Saturday, January 28, 2012

Some fiction by other publishers I enjoyed in 2011

Not all of them were published in 2011

The Good Muslim, Tahmima Anam

The story of Maya and her brother Sohail in the post-war Bangladesh. Maya is a doctor and a social worker of sorts – doing abortions and deliveries as the situation demands, while she contemplates her country’s travails along with her close friend’s she’s helpless to help. She is a woman with modern ideas, who decides to return home after war. Once at home she tries to reconcile herself with the transformation in her brother, Sohail – once close but now a stranger deeply immersed in religion; with her mother, and her city that’s no more recognizable. The book is poignant and poetic, yet doesn’t dip into sentimentality, which is its greatest strength.

The Wandering Falcon, Jamil Ahmed

I read The Good Muslim and The Wandering Falcon back-to-back. Two books about two Muslim nations, and yet so very different.

A book published after almost four decades of being written, this one’s in a class of its own. There is no ‘protagonist’ per se, but the tribes in Waziristan, Balochistan, and the Swat Valley; their stringent laws and customs. The remarkable fact is the tribes’ almost stoic acceptance of what their life is all about. Tor Baz, whose parents defy their society and elope in the beginning of he book, links the lives of the Wazirs, Mahsuds, and Afridis, as the book moves between Afghanistan and Pakistan and nebulous regions in between. He stays more often at the periphery than at the centre of the narrative. Perhaps it would be more enjoyable for those who don’t care too much for personal narratives but the macro-picture.

The Devotion of Suspect X, Keigo Higashino

It’s amazing how the best of books sometimes do not get their due. Very few Indian readers, in spite of having been fed upon detective fiction all their lives, have heard of this book! Well, if you haven’t read it already, you ought to. A Japanese divorcee, living with her daughter, is visited by her ex-husband, who first grovels in front of them, then turns violent, and is finally strangled by the mother and daughter. Enter Ishigami, the Math whiz next door, and Professor Yukawa (a brilliant physicist and police aide). The reader thinks: But the murder has already happened. And we’ve seen the murderer! What now? Just wait till you get to the end of the book. It’s a very different kind of crime fiction you’re going to read!

The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

This time’s Booker Prize winner, the book is part philosophy, and part (what I called in my last column) a ‘literary potboiler’. Tony Webster, a sixty-year-old retired man reconstructs his life, and, during the process, realizes there’s always a chasm between memory and actual event. The story revolves around Tony, his volatile love – Veronica, and his brilliant friend – Adrian. Adrian’s suicide changes the course of the novel. As Veronica’s mother, whom Tony met only once in his life, leaves him a bequest of five-hundred pounds, a letter, and a diary, his curiosity is kindled. Hence begins the seemingly simple, yet complex tale about a man trying to reconcile himself with his past and present.

Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami

No book could be so matter-of-fact and so moving, so intense and so un-sentimental, so poignant and so chilling – all at once. A true example of how one can use simple words and a simple style to tell the most brilliant story, and create the most vivid and memorable scenes. Toru Watanabe hears the Beatles track, and his mind goes into flashback – as a young student and his love affair with Naoko, a pretty Japanese girl, whose life and personality are fractured beyond repair in spite of his best efforts to save her. Besides the Japanese students’ movement, the book focuses on sexuality and the theme of loss, death, and darkness.

Ithaca, David Davidar

Part autobiographical? Perhaps. It’s difficult not to be when you’re writing about an industry you’ve been a fundamental part of for decades. And an industry you can write well and authoritatively about – that David does. For publishing professionals the world over, yes, the novel has appeal. There’s a great deal one can identify with and nod one’s head at. It’s a familiar world, and some parts of the book are absolutely hilarious. I’m not quite sure how a non-publishing professional would perceive it though. The story is about Zachary Thomas, an Anglo-Indian publisher of Litmus, an independent publishing house in Britain. He’s struggling to do what most independents in real life are always struggling to do. And yet, is it really just about that?

My Little Boat, Mariam Karim

For those interested in serious literature, this book is a treasure. It’s a women-centric novel, and focuses on issues such as fanaticism, communalism, and the idea of being a Muslim woman in today’s India, in an unequivocal, bold, modern style. Often it surprises the reader by offering the unexpected. The novel has been done in a creative, innovative style, both in terms of content and form, and much of the text is suffused with poetry. The narrative offers rich symbolism, deep philosophy, and layers of meaning.

A House in Ranikhet, Keki Daruwalla

I’d read Keki Daruwalla’s poetry earlier, and perhaps one of his short stories as a part of our school curriculum, but this collection of short stories was somewhat of a discovery. The prose is brilliant and poetic, of course, but the stories themselves come as a delightful surprise. They’re not the dark, depressing ones one comes across so often in Literature (or the kinds I’m guilty of writing myself), but cheerful and lively. His characters are people who would continue to prance and frolic in your mind much after you’ve finished reading the book! A must read.

Of course, if you didn’t check out our own titles, please do:

Rhythms of Darkness: Anjana Basu :

Thunder Demons: Dipika Mukherjee:

The Body in the Back Seat: Salil Desai:


  1. Thanks for sharing the list. I haven't read a few from this. The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino seems good enough to pick. Kulpreet Yadav

  2. Thanks for these succinct reviews. Very informative!

  3. Thanks for these succinct reviews. Very informative!