Monday, 15 August 2011

5 Novels To Celebrate Indian Independence Day

To celebrate Indian Independence Day, I asked people on Twitter to suggest novels that are either set in India or written by Indian authors which they would recommend as an enjoyable read.  I've included a few of their suggestions in the list below, along with my own recommendations (plus a few snaps from my India trip last year, just because).

Hanuman's Tomb

Tokyo Cancelled by Rana Dasgupta
Dasgupta's modern, globalised take on the Decameron only takes place partly in India, but The Billionaire's Sleep is this anthology's strongest story by far.  A modern fairy tale that encompasses cloning, incest and a metal tower reminiscent of Rapunzel's, Sleep is, at its core, a love story, albeit one embroiled in questions of status and caste.

Agra Fort

Kim by Rudyard Kipling (suggested by @TheJoDeer)
I could easily include a whole sub-list of works that follow the "Imperial India" model.  I retain fond memories of Old Mali and the Boy by D.R. Sherman and the short stories of Saki, partly because of their inherent quality but mainly, I suspect, because of the grammar school English teacher they remind me of.  Kipling's Kim is probably the best in this particular corner of literature - a rollicking adventure and an example of the awe and mystery that the sub-continent still held to many at the time.

Akbar's Tomb, Sikandra

Life of Pi by Yann Martel (suggested by @eleanorgj)
You may know it as the one about the kid on the boat with a tiger.  Which, I suppose, is a fair enough, if simplistic, synopsis.  The real pleasure in this book, however, comes from the insight into the life that came before the boating accident.  My favourite part is where a young Pi is discovered by his elders to have been practising numerous religions, in an attempt to find out for himself what "it" is all about.

Amber Fort, Jaipur

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (suggested by @thomasraymond)
I will admit, I've not actually read much of Salman Rushdie's oeuvre, beyond the opening chapters of Shalimar The Clown (which were enough to put me off him altogether).  But I've been assured by a friend who is currently reading Children that it is kind of a big deal, and definitely worth the time and effort, so I'm placing it back on my to-read list.

Taj Mahal, Agra

River of Gods by Ian McDonald
Appropriately enough, McDonald's epic River of Gods follows the lives of several characters as India approaches Independence Day.  This, however, is an Independence Day a hundred or so years from now, where Hindu mysticism, the caste system, artificial intelligence and blood sport overlap in wildly imaginative ways.


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