Great Books by Indian Authors, My Recommendations to Arati

Arati wrote to me today on Whatsapp:

Hi Vedang, needed some advice from you.

My cousin brother is visting India and is married to an Amercian woman. She likes to read fiction, anything other than too much gore and murder is alright. She is keen on trying out some Indian authored books in the fiction space. Anything you recommend?

I'm guessing nothing with myth and mythology since she is not aware of the basics and maybe something that isn't too India context based? What do you have in mind?

This is a list I created based on that question.1

  1. Cuckold, by Kiran Nagarkar [Historical Fiction]: One of my favourite books! This book is about Mirabai's obsession with Krishna, from the point of view of her husband the Yuvraj of Mewar. It is incredible, fast-paced historical fiction set in 16th century India, and it reads like a thriller. (Cuckold:
  2. The Ibis Trilogy, by Amitav Ghosh [Historical Fiction]: The story is set around the Opium Wars, via which Britain established absolute dominance over China. It is a great book about colonialism, how the British exploited India and China as their opium factories, and what that led to. The cast of characters is hilarious and very Indian. She should start from the first book (Sea of Poppies) and see if she likes the flavour of the writing. (Sea of Poppies:
  3. Malgudi Days, R.K. Narayan [Short Stories]: Malgudi Days is a classic for a reason. It is beautiful writing on village life, and Swami's adventures with his friends are a joy to read. (Malgudi Days:
  4. No Presents Please, Jayant Kaikini [Short Stories, Translations]: A collection of short stories all set in Mumbai, all exploring the life of people living in Mumbai in different circumstances. Great writing! (No Presents Please:
  5. One Part Woman, Perumal Murugan [Translations]: Incredible story about Kali and Ponna, a couple who live in a Tamilnadu village. They are deeply in love with each other, but unable to conceive. The families on both sides start getting involved and the "problem" starts taking over everything. Beautifully written and extremely poignant. The translation was so good, I wonder how much better the original in Tamil would be. (One Part Woman:
  6. Aiwa Maru, Anant Samant [Translations]: Super steamy book about a sailor who is undertaking a perilous journey on an old, creaky ship. He falls in love with his friend's wife who is also travelling on this ship. It sticks with me because this kind of writing was shocking, I didn't expect it from an Indian author :P. The writing is wonderful! (Aiwa Maru:
  7. [Bonus] The Second Turn, MT Vasudevan Nair [Mahabharata, Translations]: One of the most celebrated Mahabharata books is Randaamoozham, written in Malayalam by MTV. It tells us the story from Bhima's point of view. Luckily for us English Readers, Prem Panicker "recreated" it into English and that translation is freely available for everyone to read. If she is interested in the Mahabharata, ask her to put aside whatever book she brought and start with this one :). I'm attaching the PDF to this email.


1 I asked some follow-up questions to get a better read (khi khi):

  1. What about Historical Fiction? Would she be interested in a book like ‘Murder at the Mushaira’? There are some great books in historical fiction, which she will be able to enjoy without the need for context.
  2. ⁠Let’s assume mythology is out for the moment, but is she interested in maybe reading about it? I can think of some short story collections that might be good.
  3. ⁠Which brings us to Short Stories. There are many incredible short story collections! Would she enjoy those?
  4. ⁠How about "cityscapes" — books which describe the life of a particular city at a particular time?
  5. ⁠Finally, some of the best books are english translations of regional language classics. These would be classic fiction books — love, romance, betrayal etc.

Published On: Tue, 16 Jan 2024.