India has always been a highly literate culture, having a rich heritage of poetry, mythology and heroic literature. It’s ancient language, Sanskrit, is still revered as a sacred language in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. In the 20th century, a modern, secular Indian literary culture emerged, producing a wide range of novels written in Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and English. It is only recently, however, that Indian novels in English have gained the worldwide audience that their writing deserves. The five books mentioned below are just a few of the thousands of great English novels by Indian authors, with many more being published each year.
1) Twilight in Delhi - Ahmed Ali (1940)
This is one of the best Indian novels of the independence struggle, written towards the end of the colonial period. The tale follows the story of a wealthy Islamic family living in Delhi in the early 20th century. The plot rotates around the rebirth of nationalist ideas among a middle-class firmly rooted within the colonial system. Among an Anglicised intellectual elite, dependent on government jobs and successful British businesses, how can a new Indian cultural vision emerge from the stagnant structures of the old system?
2) The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga (2008)
This fast-paced novel won its author the Man Booker Prize for fiction in 2008. Adiga’s protagonist is a successful businessman who narrates his shady and vicious past as the son of a rickshaw driver who rises to prominence after murdering his employer and stealing their money. The White Tiger is a modern parable testing the limits of ambition and business ethics in a ruthless and increasingly rootless capitalist economy.
3) The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy (1997)
Perhaps the defining Indian novel of the past 20 years, The God of Small Things is a beautiful story about family relationships and how they are strained by a frequently unjust and uncaring society. The novel, which won the author a Booker Prize, questions the role of love in society and how it can overcome the inner emptiness of modern life. It is one of the great Indian novels in English and should be sought out by all lovers of good fiction.
4) Train to Pakistan – Khushwant Singh (1956)
The partition of India in August 1947 and the bloodletting that ensued, is the most tragic and divisive event of modern Indian history, making a mockery of the optimism and progressive unity of the independence movement. Many books have been written that approach the issue from a predominantly political point of view. Khushwant Singh’s novel was the first book to try and unravel the human face of this tragedy in story form.
There is no whitewashing of one ethnic or religious group over another. The novel faces the fact that atrocities were carried out by groups of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs alike. The story takes place in a mixed Muslim and Sikh village on the border of what became Pakistan and India. Though hatred and intolerance are evident in many of the protagonists, it is clear that most act not through genuine malice, but through a confused bubble mentality that prevents them from seeing the other’s point of view. It is the possibility that such barriers can be overcome that lends this novel an optimistic, albeit harrowing atmosphere; surely a message as relevant today as when the book was written sixty years ago.
5) Our Impossible Love – Durjoy Datta (2016)
At only 29 years old, Durjoy Datta is one of the most promising and popular of the new generation of young Indian authors. His stories are romantic, sexually charged and humorous coming-of-age narratives aimed at teenagers and young adults. Our Impossible Love is his latest novel in the genre: a highly entertaining and page turning novel ideal for a weekend read or on-the-beach escapism. As usual, interpersonal relationships between his youthful characters are the main focus of Datta’s book, but issues familiar to teens the world over are also addressed. Datta’s young protagonists deal with bullying, sexual identity confusion, heartbreak, assault, puberty, academic failure and peer pressure. Datta adds a pathos and emotional depth to his characters that strikes a chord with older and younger readers alike.
Why stock Indian Novels?
We love Indian novels and could go on and on about more titles we recommend. We may well do so in subsequent articles! Some sellers ask us why they should stock Indian novels at all in their shops. In response to this we frequently recommend they read a couple of the books listed above and then let us know! The short answer is the sheer range and quality of experience expressed by contemporary Indian novelists in English. Modern Indian English novels are ‘realist’ in conception, normally set in immediately identifiable historical and cultural circumstances. Writers use this recognisable, frequently gritty backdrop to explore not just issues affecting Indian society, but the wider question of what it means to be human: how we relate to our families, what it means to be in love, and how to live a good, successful life.
A section of Indian novels in your bookstore will expand the variety of the novels you stock, opening your customers up to new genres and literary experiences. For more information about Indian books, please download our ‘Independent Booksellers Guide to Books From India’ today by clicking HERE.
For a full list of available titles contact Barbara@motilalbooks.com