Here is a list made about three years ago -- a selection from my then bookshelf. I hade picked authors and subjects that I had particularly enjoyed, and among these authors I chose the works that I liked the most. I had confined myself to books that have connections with the subcontinent – with the exception of J.M. Coetzee. As I reflect on the list, I see that many have themes of expatriation and exile. I look forward to comments from those who have read books on this list, as well as to similar recommendations.
This list needs to be updated, including in the Friends and Family category where some exceptional new books need to be added.
By V.S. Naipaul:
A House for Mr. Biswas. Intensely moving story, leavened by humanity and humor, of a man's quest for a house of his own and for independence.
Letters Between a Father and Son. Correspondence between the now proud author, when he was a relative innocent, and his father who was “the best man that he knew”.
Waiting for the Barbarians. A brilliant novel about colonialism and what it does to the ruler and the ruled. Among the most brutal and disturbing novels I have read.
Disgrace. Another disturbing novel by the South African novelist, probing an individual’s dignity and degradation.
By Michael Ondaatje:
The English Patient. A book to be savored like a painting, crafted stroke by stroke. I preferred the book to the film.
Anil’s Ghost. Haunting story of an expatriate’s return to Sri Lanka and her troubling encounters with its present and past.
By Geoffrey Moorhouse:
Calcutta. May appear somewhat dated now; was my introduction to that charming and paradoxical city.
India Brittanica. A history of the English expatriate in India.
Straddling the subcontinent and England:
Shadow Lines, by Amitav Ghosh. A novel in which Calcutta, Dacca and London are artfully woven together in space, time and imagination.
The Buddha of Suburbia, by Hanif Kureishi. Featuring strange and goofy characters who nevertheless evoke our sympathy and humanity. I found the book better than the four hour long made-for-television film.
Reef, by Romesh Gunasekera. An elegant and simple novel of two contrasting homelands, the sunlit Sri Lanka and cold and gray England.
Straddling the subcontinent and America:
The Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri. A collection of short stories, including some especially good ones, that won a Pulitzer.
The Art of Living, by the Dalai Lama. Teaches us that a fine single malt can give us pleasure but not joy. I greatly admire the Dalai Lama.
Friends and Family:
India: From Midnight to the Millennium, by Shashi Tharoor. A highly readable overview of India's transformation over the first fifty years of its independence.
The Five Dollar Smile, by Shashi Tharoor. Short stories – the titled story is my favorite.
Padmavati the Harlot, by Kamala Das. A collection of short stories – I especially like The Coroner. I am the protagonist of one of the stories, not revealing which. Kamala Das’s home in Bombay was a literary salon in the seventies, and virtually a second home for me.
Arranged Marriage, by Chitra Divakaruni. A plug for my poetry teacher! I took a poetry writing class with her ten years ago. This is a collection of her short stories.
Hangman’s Journal, by Shashi Warrier. Almost true story of the last hangman of Travancore.
Ayodhya Cantos, by Rukmini Bhaya Nair. Superbly crafted poems, mostly intellectual, highly relevant to our times.