One really can’t talk about modern Indian writers without mentioning Ruskin Bond. This man is one of the most wonderful storytellers of our time. His stories are simple yet evocative. He takes us back to an India that has sadly vanished, where hill-stations were still thickly forested and populated with big cats; where people and time itself moved more slowly; and where the simple pleasures of life were enough. The themes are everyday matters, but he captures an innocence and gentleness that seems to be lost in the world today, and which we are in dire need of. Ruskin Bond is one of those writers who quenches a reader’s thirst.
Author: Karen Joy Fowler
Keywords: Intriguing. Moving. Thought-provoking.
Imagine having a non-human sibling. That is essentially, what this book is about. Yet, it’s also about a lot more. It explores the deep bonds of sisterhood, the relationship between humans and animals, the human need to ‘fit in’, love, jealousy, devotion, resentment, and more. The novel is both humourous and heart breaking, a coming of age tale unlike any other. At times we’re rooting for the protagonist, at other times we’re disappointed with her. Moving beautifully between past and present, this is a story that challenges our notions of family and humanity.
Author: Jeet Thayil
Keywords: Evocative. Offbeat. Authentic.
Narcopolis takes you deep into the heart of another world. Welcome to the opium dens of 1970s Bombay, with their seedy little rooms, gritty alleys and notorious inhabitants. There are just a few main characters: a eunuch, a dealer, a Chinese officer, but each is endlessly fascinating. The overall mood of the book is dark, of course, but not as dark as one would expect. The writing style is riveting and intoxicating. Not many writers can write a first chapter that is one continuous paragraph, and yet not have the reader feel the strain of reading it. The writer touches upon the struggle to free oneself from addiction, and shows human nature with all its flaws. The drug world has not been glamourized (as it typically is in film/tv) or looked down upon (to send out a preachy ‘message’). Its story has been told with all its grime and glory. A semi-autobiographical tale, the authenticity of the writing shines through. The unsentimental storytelling makes for a refreshing read.
Author: Neel Mukherjee
Keywords: Family. Epic. Political.
In this well-titled book, the author takes us deep into the lives of a large joint family who live in Calcutta in the 1960s. There are the elderly parents, their children, and their children, growing up and growing old together. There are the servants, who play a critical role in the household in more ways than one. Within this one building we see different characters, their insecurities, fears, their political leanings, and how they clash and merge with one another. One character leaves home to help farmers in the Marxist struggle. Another struggles to accept that she is perhaps too dark-skinned to get married. Their lives are a fascinating labyrinth of emotional connections and intersections and arguments. They are just one family, but they are a world within themselves and that makes this book a fascinating read.
Author: Tan Twan Eng
Keywords: Intriguing. Mysterious. Historical.
This is the tale of a judge who has been a prisoner of war in a Japanese internment camp in Word War II. After the war she tries to make sense of her life. She is also battling an illness in private. While visiting old friends, she meets a Japanese artist who was previously the Emperor’s gardener. She is conflicted, as she wants to learn the Japanese art of creating a garden from a master, but she also hates the Japanese for what they did to her and her people.
The Japanese philosophy of building a garden, which goes beyond the obvious, affects her without her knowledge. She also overcomes her hatred and anger against the gardener to become friends, and later lovers. This tale moves effortlessly across different times of her life. Her journey draws the reader in. Although the book is set against the backdrop of war, it is not only a war story. We see her young days with her parents and sister in Malaya before it was torn by war. We get to know her as a well-known judge, and later, as a person searching for peace, and searching for herself. The slow revealing of her character, and the story, makes for a wonderful read.
Author: Richard Flanagan
Keywords: Realistic. Epic. Historical.
This book tells the tale of an Australian doctor living as a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp. This is not a story for the faint of heart. Detailed descriptions and narrations of conditions in the camp, the illness, the starvation, the cruelty, the air of death that hangs over everything make for a serious, albeit very moving read. It is disturbing to imagine the conditions under which thousands lived, and died. Intertwined with the main narrative is the love story of the protagonist and the feelings of guilt and inner conflict that torment him. This book describes war in all its forms, in the external world between countries and in the internal world of one man’s heart.
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Keywords: Pithy. Honest. Entertaining.
More people know of The Help as a movie, and though it is a fantastic movie, the book is miles better. Set in the 1960s, The Help tells the stories of African American maids working for white families in the deep South, USA. All the characters are interconnected in one way or another, either as friends, employers, parents or spouses, and through these connections we see the best and worst of human nature. The Help reveals the deeply ingrained attitudes and racism of the time. It shows us the helplessness, grit and spirit of the oppressed. On a another level, it discusses women’s and class issues. But above all, The Help is supremely entertaining and moving from the first word to the last. Best of all, it leaves you with that positive feeling that change, however small, is always possible and we should never stop striving for it.
Author: RK Narayan
Keywords: Delightful. Humourous. Natural.
Few writers have the gift to make everyday life interesting. RK Narayan does so with a flourish. He makes us want to journey back in time to the town he writes about. Life was simple, and the range of characters makes for a perpetually entertaining townscape. The reader feels as if these are real people, so effortless is Narayan’s storytelling. The stories themselves may be simple, but the writer’s astute observations give us insights into human nature and the societal norms of the time. RK Narayan is one of those rare writers who notice what most of us overlook.
Author: Arthur Miller
Genre: Realistic fiction (maybe)
Keywords: Moving. Intense. Disconcerting.
I don’t read many plays but All My Sons is more than just a play. Based on a true story, it reveals the deeply complex and fundamentally flawed nature of human beings. It delves into ethics and idealism, and questions how personal greed and selfishness allow people to ignore their moral responsibilities. Its broader themes hint at the corruption prevalent in any system, and it questions the American dream of the 1950s. All My Sons is so relevant to India today; it will strike a chord in many readers’ hearts. A story that stays with you, and haunts you for a while.
Author: Bel Kaufman
Genre: Epistolary novel
Tags: Realistic. Humourous. Unconventional.
My cousin – a school teacher – never stops raving about this book. So I finally got my hands on it. And no wonder teachers love it, because no book explains the life of a teacher with all its trials and triumphs as well as this one.
Set in a school in the New York area in the 1960s, Up The Down Staircase rings true even today. The book unfolds in different voices, in the form of dialogues between people; notes between teachers, from the trash, or the suggestion box; letters between characters; scribbles on papers and so on. This lends authenticity, landing the reader smack into the life of a teacher, with all its challenges and rewards. It also makes for an interesting read, as you experience school life from various points of view. We see the growing pains and difficult lives of certain students, the insecurities and pettiness of some of the staff, and the dedicated teachers who truly love their profession. There are plenty of little stories sprouting around the main theme. Even fifty years later and continents away, one can relate to and enjoy Up The Down Staircase.