cleans tables, a dream is forming in his head: that of escaping from the bank of the Ganges, in whose depths entire generations have rotted. To do this, he moves to Delhi, where he will be hired as a driver.
As the other servant’s leaf through the latest event magazine, Balram begins to glimpse how the Tiger will be able to escape from his cage. Of course, what successful man hasn’t been forced to shed a little blood on his way to the top?
White Tiger is an absolutely irreverent story, deeply tender and, of course, unforgettable. The agile and fun reading novel deals with India’s reality with a fresh and daring perspective.
Ladies Coupé, by Anita Nair
Akhila, a single woman in her 40s and on whom her family has always depended, feels a sudden urge to run away from it all.
At the Bangalore station in India, she is about to realize her great dream: to get on a train alone to a distant place. With her travel five women with whom she soon shares intimacy: Janaki Prabhakar, a confused mother; Margaret Paulraj, a chemistry teacher married to an unjust man; Prabha Devi, a submissive wife seeking her true identity, a woman whose dreams and innocence was shattered; Sheela Vasudevan, a fourteen-year-old teenager who understands her grandmother’s last wishes better than anyone and who seems to understand better than anyone what they are looking for; and finally Marikolanthu, who has had more experiences than all of them combined.
In the heat of the confidences whispered during the night, Akhila tries to find an answer to what has always worried her, the same dilemmas that define the journey that every woman undertakes in life.
Bombay Time by Thrity Umrigar
A sensitive and emotional story about caste prejudices and social differences in contemporary Bombay.
Its pages portray a distant world for the Western reader, lovely, through the relationship between two women, a mistress and a maid, united by the affection they profess but separated by insurmountable class differences.
An excellent reflection of the complex caste system still in force in India today. The author knows him perfectly and describes him masterfully. It manages to transfer the reader to contemporary Bombay and perfectly convey the idea of the enormous and extreme social differences, something so far from us and so difficult for the Western world to understand.
A List Of Offenses, by Dilruba Z. Ara
In the Bangladesh of the mid-20th century, the married couple formed by Jharna Begum and Azad Chaudhury finally see their most cherished wish come true: to have a daughter, after having been the parents of four sons.
However, according to the village people, the beautiful Daría is born with silver hair, a bad omen sign. At the age of eight, Daría will experience her life’s first great drama: a flood devastates her town. His house is destroyed, and his grandmother dies during the terrible natural disaster.
But the tragedy will also be accompanied by joy. Indeed, the overflowing river will bring Mizan to the family, a child who will play a major role in the future of the family and the heart of Daría …
Have you read any? Do you know any other novels by Indian authors?
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