ALL DESI

An Indian alternative to the New York Times’ all-white summer reading list

Quartz india
Quartz india

The New York Times’ literary critic Janet Maslin recently published her list of must-read summer books, one that might well be her very last before she leaves her long-held full time role in July.

As Gawker points out, Maslin’s list this year manages to be made up entirely of white authors. And that’s part of a grand tradition—her New York Times’ must-read summer lists are usually pretty monochromatic: In 2012, of the 21 books chosen that summer, the only non-white author was Mindy Kaling. The following year the non-white world was represented by Kevin Kwan alone with Crazy Rich Asians. The list in 2014 acknowledged two non-white authors among a list of 17 titles. This year it has given up its egalitarian ghost altogether.

So here’s a Quartz India alternative—an all-Indian list of titles that are mostly recent releases, or soon-to-be-published, that we’re looking forward to reading this summer. (Editors note: We confined this list to English-language authors to reflect what Maslin could have chosen. Here’s a list of Hindi books you should read this year):

1. Amitav Ghosh has never written a bad, or even ordinary book, so his exclusion from Maslin’s list is especially mysterious. The much-awaited launch of Flood of Fire, the final instalment of his Ibis trilogy, is already getting excellent reviews.

2. Annie Zaidi’s ambitious anthology Unbound: 2,000 Years of Indian Women’s Writing, with the oldest extracts of verses by Buddhist nuns, dates as far back as 300 BC. The anthology seems reassuringly academic, but also comes with potential literary excellence provided by carefully curated pieces by writers known for poetry and prose, including Kamala Das, Sarojini Naidu, Amrita Pritam, Ismat Chughtai, Romila Thapar, Qurratulain Hyder and Nilanjana Roy.

3. Devapriya Roy and Saurav Jha’s The Heat and Dust Project isn’t just a “backpacking across India” tale. The Delhi-based couple put their marriage to what they call the “supreme test,” traveling on Rs500 a day across the country.

4. We owe our vanguard weirdos, and should honour their extremism and intensity. First Infinities, a collection of poems by the very talented, under-appreciated Coorg-based poet-in-hiding, Vijay Nambisan, is just the ticket.

5. Keeping with the theme of under-appreciated authors, Tamilian Perumal Murugan pledged this year to give up writing entirely, and asked his publishers to withdraw all his titles after the blood-baiting of a bunch of trite, idolatrous, bigoted idiots who wanted his excellent One Part Woman banned. You can, however, still buy his titles online. Perhaps improved book sales will pull him out of his self-imposed exile and despair, goading him to write again with the anguish and sensitivity of prose he is known for.

6. Written in Tears, an account of the violence and conflict in the Northeast of India by leading Assamese author Arupa Patangia Kalita (translated by Ranjita Biswas), is a collection of three novellas that reflect the author’s humanist politics with radical undertones—accurately reflecting the mood of the region decades later.

7. Journalist Raghu Karnad’s just-released non-fiction epic Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War is already pulling in great reviews. Karnad traces the story of his grandfather and two granduncles who served in World War II.

8. There may be nothing new about Byomkesh Bakshi, the gentleman detective created by Sharadindu Bandopadhyay, who first appeared in print in the 1930s. But the hype around Dibakar Banerjee’s film about Bakshi is inspiring new romance for Bengali detective fiction with a pulpy edge, 1940s vintage appeal, and local Kolkata flavour. Maybe start your reading with Satyanveshi, where Bakshi made his first appearance?

9. The House That BJ Built, Anuja Chauhan’s sequel to Those Pricey Thakur Girls, brings back the insecure, voluptuous heroine Bonu Singh in a novel that promises family intrigue, real-estate wars, pushy aunts, and emotional blackmail.

Did we miss anything? Please annotate this piece.

Divya Guha is a Shillong-based journalist. We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com.

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