100 Notable/Best Books of Fiction from India – 2020: by The Bombay Review

2020 brings out a chorus response: Oh, what a terrible year this has been! It remains a claim undisputed in its fury and exhausted in its tone. Literature, in its characteristic ways, continued to persist. It captured India’s dalliance with the year of the pandemic. Some books probed the present, some turned to the past. Some won awards, some sold tens of thousands of copies, and some will gain acclaim a decade down the line. But they all are India.

So, when we sat down to pick the most notable Indian fiction of the year, we hoped to do justice to the layered, diverse and multicultural literary landscape of the country. It was a tough call picking the odd titles that, in our opinion, presented a whole-bodied picture of this year’s literary gale.

We tried our best to be representative and inclusive — of individual and shared identities. Some points to note are:

  • Translations make about 25% of this list here.
  • There are books from 26 different publishers: from Stree Samya and Panther’s Paw to Penguin Random House and HarperCollins.
  • The writing is from across the country: from Assam and Kashmir, to Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.
  • Genres include a variety of forms – from mythology and folklore to science fiction and immigration; short fiction collections and novels.

Is this an imperfect list? Maybe. Curations of ‘the best’ literary works pack excitement and much-needed closure, but trying to summarize Indian fiction in one list seems, simplistic, to say the least. Our selections may not be your selections, but they are a good starting point to visit (or re-visit) Indian fiction in its plurality.

It is as the American-Polish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer said, “If we have people with the power to tell a story, there will always be readers. I don’t think that human nature is going to change to such a degree that people will stop being interested in a work of imagination.” And herein lies a summary of that interest, and the pinnacle of our imagination.  

Note: Book love/choice/comfort is subjective and we like to believe we have kept an absolutely open mind. There is surely a possibility that we missed a book or two or three, simply because we have specific tastes and are relearning a lot of things. To that end, we have kept 5 spots open in this list – to accommodate and listen. Please let us know if you think a title should be on this list! We will update it accordingly. (Should have been released in 2020, from a traditional publisher) Looking forward to your comments!

Opportunity: Do you want to review a title or more from here? Write to us with a pitch, our website is here. Review copies will be sent to you, along with a modest commission subject to solicitation conditions. (Our 17k email subscribers receive each published review in their email – so, your review can light up someone’s reading list!)

Happy reading, onwards; to more books, more writing, and less masks.

by Saumya Kalia,
Jyotirg, Kaartikeya, Raashi,
and the entire team of The Bombay Review.

December, 2020


The Play of Dolls
By Kunwar Narain, Translated by John Vater & Apurva Narain
Penguin Modern Classics | Rs 399 | 208 pages

“These stories are like no others written by any Hindi writer. As if conducting semi-scientific experiments, Narain brings a sceptical scalpel to all kinds of characters to peel off their put-on humanesque skins and expose their beastly nature.” – The Indian Express

About: Kunwar Narain’s unusual short stories broke new ground and rejuvenated the genre when they appeared on the Indian literary landscape in 1971. Half a century later, in vivid English translation for the first time, they seem just as far-reaching: sometimes in the novelty of their insight, sometimes in their transcendence, sometimes in the world views they together uncover.

By turns allegorical, satirical, poetic, poignant, playful and bizarre, Narain’s layered, often deceptively simple tales unravel the existential and moral bewilderments of a society navigating the cold, cruel worlds of its own creation, while also allowing hope in the truly human. These bold, sometimes comic, often experimental and metaphysical stories weave love and otherness, fantasy and history, tenderness and silence, leaving us both restive and redeemed at once.

Tags: Translation, Translation from Hindi, Padma Bhushan, Jnanpith

A Ballad of Remittent Fever: A Novel
By Ashoke Mukhopadhyay, Translated by Arunava Sinha
Aleph Book Company | Rs 591 | 304 pages

“Covering a span of 100-odd years from the late 19th to late 20th century, this novel about  medicine, modernity and medical heroism resonates with the times we are in,” JCB Prize for Literature jury 

About: In the early years of the twentieth century, Calcutta is grappling with deadly diseases such as the plague, cholera, typhoid, malaria, and kala-azar caused by viruses, bacteria, and other infectious organisms. The populace is restive under British rule, and World War I looms large on the horizon. Set against this tumultuous backdrop, is an indelible tale of loss, hope, love, and mortality. Distinctive and beautifully wrought, A Ballad of Remittent Fever is a stunning exploration of the world of medicine and the ordinary miracles performed by physicians in the course of their daily lives. Originally published in the Bengali as Abiram Jwarer Roopkatha, this is one of the most original novels to have come out of India in the twenty-first century.

Tags: Translation, Translation from Bengali, Pandemic

A Burning
By Megha Majumdar
Penguin Hamish Hamilton | Rs 599 | 304 pages

‘Megha Majumdar writes about the ripple effects of our choices, the interconnectedness of our humanity, with striking beauty and clarity. A stunning debut,’ Yaa Gyasi, author of Homegoing and Transcendent Kingdom

About: This is an electrifying debut novel about three unforgettable characters who find their lives entangled in the wake of a catastrophe. They seek to rise-to the middle class, to political power, to fame in the movies. One is Jivan, a Muslim girl from the slums accused of executing a terrorist attack on a train because of a careless comment on Facebook. The second is PT Sir, an opportunistic gym teacher who hitches his aspirations to a right-wing political party, only to find his own ascent linked to Jivan’s fall. And the third is Lovely, an irresistible outcast who has an alibi that can set Jivan free-but at the cost of everything she holds dear. Majumdar writes with dazzling assurance, at a breakneck pace, on complex themes that read as the components of a thriller: class, fate, corruption, justice and what it feels like to face profound obstacles while nurturing big dreams in a country spinning towards extremism.

A Drop of Blood
By Joginder Paul, Translated by Snehal Shingavi
Penguin Modern Classics | Rs 319 | 122 pages

“Blood is an extended metaphor for class exploitation in this scathing satire,” – Irfan Aslam, for The Hindu (18th July, 2020)

About: Mohan Karan has been blessed with exceptional good looks-and a rare blood type. An orphan with few connections, he finds that his degree in English literature is unable to secure him a proper job. However, he discovers he can make good money by selling his blood to a private blood bank. This short, blistering novel launched Joginder Paul’s literary career, cleverly exploring the insidious ways in which the mighty habitually prey upon the vulnerable. Incisive in its observations, A Drop of Blood also ably tackles themes of female desire. Snehal Shingavi’s lucid translation makes this important work available in English for the first time.

Tags: Thriller, Women/Feminism

A Plate of White Marble
By Bani Basu, Translated by Nandini Guha
Niyogi Books | Rs 450 | 328 pages

This is the story of the evolution of the ‘new woman’ of an era that has seen the dawn of Indian Independence,” Ganesh Saili, for The New Indian Express (17th October, 2020)

About: First published in 1990 in the original Bengali, a plate of white marble tells the tale of the ‘new woman’ of the post-Independence an era that just witnessed the independence of a nation bandana, the protagonist, though grieves over her husband early death, never conforms to the social connotation and ideals of ‘widowhood’, thanks to her uncle. She dares to begin her life afresh in every possible sense. But naturally, the road proves to be full of thorns as she gradually faces bitterness from many quarters of the society. This first translation brings this significant Bengali novel with important social concerns to a wider audience.

Tags: Translation, Translated from Bengali, Post-partition literature, Women/Feminism

By Arvind Adiga
Pan Macmillan | Rs 699 | 272 pages

“A mesmerising, breakneck quest of a novel; a search for the true sense of self, for the answer to a moral dilemma which damns either way,” – Andrew McMillan, author of Physical and Playtime

About: Danny – Dhananjaya Rajaratnam – is an illegal immigrant in Sydney, denied refugee status after he has fled from his native Sri Lanka. Working as a cleaner, living out of a grocery storeroom, for three years he’s been trying to create a new identity for himself. But then one morning, Danny learns a female client of his has been murdered. Over the course of a single day, evaluating the weight of his past, his dreams for the future, and the unpredictable, often absurd reality of living invisibly and undocumented, he must wrestle with his conscience and decide if a person without rights still has responsibilities. Propulsive, insightful, and full of Aravind Adiga’s signature wit and magic, Amnesty is both a timeless moral struggle and a universal story with particular urgency today.

Tags: Thriller, Booker Prize Winner Author,

Ahalya: The Sati Series
By Koral Dasgupta
Pan Macmillan | Rs 299 | 216 pages

“Koral Dasgupta gives voice, character, and agency to an enigmatic and fascinating female figure from ancient Hindu lore,” – Philip Lutgendorf, author of The Life of a Text: Performing the Rāmcaritmānas of Tulsidas and Hanuman’s Tale, The Messages of a Divine Monkey

About: It is known that Ahalya was cursed by her husband, Gautam, for indulging in a physical relationship with Indra. But is there another story to Ahalya’s truth? Who was Indra anyway? A king? A lover? A philanderer? The first book of the Sati series, Ahalya hinges on these core questions, narrating the course of her life, from innocence to infidelity. The five books of the Sati series reinvent these women and their men, in the modern context with a feminist consciousness.

Tags: Series, Mythology, Feminism/Women

A Tamil Month
By V Sanjay Kumar
Bloomsbury India | Rs 599 | 336 pages

An irreverent look at Tamil Nadu in which crime, caste, politics, and art come together to make an eclectic cocktail,” Mani Ratnam

About: Tamil Nadu – where there are more temples than pharmacies, where atheists have ruled for half a century provided they were atheists from the right caste. Tamil Nadu, where the young population is ripe for a revolution. At least this is what Nanban thinks, coming from the hub of Mumbai and well-versed in its Machiavellian political ways, he plans to shake things up. V Sanjay Kumar weaves a political thriller as compelling as it is incisive, about the human factor and the vested interests that spark change and about an Indian state which is older than time and just as stubborn.

Tags: Tamil Nadu, Thriller

A Bit of Everything
By Sandeep Raina
Context | Rs 599 | 272 pages

A novel driven by the need to confront, record and understand the never-ending tragedy of Kashmir,” – Tabish Khair, for The Hindu (5th December, 2020)

About: Varmull, nestled amidst the mighty Pir Mountains and the Jhelum River, with its small-town familiarity exchanged in quiet lanes, has always been home. Until violence overwhelms the streets, and there is no option but to flee. For six punishing summers in a sweltering Delhi barsati, Rahul, Doora and their young son try to push back their memories and their longing for Kashmir. It isn’t long then before Rahul flees again, this time to England, where he hopes he will not have to make these choices: Pandit or Kashmiri? Rational intellectual or wounded exile? Expat or refugee? As he struggles to survive his foreignness, stumbling from one accidental relationship to another, a series of bombings in London blasts Kashmir right back into his life. A devastating exploration of what it means to lose one’s home, A Bit of Everything lays bare the many ways in which the violence of a land tears apart the everyday lives of its people.

Tags: Kashmir

Analog/Virtual and Other Simulations of Your Future
By Lavanya Lakshminarayan
Hachette India | Rs 399 | 320 pages

“Lavanya Lakshminarayan has skilfully crafted a series of interwoven stories about a frighteningly plausible near future scenario, rooted in the extrapolation of today’s worship of technology and productivity…” – S.B. Divya, author of Nebula Award-nominated Runtime

About: The world’s nations have collapsed, and a handful of city states form the remains of civilization. Erstwhile Bangalore is now rebranded, ruled by the insidious Bell Corporation.Welcome to Apex City. Here, technology is the key to survival, productivity is power, and the self must be engineered for the only noble goal in life: success. Lavanya Lakshminarayan’s extraordinary debut sinks its teeth into this dystopian future, offering a glimpse into a world we may be dangerously close to inheriting. Brilliant, searing and imaginative, the stories in Analog/Virtual will make us question our choices and rethink who we want to be.

Tags: Dystopian fiction, Technology

Anamika: A Tale of Desire in a Time of War
By Lord Meghnad Desai
Rupa Publications India | Rs 295 | 232 pages

‘The novel is a page-turning potboiler, abound with beautiful, nubile women, valorous noblemen, aristocrats warring over power and riches, and princes drunk on the love of their women,” – Aradhika Sharma, for The Tribune (11th October, 2020)

About: It is the eighteenth century. Emperor Aurangzeb has fallen, the Mughal Empire is a shadow of its former self, and India is rife with civil war. When the beautiful Savitri, the only daughter of the Chief Minister of Purana Zilla, marries into a rich merchant household in Ranipur, she becomes Anamika. This powerful, magnetic stranger upsets the balance of her everyday life, thrusting both Anamika and Abhi into a newfound world of intoxicating freedom, conflicting desires and deadly deceit. Crossing paths with a wide and motley cast of soldiers, assassins, courtesans, eunuchs, princes and queens, Anamika must make bold choices and adopt many names for the sake of both desire and survival.

Tags: Fantasy, Thriller

Avasthe: A Novel
By U.R. Ananthamurthy., Translated by Narayan Hedge
Harper Perennial India | Rs 499 | 240 pages

A masterpiece that will continue to speak to generations,” – K. Satchidanandan, winner of Sahitya Akademy award

About: First published in Kannada in 1978, Avasthe is U.R. Ananthamurthy’s tour de force. In a nation struggling with corruption and the corrosion of human values, the Prime Minister is all set to become a ruthless dictator. From his sickbed, Krishnappa Gowda, revolutionary leader of the peasants, grapples with his conscience, the schemes of partymen and flattery from hangers-on. In Ananthamurthy’s hands, life’s cruel negations – caste, poverty, pettiness – are delicately balanced with its triumphs – the splendour of nature, the majesty of poetry, the delight of friendship, the deliverance of love. The quintessential Indian novel, Avasthe is a masterpiece whose meanings will continue to resonate and reveal themselves long after it has been read.

Tags: Translation, Translated from Kannada

Bhairavi: The Runaway
By Shivani Gaura Pant, Translated by Priyanka Sarkar
Simon & Schuster India – Yoda Press | Rs 399 | 208 pages

Shivani was probably not feted by the Hindi establishment precisely because she was popular, particularly popular with women — and not with literary-minded ones. Reading Bhairavi: The Runaway revealed the possible reasons for that vast popularity.’ – Firstpost, November 2020

About: A still, dense, ancient forest. A dark cave deep within. And in it a woman-child whose beauty can move the most pious to sin. Who is she and why did she jump from a moving train to land in the biggest cremation ground teeming with aghori sadhus? In this story spanning generations and redolent with Gothic imagery, Shivani urf Gaura Pant tells the story of a woman’s life, her moral and mental strength and her resilience. She also examines the choices women have in her beautiful, descriptive prose. With an erudite foreword by her daughter and scholar, Mrinal panda, and a preface by the translator, this book is Shivani for the 21st-century reader.

Tags: Translation, Translated from Hindi, Women/Feminism

Body and Blood
By Benyamin, Translated by Swarup B.R.
Harper Perennial India | Rs 499 | 240 pages

“Remarkable … closely reported, sharply insightful, richly readable,” – Ramachandra Guha

About: Amidst all this, where does the Christ who was crucified belong? When Midhun is injured in a hit-and-run incident, no one can anticipate that the minor scrapes and wounds he has sustained will suddenly turn fatal. But that is exactly what happens, and after his death, his organs are donated and end up saving several lives. Soon, however, his friends Rithu and Ragesh and his lover, Sandhya, begin to suspect there is more to the story than meets the eye. Following the lives of men and women caught in a web of criminally orchestrated accidents and medically induced comas, Benyamin’s latest novel Body and Blood is by turns introspective and thrilling a meditation on faith and God that also holds up a mirror to the power and corruption of organized religion.

Tags: Translation, Translated from Malayalam

Boons and Curses
By Yugal Joshi
Rupa Publications India | Rs 294 | 264 pages

About: It is said that Kunti fulfilled her desires and ambitions through her sons, the Pandavas, resulting in the bloodbath in Kurukshetra. And once the truth struck her she sought help from Krishna to get rid of her guilt. Krishna became Kunti’s moral guardian, a conversation began, from which emerged fascinating tales of women in mythology. In this brilliant retelling, Kunti is placed at the center of the novel. These are the stories of resolve, exploits, revenge, sacrifice and affectionately together they give us a deeper understanding of the legendary women in India.

Tags: Mythology, Feminism/Women

Boy in a Blue Pullover
By Ruskin Bond
Rupa Publications India | Rs 295 | 224 pages

About: In this collection, Ruskin Bond—the writer from the mountains—brings to life the many facets of the place he calls home. The people here may not have the big luxuries of life, but they are satisfied with the small joys because Nature provides for them in abundance. Just like the poor boy in a blue pullover, who is overjoyed at finding a coin with which he can buy himself a buckle for his belt; little Rakesh, who feels like God on having successfully grown a cherry tree in his Grandfather’s garden; or Binya and her village folk, who covet not money or jewels, but a pretty blue umbrella. Each short story, essay and poem in Boy in a Blue Pullover is like a whiff of fresh mountain air.

Tags: Ruskin Bond is a Tag, Mussoorie

By By SL Bhyrappa; translated by R Ranganath Prasad
Niyogi Books Pvt Ltd | Rs 500 | 420 pages

“…Brink demands that the reader, at some level, participate in the relationship as it unfolds between the main characters, by taking sides and attempting to think through its particulars,” – Karthik Venkatesh, for Deccan Herald (1st November, 2020) 

 About: The English translation of the epic Kannada novel anchu by the renowned author S.L. Bhyrappa, brink is a love saga between Somashekhar, a Widower, and Amrita, an estranged woman. The novel deliberates on the moral, philosophical, and physical aspects of love between a man and a woman. At the core of the story is compassion, and Somashekhar is the very personification of compassion. He brings love and warmth into Dr Amrita’s melancholic life. Packed with internal drama, tension, and flashbacks, the book promises to impart an aesthetic experience to the reader.

Tags: Translation, Translated from Kannada

Chaturanga (Baahubali: Before The Beginning)
By Anand Neelakantan
Westland India | Rs 399 | 320 pages

About: Political intrigue is astir in the land of Mahishmathi. After the failed coup staged by the Vaithalikas, Sivagami finds herself elevated to the position of bhoomipathi, from where she can more ably pursue her burning goal to avenge her father’s death. Meanwhile, there is a tussle between the two sons of the maharaja of Mahishmathi for the crown. And behind the scenes, a wily, skilled player of the political game moves the pieces to topple the king, Somadeva. Will the maharaja—usually able to match wits with the best of them—prevail? Set against a backdrop of ambition, love, loyalty, passion and greed, the second book in the Bāhubali: Before the Beginning series is a twist-a-minute page-turner—riveting and deeply satisfying.

Tags: Fantasy, Series

Chosen Spirits
By Samit Basu
Simon & Schuster India | Rs 499 | 234 pages

“Chosen Spirits … brings Orwellian dystopia and satire closer home …its vision of technological surveillance is as soul-chilling as it is brilliant; and the violence without being graphic is relentless on your peripheral vision,” – Diyasree Chattopadhyay, for Scroll.in (9th May, 2020)

About: Joey is a Reality Controller, in charge of the livestream of a charismatic and problematic celebrity in smog-choked, water-short, ever-transforming Delhi — a city on the brink of revolution, under the shadow of multiple realities and catastrophes – at the end of the 2020s. When Joey impulsively rescues a childhood friend, Rudra, from his new-elite family and the comfortable, horrific life they have chosen for him, she sets into motion a chain of events — a company takeover, a sex scandal, a series of betrayals — that disintegrates not just their public and private selves, but the invisible walls that divide the city around them. 

Tags: Thriller, Dystopian Satire

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line
By Deepa Anappara
Penguin Random House India | Rs 499 | 320 pages

“A profoundly emphatic work of creative genius that will stay with you forever,” – Sonia Faleiro, author of Beautiful Thing

About: Nine-year-old Jai drools outside sweet shops, watches too many reality police shows and considers himself to be smarter than his friends Pari and Faiz. When a classmate goes missing, Jai decides to use the crime-solving skills he has picked up from TV to find him. But what begins as a game turns sinister as other children start disappearing from their neighbourhood. Jai, Pari and Faiz have to confront terrified parents, an indifferent police force and rumours of soul-snatching djinns. As the disappearances edge ever closer to home, the lives of Jai and his friends will never be the same again. Drawing on real incidents and a spate of disappearances in metropolitan India, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is extraordinarily moving, flawlessly imagined and a triumph of suspense. 

Tags: Thriller

Dalit Lekhika: Women’s Writings from Bengal
By Kalyani Thakur Charal and Sayantan Dasgupta
Stree – Samya Books | Rs 500 | 150 pages

“…bears witness to the lives of the oppressed women who write their own stories,” – Women’s Web

About: This selection from Bangla writing comprises of translated short stories and poems penned by Bengali Dalit women. Compelled to publish their own works in forms of literary journals, little magazines, and collected anthologies; which also offered space for fellow Dalit women writers to bring out their tales. Literary Magazines run by women played a key role in encouraging more writers. Kalyani Thakur Charal and Sayatan Dasgupta have brought together the focus on gender-caste and gender-class relationships with the language of Dalit Bengali women which has been overlooked and deliberately omitted for far too long.

Tags:  Bengali Literature, Cultural Studies, Dalit Literature, Feminism, Feminist Books, Gender, Gender Studies, Identity, Indian Feminism, Personal Writing, South Asia, Translation, Women

Delhi: A Soliloquy
By M Mukunda, Translated by Fathima E.V. and Nandakumar K
Eka Publishers | Rs 799 | 544 pages

“A gorgeous portrait of the lives of Malayali migrants in New Delhi during a turbulent period of India’s history. Simultaneously nostalgic and unflinching, evocative and savage…Mukundan is a writer of immense power and refinement.” —Aravind Adiga, author of The White Tiger

About: It is the 1960s. Delhi is a city of refugees and dire poverty. The Malayali community is just beginning to lay down roots, and the government offices at Central Secretariat, as well as hospitals across the city, are infused with Malayali-ness. This is the Delhi young Sahadevan makes his home, with the help of Shreedharanunni, committed trade union leader and lover of all things Chinese. As India tumbles from one crisis to another—the Indo-Pak War, the refugee influx of the 1970s, the Emergency and its excesses, the riots of 1984—Sahadevan is everywhere, walking, soliloquising and aching to capture it all, the adversities and the happiness. 

Tags: Translation, translation from Malayalam

Destination Wedding
By Diksha Basu
Ballantine Books | Rs 499  | 304 pages

“A witty and romantic novel perfect for all readers,”—Terry McMillan, author of It’s Not All Downhill from Here

About: When Tina Das finds herself at a crossroads both professionally and personally, she wonders if a weeklong trip to Delhi for her cousin’s lavish wedding might be just the right kind of escape. Tina hopes this destination wedding, taking place at Delhi’s poshest country club, Colebrookes, will be the perfect way to reflect and unwind. But with the entire Das family in attendance, a relaxing vacation is decidedly not in the cards. Infused with warmth and charm, Destination Wedding grapples with the nuances of family, careers, belonging, and how we find the people who make a place feel like home.

Tags: South Asia, Personal Writing, Feminism/Women

By Perumal Murugan, Translated by Nandini Krishnan
Eka Publishers | Rs 499 | 256 pages

“Estuary is a free-flowing ride down a stream of consciousness that few authors can successfully achieve,” – Shrestha Saha, for The Telegraph (29th July, 2020)

About: Estuary brings alive the different ways—absurd and endearing by turns—in which a man and his young son navigate the contemporary world. In the process, it peels back the layers of Kumarasurar’s loneliness: the hurt of a married man whose wife cares only for the happiness of their child, the endless monotony of an office job, and the struggle of the salaried middle-class to give their children the best chance of success. Through a meditative exploration of a father’s emotional landscape, Murugan tells of a world wrecked by unchecked consumerism and an obsession with growth, where technology overrides common sense and degrees don’t guarantee education. And, with characteristic tenderness, he also weaves in a way to redemption.

Tags:  Translation, Translation from Tamil, Cultural Studies

Each of Us Killers
By Jenny Bhatt
7.13 Books | Rs 1,795 | 178 pages

“Ambitious, sensitive, this collection locates some essential Indian truths, especially its hidden violence,” – Prayaag Akbar, author of Leila

About: Set in the American Midwest, England, and India (Mumbai, Ahmedabad, rural Gujarat) the stories in Each of Us Killers are about people trying to realize their dreams and aspirations through their professions. Whether they are chasing money, power, recognition, love, or simply trying to make a decent living, their hunger is as intense as any grand love affair. Straddling the fault lines of class, caste, gender, nationality, globalization, and more, they go against sociocultural norms despite challenges and indignities until singular moments of quiet devastation turn the worlds of these characters–auto-wallah, housemaid, street vendor, journalist, architect, baker, engineer, saree shop employee, professor, yoga instructor, bartender, and more–upside down.

Tags: Cultural Studies, South Asia, Personal Writing, Feminism/Women

Future Tense
By Nitisha Kaul
HarperCollins India | Rs 499  | 308 pages

“A poignant meditation on young lives caught up in the sweep of history and politics. Nitasha Kaul is a fearless Kashmiri voice,”’ – Mirza Waheed, author of Tell Her Everything

About: The son of a former militant, Fayaz is an aimless bureaucrat whose marriage to his wife Zeenat has broken down. His nephew Imran is a young student, a misfit in Srinagar, hoping to join a new kind of spectacular resistance. Shireen, the granddaughter of a spy, discovers how her painful and divisive family story is deeply intertwined with the history of Kashmir. The paths of these characters intersect and diverge in Nitasha Kaul’s tour de force novel Future Tense, which traces the competing trajectories of modernity and tradition, freedom and suffocation, and the possibility of bridging the stories of different kinds of Kashmiris.

Tags: Kashmir, Women writing, Conflict writing, Identity

By Tazmeen Amna
Penguin eBury Press | Rs 299  | 248 pages

“Effectively conveys the few highs and many lows of a depressed mind,” – Preethy Ramamoorthy, for The Hindu (18th September, 2020)

About: She’s a young woman going through a mid-twenties crisis, trying to deal with the dark and intoxicating side of life with haunting memories of an abusive ex-boyfriend, remnants of a broken family and obvious mental health issues. With no job, a failing art career, months of expensive therapy, a cast on her leg and a mystery man in her life, will she be able to recover from her embarrassing wastefulness? Can she defeat her infamous trait of self-sabotage and manoeuvre her way through some hard-hitting truths?

Tags: Women, Mental health, Personal writing

Girl in White Cotton
By Avni Doshi
Fourth Estate India | Rs 399  | 288 pages

“Avni Doshi is a writer of surgical precision and sharp intelligence. This novel of mother-and-daughter resentments and the deep, intimate cuts of ancient family history gleams like a blade — both dangerous and beautiful,” – Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love

About: Antara has never understood her mother Tara’s decisions – walking out on her marriage to follow a guru, living on the streets like a beggar, shacking up with an unknown artist, rebelling against society’s expectations … But when Tara starts losing her memory, Antara searches for a way to make peace with their shared past, a past that haunts them both. As she relives her childhood in Pune in the eighties, Antara comes up against her own fears and neuroses, realizing she might not be so different from Tara after all. Girl in White Cotton is a journey into shifting memories, altering identities, and the subjective nature of truth. Tracing the fragile line between familial devotion and deception, Avni Doshi’s mesmerizing first novel will surprise and unsettle you.

Tags: Cultural studies, South Asia, Gender studies, Gender, Women, Feminism

Gravepyres School For The Recently Deceased
By Anita Roy
Red Panda | Rs 499  | 232 pages

About: As the latest transitioner at Gravepyres, Joseph Srinivas has a lot on his plate . . . practicing Cloudforming, studying Mathamythics, understanding Decomposition and learning how to ‘See’. But the only thing he really wants to learn is how to get home. Back to his parents and little sister. When he stumbles upon the secret of the Eternal Spring and the majestic vultures who are the custodians of an ancient knowledge, Jose thinks he might have found a way out. Hand in hand with his loyal, if rather scatty friend, Mishi he sets off for the mysterious mountains of Kozitsthereistan. As Jose and Mishi embark on the adventure of a lifetime, the very fate of the worlds hangs in balance.

Tags: Fantasy

Essential Items: and Other Tales from a Land in Lockdown
By Udayan Mukerjee
Bloomsbury India | Rs 499 | 272 pages

“A collection set to become a classic of epidemic literature.” – Benyamin

About: It is the dreadful summer of 2020 pandemic, and India is in lockdown. A British climber stranded in the Himalayan border town of Munsiyari forms a bond with his host’s seven-year-old grandson. Two funeral workers at a Benaras ghat try to work their way out of the dwindling business of cremations. A domestic worker, sent on paid leave, grapples with the shifting landscape for people on the margins of an urban metropolis. Hundreds of returning migrant workers turn up unannounced at the gates of an erstwhile Rajbari in Kolkata in the wake of a devastating cyclone. In Essential Items, Udayan Mukherjee examines oft overlooked human attributes – resilience, faith, endurance – put to test by a pandemic-forced lockdown. 

Tags: Cultural studies, Pandemic

Girl Made of Gold
By Gitanjali Koland
Juggernaut | Rs 499  | 256 pages

“An evocative novel set at a time when devadasis still ruled over art, pleasure and love,” – Latha Anantharaman, for The Hindu (7th August, 2020)

About: Thanjavur, the 1920s. One night, the young Devadasi Kanaka disappears and, as if in her place, a statue of a woman in pure gold mysteriously appears in the temple to which she was to be dedicated. Many villagers assume that Kanaka has turned into the girl made of gold. Others are determined to search for her. Through the story of Kanaka’s disappearance, Gitanjali Kolanad gives us a beautifully realized world – of priests, Zamindars and devadasis, and of art, desire and their dark reverse sides. Girl Made of Gold is a mystery, thrillingly told, and also a moving human story of the pursuit of love and freedom.

Tags: Fantasy

High Wind
By Tilottama Misra, Translated by Udayon Misra
Zubaan Books | Rs 545 | 258  pages

“By focusing on a single family, and taking the story through this transitional period where Shillong went from uniquely cosmopolitan to hotbed of identity politics, Tilottoma seamlessly stitches together the personal with the political,” – Aarushi Aggarwal, for Firstpost.com (25th June, 2020)

About: Jeumon has a complicated story stuck in her head: her family. In the newly-drawn boundaries of Assam and Meghalaya in 1972 India, young Jeumon wonders how she should define herself. Is she Assamese, like her father, or Khasi, like her mother? In this moving narrative of change, Tilottoma Misra tells the story of one family to explore how lives are impacted by sweeping geographical partitions and how human relationships Morph under the weight of political turmoil. Tilottama is also the editor of The Oxford Anthology of Writings from North-East India.

Tags: Northeast, Cultural studies, Identity, Assam

Grandparents’ Bag of Stories
By Sudha Murty, Illustrated by Priya Kurian
Penguin | Rs 250  | 240  pages

About: It’s 2020 and children are stuck indoors as the novel coronavirus finds its way into India. A nationwide lockdown is announced and amidst the growing crisis, Ajja and Ajji welcome their grandchildren and Kamlu Ajji into their house in Shiggaon. From stitching masks, sharing household chores, preparing food for workers to losing themselves in timeless tales, the lockdown turns into a memorable time for the children as they enter the enchanting world of goddesses, kings, princesses, serpents, magical beanstalks, thieves, kingdoms and palaces, among others. Sudha Murty brings to you this collection of immortal tales that she fondly created during the lockdown period for readers to seek comfort and find the magic in sharing and caring for others. 

Tags: Translation, Translated from Kannada, children’s stories, pandemic, Cultural studies

By Guruprasad Kaginele, Pavan N. Rao
Simon & Schuster India | Rs 499  | 304 pages

“Deftly uses the experience of Kannadiga doctors in the U.S. to examine issues of race, religion, gender, medical ethics,” – Bagashree S, for The Hindu (8th May, 2020)

About: Three Indian doctors find themselves practicing at a hospital in Amoka, a nondescript town in Minnesota, waiting for their Green cards. When a Sanghaali refugee woman refuses to deliver her baby via the caesarean section despite doctors’ advice, her act snowballs into a larger conundrum that brings to light cultural differences that may not be necessarily resolved with reason. Reality TV, immigration issues, and racial profiling all converge in this little town that is struggling to adapt to the demographic shifts around it. How does one conform in a culture that is itself made of remnants from other cultures? Is identity skin-deep, or does it go beyond one’s colour? And finally, what does being a migrant truly mean?

Tags: Translation, Translated from Kannada, Cultural studies, Women, Feminism, Migrant and displacement

Hunted by the Sky
By Tanaz Bhathena
Penguin | Rs 399  | 384  pages

“An epic adventure you don’t want to miss,” Tasha Suri, author of Empire of Sand

About: Gul has spent her life running. She has a star-shaped birthmark on her arm, and in the kingdom of Ambar, girls with such birthmarks have been disappearing for years. So when a group of rebel women called the ‘Sisters of the Golden Lotus’ rescue her, take her in, and train her in warrior magic, Gul wants only one thing: revenge. Cavas lives in the tenements, and he’s just about ready to sign his life over to the king’s army. Dangerous circumstances bring Gul and Cavas together at the king’s domain in Ambar Fort . . . a world with secrets deadlier than their own. Inspired by medieval India, this is the first in a stunning fantasy duology by Tanaz Bhathena, exploring identity, class struggles and high-stakes romance against a breathtaking magical backdrop.

Tags: Fantasy, Thriller, Women, Feminism, Gender

How to Tell the Story of an Insurgency: Fifteen tales from Assam
By Aruni Kashyap
HarperCollins India | Rs 399  | 248  pages

About: A former militant is unable to reconcile his tranquil domesticity with his brutal past. A mother walks an emotional tightrope, for her two sons a police officer and an underground rebel fight on opposite sides of the Assam insurgency. A deaf and mute child who sells locally brewed alcohol ventures into dangerous territory through his interaction with members of the local militant outfit. Written originally in Assamese, Bodo and English, the fifteen stories in this book attempt to humanize the longstanding, bloody conflict that the rest of India knows of only through facts and figures or reports in newspapers and on television channels.

Tags: Northeast, Cultural studies, Conflict, Gender studies, Assam

In the Land of Lovers 
By Sakoon Singh
Rupa Publications India | Rs 295  | 232 pages

The narrative has an extremely deep sense of place, and often takes you on a ride through Punjab’s towns and villages amidst snatches of Rawalpindi Punjabi,” – Neha Kirpal, for The New Indian Express (2nd August, 2020)

About: In the absence of her parents, Nanaki, a fiercely sensitive young woman, is brought up by her grandparents in a quaint Chandigarh neighbourhood. As Nanaki goes through the motions of an idyllic childhood and a difficult teenage love, her experiences play out against a haunting backdrop of Partition and her beeji’s turbulent personal history. Nanaki is brought face to face with the dark underbelly of contemporary Punjab when she takes up the cause of a consummate embroidery artist against a corrupt system. Meditative, rooted in location yet filtered through nostalgia, in the land of the lovers is a fable with interlocking tales that explore struggle, loss, longing and love with brilliant insight and luminous prose.

Tags: Punjabi literature, Partition, Gender, Gender writing, Communal, Cultural studies

Insomnia: Army Stories 
By Rachna Bisht Rawat
Penguin eBury Press | Rs 299 | 208 pages

“…turns the focus on human emotions – love, compassion, camaraderie, horror and trauma – that pepper the life of men and women in uniform and lifts the veil on their little-known personal lives” – Deepa Alexander, for The Hindu (4th November, 2020)

About: A retired General is haunted by voices of dead men. Soldiers from two enemy nations manning posts in freezing Siachen form a strange connection. A young Lieutenant dying in the jungles of Arunachal is watched over by three men, one of whom would have his destiny changed forever. What is the dark secret held by a Major and his men operating incognito in Kashmir? From the bestselling author of The Brave, 1965 and Kargil comes a book that will take you into the olive-green world of army cantonments, through stories that will delight and disturb in equal measure.

Tags: Ladakh, war

Jaipur Journals
By Namita Gokhale
Penguin eBury Press | Rs 499 | 288 pages

“Funny, insightful, mordant and moving in turn, Jaipur Journals is the work of a writer in full command of her craft. An unalloyed pleasure,” – Dr Shashi Tharoor

About: Told from multiple perspectives, set against the backdrop of the vibrant multilingual Jaipur Literature Festival, diverse stories of lost love and regret, self-doubt, and new beginnings come together in a narrative that is as varied as India itself. Partly a love letter to the greatest literary show on earth, partly a satire about the glittery set that throngs this literary venue year on year, and partly an ode to the millions of aspiring writers who wander the earth with unsubmitted manuscripts in their bags, Jaipur Journals is a light-footed romp that showcases in full form Gokhale’s unsparing eye for the pretensions and the pathos of that loneliest tribe of them all: the writers.

Tags: Cultural studies

Kintsugi: A Novel
By Anukriti Upadhyay
Fourth Estate India | Rs 499 | 224 pages

“Mesmerising, tender, yet unflinching,” – Amrita Mahale, author of Milk Teeth 

About: Kintsugi – named after the ancient Japanese art of mending broken objects with gold – is a novel about young women breaching boundaries, overcoming trauma, and challenging the social order. And about men surprised by women who are unconventional, unafraid and independent. Set between Japan and Jaipur, Kintsugi follows the lives of these characters as they intersect and diverge, collide and break and join again in unexpected ways. The result is a brilliantly original novel as profound as it is playful, as emotionally moving as it is gripping.

Tags: Cultural studies, Personal writing

Lallan Sweets
By Srishti Chaudhary
Penguin eBury Press | Rs 299 | 288 pages

“Chaudhary’s writing is crisp and refreshing, effortlessly spinning new characters in each city that she transports her readers to.” – Neha Kirpa, for The New Indian Express (6th September, 2020)

About: It is 1995. Tara Taneja lives in the small town of Siyaka, running Ultimate Mathematics Tuition Centre and working for Lalaji, her grandfather, at Lallan Sweets, his famous sweet shop. The laddoos sold at the shop are made using a secret family recipe that contains a magic ingredient known only to Lalaji.  When Lalaji chooses to retire, he decides that Lallan Sweets will not be inherited but earned. He devises a quest for his three grandchildren — Tara, Rohit and Mohit — to discover the magic ingredient. Whoever finds it first will get to run the shop. As the quest takes them from Mathura to Ludhiana, they must battle old secrets, family legacies and unexpected dangers. 

Tags: Cultural studies

Legend of Suheldev
By Amish
Westland India | Rs 399 | 352 pages

“Amish is India’s first literary popstar,” Shekhar Kapur

About: A Forgotten Hero. An Unforgettable Battle. India, 1025 AD. Repeated attacks by Mahmud of Ghazni and his barbaric Turkic hordes have weakened India’s northern regions. The invaders lay waste to vast swathes of the subcontinent—plundering, killing, raping, pillaging. Then the Turks raid and destroy one of the holiest temples in the land: the magnificent Lord Shiva temple at Somnath. At this most desperate of times, a warrior rises to defend the nation. King Suheldev. The ruler of a small kingdom, he sees what must be done for his motherland, and is willing to sacrifice his all for it. Read this blockbuster epic adventure of courage and heroism, a fictional tale based on true events, that recounts the story of that lionhearted warrior and the magnificent Battle of Bahraich.

Tags: Fantasy

By Jeet Thayil
Faber & Faber | Rs 599 | 320 pages

“A novel of our times…. Low is beautifully written, intelligent and gripping, and elicits compassion for a character who is pitifully adrift, despite what some might see as his disqualifying privilege” – Spectator USA

About: Following the death of his wife, Dominic Ullis escapes to Bombay in search of oblivion and a dangerous new drug, Meow Meow. So begins a glorious weekend of misadventure as he tours the teeming, kaleidoscopic city from its sleek eyries of high-capital to the piss-stained streets, encountering a cast with their own stories to tell, but none of whom Ullis – his faculties ever distorted – is quite sure he can trust. Heady, heartbroken and heartfelt, Low is a blazing joyride through the darklands of grief towards obliteration – and, perhaps, epiphany.

Tags: Thriller, personal writing

Memory of Light
By Ruth Vanita
Penguin Viking | Rs 399 | 224 pages

“Ruth Vanita’s captivating novel of same-sex love reads like an exquisite and intoxicating prose poem,” – Manil Suri, author of The Death of Vishnu

About: Preparations for King George the Third’s fiftieth birthday gala are in full swing in Lucknow. As poets and performers vie to be part of the show, Chapla Bai, a dazzling courtesan from Kashi, briefly enters this competitive world, and sweeps the poet Nafis Bai off her feet. An irresistible passion takes root, expanding and contracting like a wave of light. Narrated in the voice of Nafis, Memory of Light weaves an exquisite web of conversations, songs, reminiscences around a life-changing love.

Tags: Fantasy, Gender, Gender studies, Cultural studies

Mistress of Melodies: Stories of Courtesans and Prostituted Women
By Nabendu Ghosh, Edited by Ratnottama Sengupta
Speaking Tiger Books | Rs 350 | 208 pages

“Nabendu Ghosh takes you deep into an emotion that has been the pride of the cinema of Bengal, the cinema of realism and the romance of culture,” – foreword by Muzaffar Ali

About: In Mistress of Melodies, Nabendu Ghosh traverses the streets of the ever-changing city of Calcutta to tell the stories of women—courtesans and those who engaged in sex-work—across generations. There is the innocent Chhaya, a widow who elopes and remarries only to be duped by her new husband. The gritty Basana, who sees the highs and lows of life after being drawn into prostitution as an adolescent. Hasina, the alluring baiji, who auctions her adolescent daughter’s virginity to the highest bidder and lives to regret it…

Tags: Gender, Gender studies, Cultural studies, Women, Feminism

Mohini: The Enchantress
By Anuja Chandramouli
Rupa Publications India | Rs 295 | 240 pages

“…a dizzying roller-coaster ride through  the shifting sands of time. With amazing dexterity, she navigates the choppy waters of gender, love, lust and desire,” Ganesh Saili, for The New Indian Express (23rd August, 2020)

About: Distilled from the essence of Vishnu, Mohini the Enchantress is a part of him and yet she revels in the autonomy and extraordinary powers of beauty, magic and enchantment that are hers to wield. She is loved and desired by all in existence and yet, she is an elusive tantalizing temptress, traipsing her way across the topsy-turvy terrain of fable and myth. Set against the tumult and intrigue of a celestial quest for immortality, Anuja Chandramouli brings the extraordinary saga of Mohini to vivid life. She takes the reader on a dizzying ride through the shifting sands of time, expertly navigating the quagmire of gender, love, lust and desire, deftly untangling the threads of tall tales and terrible truths, while spinning a deliciously entertaining yarn for the ages.

Tags: Mythology

By S Hareesh, Translated by Jayasree Kalathil
Harper Perennial India | Rs 599 | 360 pages

“A novel of epic dimensions … easily among the most accomplished fictional works in Malayalam,” – K. Satchidanandan

About: Vavachan is a Pulayan who gets the opportunity to play a policeman with an immense moustache in a musical drama. The character appears in only two scenes and has no dialogue. However, Vavachan’s performance, and his moustache, terrify the mostly upper-caste audience, reviving in them memories of characters of Dalit power, such as Ravanan. Afterwards, Vavachan, whose people were traditionally banned from growing facial hair, refuses to shave off his moustache. Set in Kuttanad, a below-sea-level farming region on the south-west coast of Kerala, the novel is as much a story of this land as it is of Vavachan and its other inhabitants. As they navigate the intricate waterscape, stories unfold in which ecology, power dynamics and politics become key themes.

Tags: Translation, Translated from Malayalam, Caste, Dalit Writing

Name, Place, Animal, Thing
By Daribha Lyndem
Zubaan Publishers | Rs 300 | 208 pages

About: In this novella, Daribha Lyndem gently lifts the curtain on the coming of age of a young Khasi woman and the politically charged city of Shillong in which she lives. Like the beloved school game from which it takes its name, the book meanders through ages, lives and places. The interconnected stories build on each other to cover the breadth of a childhood, and move into the precarious awareness of adulthood. A shining debut, Name Place Animal Thing is an elegant examination of the porous boundaries between the adult world and that of a child’s.

Tags: Northeast

Nomad’s Land
By Paro Anand
Speaking Tiger Books | Rs 350 | 256 pages

“A beautifully written story that captures the pain of displaced communities — and carries a message of hope, much needed in these times,” – Nidhi Razdan, journalist

About: Shanna and Pema, two girls growing up in a big city, meet at their new school. They come from displaced communities—people who had to flee their land to escape persecution. Shanna is a Kashmiri Pandit, and Pema comes from a nomadic tribe whose people called the high mountains beyond India their home. As Shanna and Pema become friends, they get to understand their own and each other’s stories. They discover new wells of strength within themselves and start to deal with the sadness and confusion of the adults around them. Searing and tender, Nomad’s Land talks about the effects of terrorism and displacement, and about the healing powers of hope, friendship and reconciliation.

Tags: Kashmir, Women, Identity

Night of the Restless Spirits
By Sarbpreet Singh
Penguin Viking | Rs 499 | 288 pages

‘…With this book, Sarbpreet Singh touches on the fragility of life, survivor’s guilt, mob mentality and the power of one’s conscience as well its fickleness, to bring out the best and worst of human nature,” – Ruth Dhanaraj, for The Hindu (26th October, 2020)

About: Stories from this heart-rending collection that evokes the horrors and uncertainties of 1984, through the tales of ordinary people caught in something bigger than themselves. Set during a time of monumental upheaval, Night of the Restless Spirits blurs the lines between the personal and political, and takes the reader on a journey fraught with love and tinged with tragedy, frayed relationships, the breaking down of humanity and resilience in the face of absolute despair. These stories tell us that people are capable of the best and the worst, but that ultimately there is always hope.

Tags: Punjab, Communal

One Arranged Murder
By Chetan Bhagat
Westland India | Rs 225 | 312 pages

the success of Bhagat is in his capturing of the minutiae of a certain class of Delhi – an ear for the sparring, sometimes humorous, often banal colloquialisms of a young, ambitious professional class,” Nikhil Govind, for Scroll.in (10th October, 2020) 

About: Keshav has set up an investigation agency with his best friend, Saurabh. Can the two amateur detectives successfully solve another murder case that affects them personally? And where will it leave their friendship? Welcome to One Arranged Murder, an unputdownable thriller from India’s highest-selling author. A story about love, friendship, family and crime, it will keep you entertained and hooked right till the end.

Tags: Thriller

By Pandey Kapil, Translated by Gautam Choubey
Penguin Hamish Hamilton | Rs 399 | 192 pages

“..it is truly a delight to read and will transport you into a thrilling world of music, poetry, and love against the backdrop of colonial rule, the opium trade and nationalist politics,” – Francesca Orsini, professor of Hindi and south Asian Literatures, SOAS, University of London

About: When Dhelabai, the most popular tawaif of Muzaffarpur, slights Babu Haliwant Sahay, a powerful zamindar from Chappra, he resolves to build a cage that would trap her forever. Thus, the elusive phoolsunghi is trapped within the four walls of the Red Mansion. Forgetting the past, Dhelabai begins a new life of luxury, comfort, and respect. One day, she hears the soulful voice of Mahendra Misir and loses her heart to him. The first ever translation of a Bhojpuri novel into English, Phoolsunghi transports readers to a forgotten world filled with mujras and mehfils, court cases and counterfeit currency, and the crashing waves of the River Saryu.

Tags: Translation, Translated from Bhojpuri, Colonial rule

Prelude to a Riot
By Annie Zaidi
Aleph Book Company | Rs 499 | 192 pages

“A fearless novel that speaks incisively about the divided times we live in,”’– Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, for The Hindu (11th October, 2020)

About: Winner of the Tata Literature Live! Book of the Year Fiction Award 2020 Finalist, JCB Prize for Literature 2020. In a peaceful southern town, amidst lush spice plantations, trouble is brewing. In the town live three generations of two families, one Hindu and the other Muslim, whose lives will be changed forever by the coming violence. Quietly but surely, the spectre of religious intolerance is beginning to haunt the community in the guise of the Self-Respect Forum whose mission is to divide the town and destroy the delicate balance of respect and cooperation that has existed for hundreds of years. Told with brilliance, restraint and extraordinary power, Annie Zaidi’s book is destined to become a classic.

Tags: Communal

Principles of Prediction
By Anushka Jasraj
Context India | Rs 499 | 192 pages

“A fascinating collection in which the ordinary and the absurd collide…employs insight, imagination, and humour to craft thirteen unsettling and moving stories in this skilful debut,” – Amrita Mahale, author of Milk Teeth

About: There is in the short story the extraordinary ability to hold and enthral, to capture whole worlds with intensity and brevity. In the story that gives this collection its name, a weather forecaster tries to maintain her sanity while a storm threatens, literally and figuratively. In the award-winning ‘Radio Story’, politics and nostalgia come together to form a complex mesh of love and violence. In spare prose that heightens the impact of every little revelation, story after story – some of them subtly interlinked – draws us into the lives of sisters and friends, parents and daughters, men and women in relationships that casually shrug off easy definition. There is tenderness here, and bewilderment as well as reconciliation, as characters strip themselves bare to show us their most intimate fears and fantasies.

Tags: Short stories

Ratno Dholi: The Best Stories of Dhumketu
By Jenny Bhatt
HarperCollins India | Rs 399 | 324 pages

‘Brilliant … an iconic voice,’ – Namita Gokhale, author of Jaipur Journals

About: The tragic love story of a village drummer and his dancer lover. A long-awaited letter that arrives too late. A tea-house near Darjeeling, run by a mysterious queen. Characterized by a fine sensitivity, deep humanism, perceptive observation and an intimate knowledge of both rural and urban life, Dhumketu’s fiction has provided entertainment and edification to generations of Gujarati readers and speakers. Ratno Dholi brings together the first substantial collection of Dhumketu’s work to be available in English. Beautifully translated for a wide new audience by Jenny Bhatt, these much-loved stories – like the finest literature – remain remarkable and relevant even today.

Tags: Translation, Translated from Gujarati, Short stories

Rising Heat
By Perumal Murugan, Translated by Janani Kannan
Penguin Hamish Hamilton | Rs 399 | 320 pages

“Rising Heat is a work of understated beauty, an elegy to the past, yet hauntingly resonant with our turbulent times,” – Somak Ghoshal, for LiveMint (3rd July, 2020)

About: Young Selvan’s life is no longer the same. His family’s ancestral land has been sold in order to make way for the construction of a housing colony. Now the verdant landscape of his childhood has been denuded, while Selvan and his family are compelled to move to much smaller lodgings. In the ensuing years, as the pressures of their situation simmer to a boil, Selvan observes his family undergo dramatic shifts in their fortunes as greed and jealousy threaten to overshadow their lives. Murugan’s first novel, which launched a splendid literary career, is a tour de force. Now translated for the first time, it poses powerful questions about the human cost of relentless urbanization in the name of progress.

Tags: Translation, Translated from Malayalam

Sarojini’s Mother
By Kunal Basu
Penguin Hamish Hamilton | Rs 599 | 288 pages

“Kunal Basu has created a modern-day fable that blurs the border between worlds familiar and strange.” — Vikas Swarup, Indian diplomat and author of the book Q & A: The International (bestseller Filmed as Slumdog Millionaire)

About: Sarojini-Saz-Campbell comes to India to search for her biological mother. Adopted and taken to England at an early age, she has a degree from Cambridge and a mathematician’s brain adept in solving puzzles. Handicapped by a missing shoebox that held her birth papers and the death of her English mother, she has few leads to carry out her mission and scant knowledge of Calcutta, her birthplace. Luckily, she has Chiru Sen, an Elvis lookalike, as her guide. Together, Saz and Chiru chase the mirage of a lost mother, helped by Chiru’s band members and his friend Suleiman, master bookie of the racecourse. 

Tags: Bengal

Savitrabai Phule and I
By Sangeeta Mulay, Illustrated by Malvika Raj
Panther’s Paw Publication | Rs 299 | 144 pages

“…a timely intervention in times of a global pandemic where social morality has hit rock bottom,” – Adv. Nikhil Sanjay-Rekha Adsule (20th April, 2020)

About: Savitribai Phule and I is a semi-historical fictional book aimed at young adults. Shabri is a shy Indian Dalit girl from a deprived village who discovers a diary written by Savitribai Phule (India’s first-generation feminist, a Dalit and first Indian credited with starting a school for young girls in India). The book details the evolution of the protagonist from a shy introvert who has faced discrimination and prejudice throughout her life to a confident feminist and activist. This book has been published by Panther’s Paw Publication. Panther’s Paw Publication promotes Ambedkarite literature and an anti-caste sensibility.

Tags: Dalit literature

By Amit Majumdar
Penguin Viking | Rs 499 | 256 pages

“Soar uses its absurd happenings to make a searingly satirical commentary on war, nationalism and religion. A witty novel that inspires us to soar over earthbound strife,” – Adhitya Bharadwaj, for The Hindu (9th May, 2020)

About: Bholanath and Khudabaksh are two soldiers in the British Indian Army, sent off to Europe to fight in World War I. One happens to be Hindu and the other happens to be Muslim, but that doesn’t keep them from being the best of friends. When a mission in a surveillance balloon goes awry, these two gentle soldiers-along with an exceptionally ill-tempered squirrel-are set adrift high above the Western Front. What follows is a grand tragicomic adventure, taking them into the heavens and across a continent gone mad with war. Together, they learn about the worst humankind can do . . . and how true friends, however unlike their identities may be, can soar above it all.

Tags: Communal

Suralakshmi Villa
By Aruna Chakravarti
Picador India | Rs 650 | 313 pages

“With the flow of the narrative, with its many layers and nuances, a panoramic view of Bengal, past and present, is revealed. A truly riveting read,” – Sharmila Tagore

About: Suralakshmi Choudhury, a gynaecologist based in Delhi, falls in love at the age of thirty-one, marries and has a son. Suddenly, five years after his birth, she abandons everything including the house gifted to her by her father and her flourishing medical career, to travel to an obscure village in Bengal and open a free clinic for women and children. Suralakshmi’s actions confound her relatives and it is from their accounts of the incidents, letters, memoirs, and flashbacks – from a more distant past – that the story comes together and the layers and nuances in the enigmatic character of Suralakshmi are brought to light. Aruna Chakravarti blends the narrative of the novel with history, legend, music, religion, folklore, rituals and culinary practices of both Hindus and Muslims, and creates a fascinating tapestry which reveals the syncretic nature of Bengal and her people.

Tags: Bengal 

The Cliffhangers
By Sabin Iqbal
Aleph Book Company | Rs 499 | 184 pages

“With The Cliffhangers, Sabin Iqbal marks an impressive literary debut through this coming-of-age tale set within a sleepy coastal village in Kerala, brought to life by a striking narrative infused with nostalgia, an awareness of fractured identities and characters who expose the frailties of our own humanity,” – Shashi Tharoor

About: On New Year’s Eve, a tourist is raped in Kadaloor, a tranquil fishing village on the southern coast of the country. The chief suspects are a group of teenage boys (called the Cliffhangers). As they attempt to prove their innocence, the boys also have to deal with the spectre of communal intolerance that is beginning to divide the Hindu and Muslim fishermen and villagers.The growing communal tension and the hunt for the real rapist intersect, propelling the village to the edge of disaster. In The Cliffhangers, Sabin Iqbal gives us a brilliant debut novel that illuminates hard truths about the religious fault lines that are dividing the country.

Tags: Kerala, Communal

The Curse Stories
By Salma, Translated by N Kalyan Raman
Speaking Tiger | Rs 350 | 192 pages

“Salma’s stories are about human suffering and empathy. The breath of her character is warm to the touch. Their cruel truth slaps us on the face.Their naked reality is astonishing,” – VOLGA, author of The Liberation of Sita

About: In The Curse, acclaimed author and poet Salma blasts through the artifice of genre and language to reveal the messy, violent, vulnerable and sometimes beautiful realities of being a woman in deeply patriarchal societies. Loosely rooted in the rural Muslim communities of Tamil Nadu, these stories shine a light on the complex dramas governing the daily lives of most women moving through the world. In six emotionally-charged stories that are at times humorous, even spooky, Salma crafts exquisite and contradictory inner worlds like Alice Munro with the playfulness and spirit of Ismat Chughtai—in a voice that is entirely her own. Available together for the first time in English—in a lively, nimble translation by Kalyan Raman—these stories will grab you by the throat and leave you fundamentally changed.

Tags: Translation, Translation from Tamil, Women/Feminism

The Dharma Forest
By Keerthik Sasidharan
Penguin | Rs 499 | 400 pages

“In densely wooded prose, this novel leads us into the thickets of an ancient human story of love and catastrophe, where moral ambiguity, psychological complexity and soul-darkness spin on the edge of sudden illumination, “ –  Arundhathi Subramaniam, author of When God is a Traveller

About: As the Mahabharata war wages on, it shows no mercy and takes no prisoners. In the midst of a world rendered unrecognizable by the lust for power, malice and the machinations of war stand Bhishma, contemplating the immeasurable death he sees around himself as a man who cannot die, Draupadi, above and beyond the chaos and yet at the very centre of it, trying to protect her husbands at any cost, wondering whom to trust, and Arjuna, beloved, conflicted and melancholic in equal measure, uncertain of the ultimate cost of the war he is intent on winning. The Dharma Forest is a magnificent first novel in a trilogy filled with complex characters, conflicted loyalties and erotic jealousies from India’s most beloved epic.

Tags: Mythology

The Endgame
By S Hussain Zaidi
HarperCollins India | Rs 299 | 240 pages

[A] prodigious chronicler of the underbelly of the maximum city,” Adrian Levy, author of The Siege: The Attack on the Taj

About: It’s been three years since Shahwaz Ali Mirza and Vikrant Singh foiled dreaded terrorist Munafiq’s attempt to leak State secrets from a naval server in Lakshadweep. Now posted with RAW, they have the task of providing security for BSF Special Director General Somesh Kumar, on his way to visit former Prime Minister Parmeshwar Naidu, who has been hospitalized after a car accident. However, Kumar’s convoy is attacked by terrorists. They manage to kill him before being gunned down themselves. Just when it looks like things can’t get more difficult, Major Daniel Fernando gets in touch claiming that there is more to Naidu’s accident than meets the eye. Soon, the entire team from the Lakshadweep operation finds itself getting together for a new mission…Hussain Zaidi is back with his irresistible cast of characters in this sizzling story of politics, betrayal and unimaginable terror.

Tags: Thriller

The Final Adventures Of Professor Shonku
By Satyajit Ray, Translated by Majumdar Indrani
Puffin | Rs 299 | 256 pages

“Ray had been a life-long fan of science fiction and nowhere is this evidenced more than in his creation of Professor Shonku,” – Shunashir Sen, for Mid-day (2nd May, 2020) 

About: In this last volume of Professor Shonku’s escapades, the brilliant and benevolent scientist travels around the world once more to face near death situations. Each nerve wracking experience is faithfully recorded in his diary. Join the incredible Shonku on his many exhilarating adventures accompanied by his two long-time friends, his feline companion Newton, and his faithful retainer, Prahlad. Presented in a brilliant translation by Indrani Majumdar and the late author, this volume brings alive the wildly imaginative world of the weird and wonderful Professor Shonku.

Tags: Series, Translation, Translated from Bengali

The Heart Asks Pleasure First
By Karuna Ezara Parikh
Picador India | Rs 699 | 324 pages

“…blends folklore and facts, politics and poetry to create an intoxicating and immersive exploration of the forces that shape our world and relationships…I will return to this book again and again as a talisman for dissenting hearts,” Lisa Ray, author of Close to the Bone

About: It’s a sunny day in 2001 and Daya, a ballet student, is sitting in a park in Wales far away from her home in India. Unbeknownst to her, she is about to meet Aaftab, a young Muslim lawyer from Pakistan, and fall inexplicably in love. Even as Aaftab battles his heart, their relationship transcends the divides of religion, nationality and language. Set in a world of students but breathtaking in its expansiveness, The novel is a spellbinding first novel that speaks urgently to the frailties of our times. Karuna Ezara Parikh humanizes the big themes of friendship and family, migration and xenophobia, with the deftness of a poet and the magic of a born storyteller.

Tags: Migration, Displacement, Debut novel, Religious tension

The Henna Artist
By Alka Joshi
MIRA | Rs 499 | 368 pages

“Eloquent and moving…Joshi masterfully balances a yearning for self-discovery with the need for familial love.”- Publishers Weekly

About: Escaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the most highly requested henna artist—and confidante—to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own… known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. Vivid and compelling in its portrait of one woman’s struggle for fulfillment in a society pivoting between the traditional and the modern, The Henna Artist opens a door into a world that is at once lush and fascinating, stark and cruel. 

Tags: Women/Feminism, Debut novel, Social inequality

The Homecoming & Other Stories
By Sri M
Penguin | Rs 299 | 200 pages

About: What happens when a lifelong disciple finds out a dark secret about his guru? Can a thief ever reform his ways? How do you solve a murder with no witnesses? Padma Bhushan awardee and bestselling author Sri M sees the world in a different light. He sees the good, the bad and sometimes the supernatural. In his quintessential no-holds barred style, Sri M’s The Homecoming and Other Stories urges you to delve deep into the human spirit and get a glimpse of why people do the things they do.

Tags: Horror, Padma Bhushan awardee

The Loneliness Of Hira Barua
By Arupa Patangia Kalita, Translated by Ranjita Biswas
Pan Macmillan | Rs 450 | 200 pages

“…is an instance of the Assamese author’s memorable depictions of ordinary lives in the shadow of terror,” – Amit R. Baishya, for The Telegraph (30th October, 2020)

About:  Hira Barua, an ageing widow living in a conflict-ridden region of Assam with her beloved Tibetan spaniel fears she is beginning to resemble a lonely Englishwoman from her past. A vicious sexual assault by the invading military drives a group of women into a shelter home. In these, and thirteen other piercing, intimate portraits, women navigate family, violence, trauma, ambition and domesticity with caution, grace and a quiet resilience. Written in a variety of styles, from gritty social realism, folklore to magical realism, The Loneliness of Hira Barua is a modern classic of Indian literature.

Tags: Translation, Translation from Assamese, Assam, Short Stories, Women/Feminism

The Lost Heroine
By Vinu Abraham, Translated by C.S. Venkiteswaran and Arathy Ashok
Speaking Tiger Books | Rs 299 | 176 pages

“It infuses life into the world of early Malayalam cinema and presents the people that pioneered it and also offers an insight into the way society refused to come to terms with cinema, at least in its early days,” Gautam Chintamani, for The New Indian Express (29th November, 2020)

About: Growing up in a district in Kerala, spinning idle dreams as she worked in the fields, Rosy had never been to the cinema. So when Johnson Sir, her well-to-do neighbour, asked if she would like to play the role of heroine in a movie his friend Daniel was making, Rosy could scarcely believe it. In a matter of weeks, Rosy, a poor Dalit Christian girl of the Pulaya caste, was transformed into Sarojini—the beautiful Nair girl who lived in a grand tharavad, wore mundus and blouses of the finest silk and gold jewellery from head to toe. Rosy’s dreamworld comes to an end when the last scene is shot. This poignant translation by C.S. Venkiteswaran and Arathy Ashok brings alive the world of early Malayalam cinema and the people who pioneered it, weaving within it a universal story of ambition, desire and the faultlines of caste and religious bigotry.

Tags: Translation, Translation from Malayalam, Kerala, Caste/Dalit

The Lion of Kashmir
By Siddhartha Gigoo
Rupa Publications India | Rs 295 | 268 pages

Searching for truth, hope and a peaceful home, it takes the reader through a turbulent journey to see what Kashmir has been like for the last three decades,” – Pradeepika Saraswat, for The Wire (21st January, 2020)

About: Commandant Abdul Aziz, Special Forces, Kashmir is a legendary police officer in the valley, albeit not always for good reasons. And then one day he disappears. His daughter, Zooni, a human rights activist has to return home for her missing father. Bizarre events unfold in the ensuing night at a safe house where she’s forced to stay and where she comes face-to-face with the most disturbing truth of her life. Through the eyes of the daughter are seen the dilemma and the moral crisis of a legendary police officer torn between his past and present, duty and desertion, loyalty and treachery, and right and wrong. It is not just a story of a father and daughter’s intrepid struggles in Kashmir, but also the story of present-day Kashmir itself.

Tags: Kashmir

The Machine Is Learning
By Tanuj Solanki
Macmillan | Rs 499 | 256 pages

“…A keenly observed and nuanced portrait of the working life, this novel tells you what it must be like to be part of the Tinder generation,” –  Jerry Pinto, author of Em and the Big Hoom

About: Saransh works at a life insurance company, as part of the Special Projects Group (SPG). Their current project is top-secret: the development of an Artificial Intelligence system that will leave 552 branch-level employees redundant overnight. Thus begins a cycle in which Saransh travels across the country, interviewing the very people that his machine will replace soon.. The Machine is Learning is a novel about twenty-first-century workplaces, love and the impact of technology in all of our lives. It interrogates a world order that accommodates guilt but offers no truly ethical course correction.

Tags: Thriller

The Man Who Learnt to Fly but Could Not Land
By Thachom Poyil Rajeevan, Translated by P.J. Mathew
Hachette India | Rs 450 | 336 pages

“It hardly matters that Kottoor village exists or that KTN Kottoor never did. Within the space of 328 pages both are clearly alive, walking the walk and talking the talk—at the leisurely pace befitting nostalgia,” Madhavi S Mahadevan, for The New Indian Express (18th October, 2020)

About: Born into a family of rural wealth and near-feudal influence in a village nestled in British Malabar, Koyiloth Thazhe Narayanan Kottoor knows little of want. But as a patriotic fervour grips the country in the last decades of the Raj, a veritable avalanche of new ideas and ideals shapes the young KTN. As he grows from a boy who takes to writing not only as art but also as a tool of social change, to an activist enamoured of varying philosophies and enmeshed in India’s freedom struggle, he grapples with hardship, love, lust and a search for meaning in a reality that forever disappoints. His is a tale both deeply personal and political – tracing a web of caste, sexuality and ideology, while also navigating the struggles of a man coming to terms with himself as a writer and as an individual. 

Tags: Translation, Translation from Malayalam, Kerala, Colonial period

The Phoenix
By Bilal Siddiqi
Penguin eBury Press| Rs 299 | 240 pages

As Bilal Siddiqui sets out to tell this dystopian tale of espionage and global terror…He gives a character that has a message of hope and love for his family and country in his heart,” – Snigdha Kacker, for Indiatimes (23rd October, 2020)

About: NAME: Aryaman Khanna. PROFILE: Ex-intelligence officer, Phoenix 5 division, Intelligence and Research Wing. CURRENT LOCATION: Last seen heading to Mumbai in pursuit of his wife’s attackers and on a top-secret comeback mission. MISSION: Foil the bioweapon strike an international terror group has been planning to carry out in Mumbai on the anniversary of 26/11. The Phoenix tells a dystopian tale of espionage and global terror, of sleeper cells and double agents, of biological warfare and suicide attacks. But at its heart there’s a message of hope and one man’s love for his family and country.

Tags: Thriller, Mumbai

The Plague Upon Us
By Shabir Ahmed Mir
Hachette India | Rs 550 | 264 pages

“A fierce evocation of the political as well as the existential, The Plague Upon Us is an extraordinary and circuitous fable about the dehumanisation of Kashmir,” – Feroz Rather, author of The Night of Broken Glass

About: Kashmir in the 1990s, a setting not very different from today… As blood drips from the pellet-stricken eyes of young men, Oubaid watches a plague of blindness spreading through the streets of his homeland, Kashmir. A voice in his head tells him that he knows who brought this plague, but acknowledging it would mean Oubaid must confront his past and the horrors he has witnessed. As the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fall into place, there unravels the full tragedy of a people looking for solace and a place to call home. 

Tags: Kashmir, Conflict

The Princess And The Political Agent
By Binodini Devi, Translated by Somi Roy
Penguin Modern Classics | Rs 399 | 344 pages

“The novel tells the story of a forgotten albeit dramatic chapter from Manipur’s history, drawing out characters who were otherwise hidden behind old, forgotten records and historical documents,” – L Somi Roy, for Firspost (23rd May, 2020)

About: A poignant story of love and fealty, treachery and valour, it is set in the midst of the imperialist intrigues of the British Raj, the glory of kings, warring princes, clever queens and loyal retainers. Reviving front-page global headlines of the day, Binodini’s perspective is from the vanquished by love and war, and the humbling of a proud kingdom. Its sorrows and empathy sparkle with wit and beauty, as it deftly dissects the build-up and aftermath of the perfidy of the Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891. She recovers its little-known history, its untold relations with India and Great Britain,and a forgotten chapter of the British Raj.

Tags: Manipur, Translation, Translated from Manipuri

The Rickshaw Reveries: Dark Dazzling Delhi Stories
By Ipshita Nath
Simon & Schuster India | Rs 350 | 240 pages

The collection is bold and fierce, with stunning metaphors, just like each reverie. Nath’s Delhi showcases a side of the city often unexplored; a Delhi quivering with desire, filled with contrasts, waiting to be let loose,” – Varsha Ramachandra, for Scroll.in (6th June, 2020)

About: A rickshaw Puller’s feral lust will lead him to a metamorphosis so bizarre no one will believe him. A scrap metal collector’s life is changed dramatically by a piece of metal. A local perfumer holds the power of love, lust, death and life in his attars. A gay man finds himself being drawn to a djinn in the ruins of an old Delhi fort. A sculptor brings his dead love back to life, but with unexpected results. With stories that are both terrifying and enticing, the rickshaw Reverie takes one into the bizarre and fantastic, while exploring Delhi’s many subterranean truths. Delinquents, drug peddlers, rickshaw wallas, and Khan market diplomats – all find themselves at home here. 

Tags: New Delhi 

The Vault of Vishnu
By Ashwin Sanghi
Westland India | Rs 399 | 400 pages

“As with all Ashwin’s books, the research is meticulous and the technical(ese) leaves one gasping as ‘The Vault of Vishnu’ takes the reader through the highs and lows of history, myth, physics, warfare technology, AI and biochemistry,” – Vasudha Chandana Gulati, for The Times of India (28th February, 2020)

About: A Pallava prince travels to Cambodia to be crowned king, carrying with him secrets that will be the cause of great wars many centuries later. A Buddhist monk in ancient China treks south to India, searching for the missing pieces of a puzzle that could make his emperor all-powerful. A Neolithic tribe fights to preserve their sacred knowledge, oblivious to the war drums on the Indo-China border. Meanwhile, far away in the temple town of Kanchipuram, a reclusive scientist deciphers ancient texts even as a team of secret agents shadows his every move. Welcome back to the exciting and shadowy world of Ashwin Sanghi, where myth and history blend into edge-of-the-seat action.

Tags: Mythology, Series

The Wall
By Gautam Bhatia
HarperCollins India | Rs 399 | 420 pages

The Wall comes across as a deeply imagined, stylish, and confident debut of an author who has introduced one new world to us, and will hopefully introduce many more,”’ – Omair Ahmad, for The Wire (3rd October, 2020)

About: Mithila’s world is bound by a Wall enclosing the city of Sumer – nobody goes out, nothing comes in. The days pass as they have for two thousand years: just enough to eat for just enough people, living by the rules. But when Mithila tries to cross the Wall, every power in Sumer comes together to stop her. To break the rules is to risk all of civilization collapsing. But to follow them is to never know: who built the Wall? Why? As Mithila and her friends search for the truth, they must risk losing their families, the ones they love, and even their lives. Is a world they can’t imagine worth the only world they have? 

Tags: Science-fiction, Debut novel

The Woman Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories
By Nisha Susan
Context India | Rs 499 | 232 pages

‘Stylishly and intrepidly covering a range of human experience, these stories announce a bracing new sensibility in Indian writing in English.’ – Pankaj Mishra, author of The Age of Anger

About: The stories in this dazzling debut collection tap into the rich vein of love, violence and intimacy that technology, particularly the Internet, has brought to the lives of Indians over the last two decades. Two decades that transformed India’s digital landscape, where would-be lovers went from cooing into cordless phones to swiping right on cellphones. Whimsical in its telling and brutal in its probing of the human mind, these stories breathe unexpected life into the dark and joyful corners of a country learning to relish and resist globalisation.

Tags: Women/Feminism

These, Our Bodies, Possessed by Light
By Dharini Bhaskar
Hachette India | Rs 599 | 336 pages

‘With a poet’s easy grace with language and a philosopher’s comfort with ambiguity, she traces how each one of us contains multitudes – and shows us, in a way we can never forget, how family is both the greatest fact and fiction of all.’ – Chandrahas Choudhury, author of Arzee the Dwarf

About: Until now, Deeya has found an unquiet contentment in the memories of her affair with an older man and in a spare but tolerable marriage. Then, Neil comes into her life, offering a heady romance and a new identity. Will Deeya give their fledgling relationship a chance? As Deeya confronts their stories, she must decide: Will she upend her family’s history and build a narrative of her own? Or is she – as are all of us – destined to carry forward the concessions and mutinies of our ancestors? Refreshing in its vision and assured in its craft, These, Our Bodies, Possessed by Light is a remarkable debut about (un)sanctioned memory, uncommon love, and the claims of familial history.

Tags: Women/Feminism, South India

Those Delicious Letters
By Sandeepa Datta Mukherjee
HarperCollins India | Rs 299 | 264 pages

“Food here is about courtship, how children remember their mothers and grandmothers, the changing seasons and how people rediscover themselves and find a new calling in their lives, all of it through their memories and love of food,” Sharmishta Gooptu, for Scroll.in (29th August, 2020)

About: Soon after her fortieth birthday, Shubha starts receiving letters with traditional Bengali recipes from a mysterious lady in Calcutta claiming to be her grandmother. As Shubha tries to find the mysterious writer and her own life begins to unravel, the notes from a bygone era give her courage to take a second chance at life. Torn between the taste of success that the letters bring her, and the need to save her marriage, Shubha must find the perfect recipe for love.

Tags: Food, Letters, Fiction

Three Impossible Wishes
By Anmol Malik 
HarperCollins India | Rs 299 | 372 pages

“Totally cheeky, completely hilarious and endlessly charming!” – Ayushmann Khurrana

About: Nineteen-year-old Arya Mahtani has been accepted to the University of Westley. But does she really belong there, or is she occupying a seat that would be better warmed by a more deserving student? Plagued by self-doubt, Arya begins her college life. They say life is a celebration. And Aryas daily joys include (but are not limited to): her doomed crush on South Delhi ka Drake, aka Sahil Mahlotra, the ego-crushing lectures of her self-made Barclays top gun Dad, and Keeping Up With The Kardashians of Connaught Place and Cuffe Parade. Funny and endearing, Three Impossible Wishes is a heart-warming book about finding love, and learning to love yourself.

Tags: Coming of age, New Delhi

Timeless Tales from Marwar
By Vijaydan Detha, Translated by Vishes Kothari
Puffin Classics | Rs 250 | 208 pages

“Stories which travelled centuries to come to you–please read them soon–because they still have centuries to travel. These folk tales from Rajasthan slither like serpents in the mind of the reader and tickle the imagination,” Gulzar

About: For centuries, Rajasthan has been a gold mine of oral traditions and histories with Padma Shri Vijaydan Detha being one of the foremost storytellers of all time. Timeless Tales from Marwar gives a new lease of life to his folk tales. It is a hand-picked compilation from the much-celebrated Batan ri Phulwari–‘Garden of Tales’–a fourteen-volume collection written over a span of nearly fifty years. Retold in Detha’s magical narrative style complete with imagery, this selection offers some of the oldest and most popular fables from the Thar Desert region. 

Tags: Rajasthan, Folklore, Translation

Twilight in a Knotted World
By Siddhartha Sarma
Simon & Schuster India | Rs 599 | 296 pages

“Siddhartha Sarma offers not just a tale of crime and punishment, but also glimpses of life in 19th-century India,” Sudeshna Shome Ghosh, for Hindu Business Line (9th October, 2020)

About: Far from the great games of the East India Company, Captain William Henry Sleeman is content to administer Jabalpur district and dig for remnants of petrified bones with his charming and knowledgeable wife. Until he is tasked with investigating the activities of an obscure group of criminals who are said to strangle their victims. As Sleeman uncovers the many layers of the Phansigar problem, he finds a language unlike any other, and a set of beliefs, lore and superstitions seemingly drawn from the soul of the countryside. Through the prism of caste, the consequent web of intricate social and cultural relationships, and the nature of travel in the hinterland, he will see the real face of India and come across its uncomfortable, bleak truths. But to unravel such truths is not easy…

Tags: Bengal, Partition, Caste 

Two Plays
By Chandrashekhar Kambar, Translated by Krishna Manavalli
Penguin | Rs 299 | 240 pages

“Kambar employs subtle strategies to create a counter-modernist theatre brimming with poetry, humour, irony, suspense … Krishna Manavalli has found the apt idiom to translate Kambar’s plays into a language with an ethos and a syntax radically different from those of Kannada,” K. Satchidanandan, for Outlook Magazine (1st June, 2020)

About: In Chandrasekhar Kambar’s timeless classic The Bringer of Rain: Rishyashringya, a village afflicted with a deadly famine eagerly awaits the arrival of the chieftain’s son, whose homecoming promises the return of rain. As the death toll rises, age-old secrets are unravelled and mythical forces step out of hiding. Will the sky relent? Power and bloodshed run hand in hand in Kambar’s latest, Mahmoud Gawan. Alluring and sublime, Two Plays is a must-read for anyone hoping to dip their toes into the rich waters of Kannada folklore and theatre.

Tags: Folklore, Translation, Translation from Kannada

By Jahnavi Barua
Penguin Viking | Rs 499 | 256  pages

“Jahnavi Barua’s Undertow weaves threads of displacement, kinship and politics into a layered novel,” Anodya Mishra, for Scroll.in (13th June, 2020)

About: Loya is twenty-five: solitary, sincere, with restless stirrings in her heart. In an uncharacteristic move, she sets off on an unexpected journey, away from her mother, Rukmini, and her home in Bengaluru, to distant, misty Assam. In her quest, she finds an understanding not only of herself and her life but also of the precarious bonds that tie people together. A delicate, poignant portrait of family and all that it contains, Undertow becomes, in the hands of this gifted writer, an exploration of much more: home and the outside world, the insider and the outsider, and the ever-evolving nature of love itself.

Tags: Assam, Northeast

Uttara Kaanda
By S.L. Bhyrappa, Translated by Rashmi Terdal
Eka Publications | Rs 599 | 356  pages

About: In Bhyrappa’s Uttara Kaanda, Sita looks back on her life—abandoned at birth and abandoned again by her husband. Her entire life has been a quest for home, a sense of belonging. When they return from their long exile, Rama is anointed king of Ayodhya, but a pregnant Sita is sent away to live in a forest. Uttara Kaanda is Sita’s soliloquy: O Rama, I loved the pure man you were in your youth, not the man you have become—not this man who is shackled by the royal throne. A master of detail, Bhyrappa mines the ancient epic to humanise characters who have, for centuries, been looked upon as gods beyond reproach, bringing us as close as we’ll ever come to understanding them.

Tags: Mythology, Translation, Translation from Kannada

Victory Colony, 1950
By Bhaswai Ghosh
Yoda Press | Rs 499 | 260 pages

“…brings the past vividly to life, and tells tenderly of tragedy and hope, of heartbreak and love, survival and resilience,” – Namita Gokhale, author of Paro and Jaipur Journals

About: Victory Colony, 1950 is the story of the resilience of refugees from East Pakistan, who found themselves largely unwanted on either side of the border following the partition of India in 1947. In the face of government apathy and public disdain, the refugees built their lives from the bottom up with sheer hard work and persistence, changing, in the process, the socio-cultural landscape of Calcutta—the city they claimed as home—forever.

Tags: Partition/Communal, Bengal

Waiting for the Dust to Settle
By Veio Pou
Speaking Tiger Books | Rs 397 | 224 pages

“Veio Pou opens up a forgotten world in his moving debut novel…This brave book presents a very lucid picture of the Indo-Naga conflict, and the destinies of those caught in the tragic web,” Easterine Kire, author of When the River Sleeps and Son of the Thundercloud

About: Set in Manipur during the 1980s and 90s, this novel follows the shared destinies of 10-year-old Rakovei and his family and community. Life is peaceful in the Naga villages around Senapati, until the spring of 1987, when cadres of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) attack the Assam Rifles outpost at Oinam Hill, and brutal retaliation follows. Deep disillusionment sets in as Rakovei begins to understand how his people suffer, caught in the war between the Indian Army and the Naga underground. Waiting for the Dust to Settle provides a poignant, often searing, glimpse into the realities of life for ordinary Nagas in the turbulent final decades of the twentieth century. 

Tags: Manipur, Northeast

What’s Wrong with You, Karthik?
By Siddhartha Vaidyanathan
Picador India | Rs 599 | 288 pages

“.. a warm, minutely detailed evocation of boyhood. Vaidyanathan writes with passion and deep fondness for a bygone time. This is a novel whose parts are in alternation stirring and cheering, and thus textured like life itself’ – Samanth Subramanian, author of A Dominant Character, This Divided Island and Following Fish

About: Twelve-year-old Karthik Subramanian has just been granted admission into St George’s, an elite boys’ school in Bangalore that has supported the academic lives of ‘four state cricketers, one India captain, tens of professors, hundreds of doctors, engineers and scientists, thousands of chartered accountants …’ In this most exalted of institutions, Karthik yearns for recognition as an academic superstar. Brilliant in its observations of a motley cast of characters, and finely calibrated for humour and sadness, What’s Wrong with You, Karthik? is a poignant, exuberant debut from a writer of rare calibre.

Tags: Thriller

Women, Dreaming
By Salma, Translated by Meena Kandasamy
Penguin Hamish Hamilton | Rs 499 | 384 pages

“In Salma’s splendid telling, even those who appear to remain static resist through words and silence. Meena Kandasamy’s effortless translation is imbued with the fragrance of Tamil,” -T.M. Krishna, Carnatic vocalist, writer, activist and author

About: In a tiny Muslim village in Tamil Nadu, the lives of four women are sustained by the faith they have in themselves, in each other, and the everyday compromises they make. Salma’s storytelling-crystalline in its simplicity, patient in its unravelling-enters this interior world of women, held together by love, demarcated by religion, comforted by the courage in dreaming of better futures. Women, Dreaming is a beautiful novel by writer and activist Salma, translated exquisitely from the Tamil by Meena Kandasamy.

Tags: Translation, Translation from Tamil, Women/Feminism

Written on the Wind
By Anuradha Kumar-Jain
Rupa Publications India | Rs 295 | 256 pages

About: Set in pre-partition Lahore, from the turn of the century to the time of independence, this is the story of two women, both strong and willing to challenge the limits of the acceptable, but in their own way and under very different circumstances. The book explores their relationship against the backdrop of the growing Hindu-Muslim divide, and the politically turbulent times they are living in. The other protagonist, Amiya, born out of wedlock to a British Army Officer and a Brahmin girl, is married at nineteen to Ishwar Chand, a Clerk at the Postal Department in Lahore. Author Anuradha Jain provides a powerful account of desire, love, society and politics, and takes a probing look at the struggles and aspirations of a nation and its people.

Tags: Partition/Communal

You Beneath Your Skin
By Damyanti Biswas
Simon & Schuster India | Rs 399 | 392 pages

“Biswas’s masterful You Beneath Your Skin is an intelligent page-turner that mixes a thrilling murder case with a profound psychological and sociological study of contemporary India,” – David Corbett, award-winning author of The Art of Character

About: Indian-American single mother Anjali Morgan juggles her job as a psychiatrist with caring for her autistic teenage son. She is in a long-standing affair with ambitious police commissioner Jatin Bhatt — an irresistible attraction that could destroy both their lives. Jatin’s home life is falling apart: his handsome and charming son is not all he appears to be. Across the city there is a crime spree: slum women found stuffed in trash bags, faces and bodies disfigured by acid. And as events spiral out of control Anjali is horrifyingly at the centre of it all … in a sordid world of poverty, misogyny, and political corruption, Jatin must make some hard choices. 

Tags: Thriller, Crime fiction 

You People
By Nikita Lalwani
Penguin Viking| Rs 599 | 240 pages

“Enthralling as a thriller, yet also a beautiful human drama, and a serious enquiry into the possibility of goodness,” –  Tessa Hadley, author of Late in the Day and The Past

About: The Pizzeria Vesuvio looks like any other Italian restaurant in London – with a few small differences. The chefs who make the pizza fiorentinas are Sri Lankan, and half the kitchen staff are illegal immigrants. At the centre is Tuli, the restaurant’s charismatic proprietor and resident Robin Hood, who promises to help anyone in need. Nineteen-year-old Nia, haunted by her troubled past in Wales, is running from her family. Shan, having fled the Sri Lankan civil war, is desperate to find his. But when Tuli’s guidance leads them all into dangerous territory, and the extent of his mysterious operation unravels, each is faced with an impossible moral choice. In a world where the law is against you, how far would you be willing to lie for a chance to live?

Tags: South Indian diaspora, Thriller 

Yesterday’s Ghosts
By Nikhil Pradhan
Harper Black | Rs 299 | 248 pages

About: It’s been three decades since Black Team disbanded in the wake of a disastrous war in Sri Lanka.The four men, now in their fifties and sixties, have moved on with their lives, and have no intention of returning to the place where it all went wrong. However, when each of them receives a mysterious message, written in a once-familiar code, they realize that their secret has followed them home. From the author of Cold Truth, comes a terrifying story of secrets that come home to roost.

Tags: War, Conflict, India

Disclaimer – The Bombay Review is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn revenue.

Publishers in the list – 26

Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, Aleph Book Company, Rupa Publications, Westland, Context, Bloomsbury India, Yoda Press, Stree Samya, Speaking Tiger Books, Hachette, Tranquebar, 7:13 Books, Niyogi Books, Simon & Schuster, Eka Books, Red Panda, Juggernaut, Panther’s Paw Publications, Juggernaut, Zubaan Books, Faber and Faber, Puffin, Picador India, MIRA, Macmillan

You might be interested in: 

One thought on “100 Notable/Best Books of Fiction from India – 2020: by The Bombay Review

Leave a Reply