Each year brings us a number of wonderful books, making us spoilt for choice. With the end of the year around the corner, we thought it was time to reach out to a group of Indian authors to find out the books they’ve read and loved this year. Keep those TBR lists ready as you take a look at what authors like Aparna Upadhyaya Sanyal, Kiran Manral, Bachi Karkaria, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, and others have recommended as their favourite reads of 2019.
Recommended by Sharanya Manivannan, author of Queen Of Jasmine Country
I’ve just crossed the 100-book mark this year as a reader, and I enjoyed so many that it’s impossible to definitively declare a favourite. However, if there’s one book that I hope more people will read, it’s Urvashi Bahuguna’s Terrarium. This is the debut collection by a very fine poet, whose fundamental preoccupation seems to be change: seasonal, climatic, in the heart and body, within human intimacies. To read it is to simultaneously support the causes of poetry, independent publishing, and beauty.
Buy it here.
My Sister The Serial Killer
Recommended by Aparna Upadhyaya Sanyal, author of Circus Folks And Village Freaks
A read that is clever, witty and sobering at the same time. Inundated with interesting Nigerian textures, the writing veritably pulses with a dark throb that makes reading it feel like an illicit pleasure. You don’t want the slim volume to end; indeed, you wish for more wickedness from Ayoola, as if her every satirical move is sating your darkest appetites. Korede’s initial stoic acceptance and then her inner seething are relatable to an alarming extent. A stellar debut from Oyinkan Braithwaite, who I hope writes much, much more. And soon.
Buy it here.
So Now You Know: A Memoir Of Growing Up Gay In India
Buy it here.
So Now You Know: A Memoir Of Growing Up Gay In India | The Unlikely Adventures Of The Shergill Sisters | Magical Women
Vivek Tejuja | Balli Kaur Jaswal | Sukanya Venkatraghavan (Ed.)
Recommended by Kiran Manral, author of Missing Presumed Dead
Vivek Tejuja’s So Now You Know: A Memoir Of Growing Up Gay In India is a brave, honest and personal narrative of what it meant to be ‘different’ in a patriarchal society that looked down on any deviation from the construct of what it meant to be a man. So Now You Know is gut wrenching in parts, will make your eyes well up at others, and makes you searingly aware of how far we still need to go in our journey to accept love beyond the binary.
I am currently halfway through The Unlikely Adventures Of The Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal and am loving how it is a travel narrative that etches out characters, real life situations, conflict and sibling drama with such uncanny ease. It also holds up a mirror to most of us who stumble through life, so caught up in our own personal drama, without realising that every single person out there deals with their own.
The third book I’d like to recommend is Magical Women edited by Sukanya Venkatraghavan. A disclaimer though – I have a short story in this one. But, having said that, read this book for the wonderful spread of magical stories that combine fantasy, sci-fi, mythology and the feminine. Female emotions unapologetically dominate the narratives. And the bevy of strong women authors who have contributed to this anthology makes it a complete delight to read.
The Anarchy | A Stranger Truth
William Dalrymple | Ashok Alexander
The first book that stood out for me this year was The Anarchy. Not only does it bear the stamp of William Dalrymple’s magisterial research, but because John Company/Company Bahadur has such a special resonance for anyone growing up in Calcutta, and later working at The Statesman. Where, after all, was the notorious and eponymous Black Hole?
The other book was A Stranger Truth by Ashok Alexander. Again for nostalgia, albeit of another kind. Alexander headed the India AIDS Initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a field of study that became as close to his heart as it was to his head. The lives of sex workers were a personal, sobering revelation, even a shaming one, which showed me my earlier smug sanctimoniousness. Alexander’s book gives them the respect they deserve.
India in the Persianate Age: 1000-1765
Richard Maxwell Eaton
Recommended by Manimugdha Sharma, author of Allahu Akbar: Understanding The Great Mughal In Today’s India
The book I loved the most in 2019 was Professor Richard M. Eaton’s India in the Persianate Age: 1000-1765. These eight centuries cover the pre-modern and early modern periods of India’s history and have always been projected as the ‘Muslim’ period. Eaton’s work busts this stereotype. It shows us why India wasn’t a self-evolving Hindu and Sanskrit-centric civilisation, but a hybridised composite created via the interaction of different cultures and peoples: one in which the Sanskrit and Persianate worlds met and merged. This book is important for both the lay reader and scholars of history. I would say it is one of the very best non-fiction titles to come out in 2019.
Buy it here.
Jallianwala Bagh | Ganga: The Many Pasts Of A River
Kim A. Wagner | Sudipta Sen
Recommended by Manu Bhagavan, editor of India And The Cold War
In Jallianwala Bagh, Kim Wagner upends many common misperceptions about this famous episode from Indian history through impressive research and a highly engaging writing style that literally and figuratively evokes A Passage To India. This is a landmark book.
Another book that I’d like to recommend is Ganga: The Many Pasts Of A River by Sudipta Sen. It takes a remarkable look at the history of India’s most celebrated river, the people that have lived off of it, the place it has held in popular imagination, and the ecological impact of it all. Spanning millennia, this is an epic work of scholarship.
This top-notch legal mystery is set in a part of America where the business-minded East Coast meets the edge of the Appalachian mountains. It’s the kind of area where immigrants settle, hoping for the best, but find it lonelier and more troublesome than expected.
I loved the suspense and detail that Kim, a former trial attorney, gave to the twists and turns of this story. Kim also delves into her personal history as a Korean immigrant and the mother of a child with disabilities. It’s rare to have a first novel from an author so thoroughly qualified to speak from multiple viewpoints, and is also a beautiful storyteller.
Buy it here.
Bhaunri | You Beneath Your Skin
Anukrti Upadhyay | Damyanti Biswas
Recommended by Richa Mukherjee, author of Kanpur Khoofiya Pvt. Ltd.
Bhaunri by Anukriti Upadhyay is sensitive, lyrical, earthy and bold. This is the story of a girl and her journey towards becoming the woman she wants to be, unbeknownst to her, till she is moulded by the circumstances and the people that life brings her way. And just when you think you’ve figured her out, she will surprise you.
The other book that I’d like to recommend is You Beneath Your Skin by Damyanti Biswas. I haven’t even finished the book, but it has already made an impact. This story of murder and stark realities is an uncomfortable reminder of the unforgiving world we live in and everything in it that is out of our control. Biswas makes you feel for the characters’ vicissitudes of fortune and soak in their anguish.
In The Dream House | The Man Who Saw Everything
Carmen Maria Machado | Deborah Levy
Recommended by Avni Doshi, author of Girl In White Cotton
I haven’t read that many books this year, I’m still catching up from 2018, but I’ve just cracked Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir open, and I can already tell it’s going to be my favourite book of the year. She deals with domestic abuse in such a remarkable way that I’m having a deeply visceral reaction to the book.
Otherwise, I would say that Deborah Levy’s new novel, The Man Who Saw Everything, was a delightful and, ultimately, surprising read. Levy takes the story to unexpected places, and I am always amazed by how inventive and brave her writing is.
The Bride Test
Recommended by Nikita Deshpande, author of It Must’ve Been Something He Wrote
Why is this the best book I’ve read all year? The Bride Test is a small retreat from the daily hellscape of our news cycles— the politics, the narcissism, the choked-turtles and the impending end-of-the-world. In my mind, Helen Hoang is rewriting the rules of what ‘romance’ means as a genre. She writes characters that are diverse, strong, and vulnerable, while organically retaining the best things about the genre.
In The Bride Test, Khai Diep, who is on the autism spectrum, believes he cannot love. Sparks fly when he meets Esme Tran, but being neuro-atypical, he doesn’t quite know it. Hoang manages to write a toe-curling romance with characters you get involved with and root for with every nerve ending in your body. She also romanticises consent and women’s pleasure, while educating me on how to be more aware of the boundaries and needs of my friends on the spectrum.
Buy it here.
Flowers On The Grave Of Caste
Of the many books I have read in 2019, the one I would recommend is Flowers On The Grave Of Caste by Yogesh Maitreya. The book is just 80 pages in length and contains six powerful and hard-hitting stories on the Dalit experience. Four of the six stories have been written in the first person and read like lived experiences. The first story talks about a Dalit woman being raped and burnt alive by a higher caste man. There is another story in which a higher caste woman retches when she realises that the food she ate was cooked by a Dalit man. Then there is a story which is like a critique of the life of Brahmins. Maitreya’s narration is straightforward, and the stories are both moving and insightful. I would recommend a companion book too- The Bridge Of Migration, a collection of poems by Yogesh Maitreya published in 2017. Panther’s Paw Publications is an anti-caste publishing house which publishes books in English—both original works, as well as works translated into English from the languages they were originally written in.
Buy it here.