Perumal Murugan. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Perumal Murugan. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

The Lounge list of 20 books you don’t want to miss in 2018

Does it take a new novel and Earl Grey to charge up your day? Or do politics and cricket dominate your bookshelf? There's something for every reader in this year's big offerings from India and beyond

Poonachi or The Story of a Black Goat
by Perumal Murugan (Westland)

The iconic Tamil writer returns to “the world of the living" from his self-proclaimed metaphorical “death" in 2015. Apart from this tender novel translated by N. Kalyan Raman, about an elderly couple’s love for their goat, he will publish two sequels to the acclaimed and controversial novel One Part Woman (Penguin Random House).

Half The Night Is Gone
by Amitabha Bagchi (Juggernaut)

One of our finest contemporary English-language writers returns with an ambitious new novel set in the early years of the 20th century. Moving from the dingy alleys of Old Delhi to the Awadhi cadences of Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas, it weaves patriarchy, feudal history, poetry and modernity into an intricate tapestry.

Travails With Aliens: The Film That Was Never Made and Other Adventures With Science Fiction
by Satyajit Ray (HarperCollins Publishers India)

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Not many are probably aware of the legendary film-maker’s huge success as a writer of science fiction and fantasy in Bengali. This volume brings together some of the best of his stories in those genres, including the one that led to a script for a science fiction movie, The Alien. On Arthur C. Clarke’s encouragement, Ray sent the screenplay to Peter Sellers’ agent in Hollywood, but it never saw the light of day. Years later, when Ray watched Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, he was, admittedly, struck by its similarities to his forgotten unmade movie.

Being ‘Her’ In New India
by Rana Ayyub (Westland)

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

The year began with the publication of Gurmehar Kaur’s memoir of finding her place as a young “peacenik" in India’s toxic political landscape. 2018 will end with Rana Ayyub, the best-selling author of The Gujarat Files, writing about her life, career and sudden rise to notoriety in this reportedly hard-hitting memoir. At the receiving end of relentless hate on social media, she is expected to grapple with gender, religion and the challenges faced by women in media in New India.

Travels In a Dervish Cloak
by Isambard Wilkinson (Bloomsbury)

Engaging travelogues in the age of Instagram may be hard to find, but journalist Isambard Wilkinson’s account of his time in Pakistan is a refreshing exception. Warm and acute, it captures his encounters with a foreign culture with compassion and comedy. From meeting spooks and socialites to being robbed by his domestic help to making friends in a new country, his “swashbuckling adventures" (as his publisher puts it) bring to mind William Dalrymple’s early travel writing.

Priyanka Chopra: From Miss India To Conquering The World
by Aseem Chhabra (Rupa)

Photo: PTI
Photo: PTI

It’s become a staple for Indian publishers to crowd their lists with celebrity memoirs and biographies. In 2018, a trail of Bollywood stars will blaze through India’s literary firmament, headed by Priyanka Chopra’s biography, describing her meteoric rise from a beauty queen to a global star.

The Job Crisis In India
by Raghavan Jagannathan (Pan Macmillan)

Senior journalist Raghavan Jagannathan presents an overview of perhaps the most crippling crisis afflicting present-day India: staggering unemployment that has left millions of young men and women staring at a bleak future. He shows us what the “jobless future" looks like, considers the invasion of robots in the form of Artificial Intelligence, and the deepening crises of human skills. But it’s not all doomsday, as the blurb assures, for the book “ultimately offers a toolkit for the emerging job-seeker".

Killing Commandatore
by Haruki Murakami (Penguin Random House)

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Serpentine queues and flash sales greeted the publication of the newest novel by this eccentric genius in Japan last year. A two-part story about a 36-year-old portrait painter’s divorce from his wife, it deals with his displacement to a far-off suburb outside Tokyo and a chance encounter with a painting that lends the title to the novel. Critics weren’t exactly thrilled by the story, but legions of Murakami’s devoted Anglophone fans are likely waiting with bated breath for this new addition to his burgeoning oeuvre.

My Kashmir
by Omar Abdullah (Aleph)

There’s an in-joke in Indian publishing that a book with the word “Kashmir" in the title sells. If it’s written by a former chief minister of the troubled state, its chances of success ought to be even more amplified. But irrespective of the sales of Abdullah’s book, it is certainly going to generate significant conversations. Part memoir and part political history, My Kashmir is pitched as a heartfelt and compassionate account of the ruptured fabric of life in Abdullah’s home state.

21 Lessons For The 21st Century
by Yuval Noah Harari (Penguin Random House)

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Expectations are bound to run high when a best-selling writer, whose last book sold over a million copies worldwide, makes a return. By bringing his focus to the present, the author of Sapiens helps the reader grapple with the bafflingly complex world they live in and urges them to ask some hard questions. In his accessible prose, he delves into the big questions that besiege human minds in this century—terrorism, fake news, immigration—while also training his gaze inward, on the challenges of being an individual now.

The Tandoor Murder
by Maxwell Pereira (Westland)

In 1995, a gruesome murder shook India for months, sending the country into a vortex of shock, horror, rage and repulsion. Youth Congress leader Sushil Sharma killed his wife Naina Sahni in a fit of jealous rage, then chopped her body into pieces, and tried to burn it in the tandoor of a central Delhi restaurant owned by him. Leading the investigation into the killing was supercop Maxwell Pereira, who recounts in this compulsive page-turner his struggle with political intrigue, police procedures, forensic experts and, most of all, the Indian judicial system to bring justice to a woman gone too soon.

A Century Is Not Enough
by Saurav Ganguly (Juggernaut)

Photo: Hindustan Times
Photo: Hindustan Times

Bengalis may adore him as their “Dada", but the rest of India is more ambivalent towards the former skipper of the Indian cricket team. Yet, sports fans will not want to pass up the opportunity of hearing the story of his life from his own mouth. From his disastrous debut in Australia to the famous century at Lord’s to his bitter spat with Greg Chappell to beating Pakistan on home ground, Ganguly revisits the highs and lows of his dramatic career.

Intoxicated: My Battle With The Bottle
by Pooja Bhatt and Roshmila Bhattacharya (Penguin Random House)

It’s not every day that you find a star, even one whose time in the limelight is long over, making candid confessions in public. Especially women celebrities of a certain pedigree and privilege. Actor and film-maker Pooja Bhatt appears to have broken these rules by writing a “tell-all book" (according to her publisher) about her battle with alcoholism and journey into sobriety after a tough year. In case you’re into this stuff, watch out also for Milind Soman’s memoir (as yet untitled) and Manisha Koirala’s account of overcoming cancer, both expected also from Penguin Random House later this year.

Gandhi: The Years That Changed The World
by Ramachandra Guha (Penguin Random House)

Photo: Hindustan Times
Photo: Hindustan Times

The second, and concluding, part of perhaps the most definitive biography of M.K. Gandhi traces the life of the Father of the Nation from the time he left South Africa until his assassination in 1948 and also brings alive the volatile years of the struggle for independence.

Girls Burn Brighter
by Shobha Rao (Hachette India)

Shobha Rao’s first novel, scheduled to appear later this year, has already started making ripples in the US (another Indian-origin writer’s debut novel, Preti Taneja’s We That Are Young, a retelling of King Lear set in Delhi, is the talk of salons in India and the UK this season). Rao’s story of an intense friendship between two girls in an Indian village, their descent into the hell of the underworld, and escape to faraway Seattle is being touted as the perfect recommendation for fans of Elena Ferrante. Here’s hoping it lives up to such a tall order.

Why I Am A Hindu
by Shashi Tharoor (Aleph)

Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

When one of contemporary India’s most prominent political personalities brings his erudition to bear on a much-debated topic, the outcome is expected to be instructive. Or at least, dappled with the choicest, jaw-breaking, farrago of words. Jokes apart, the Congress parliamentarian’s latest study deals with the world’s oldest religion, his affiliation with it, and unsparing criticism of those who make it their life’s work to distort its teachings and undermine its secular, syncretic credentials.

Macbeth
by Jo Nesbø (Penguin Random House)

Old is gold, as they say. But in the hands of a master storyteller, it can reap a jackpot. At least, that’s what crime-fiction fans across the world are hoping as they await the release of Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø’s magnum opus, based on William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy. In this version, a police officer fighting a dirty drug war is the eponymous hero.

The President Is Missing
by Bill Clinton and James Patterson (Penguin Random House)

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

A former US president collaborates with a legendary thriller writer to tell the story of a missing sitting president of the country and the chaos that ensues. Need we say more? (It’s hard to rival the tragicomic possibilities in that plot, unless there’s a review of said book by the current American president on Twitter.)

All The Lives We Never Lived
by Anuradha Roy (Hachette India)

Exquisite prose informs Roy’s style, marked by a certain gravitas. The winner of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature (2016) has given us affecting and immersive novels in the past and is unlikely to disappoint this time. Also look out for new fiction from Penguin Random House by award-winning writers Mahesh Rao (Polite Society is “a witty, stylish Delhi novel", says the publisher), Anjum Hasan (A Day In The Life, her second collection of stories) and Sarvat Hasin (whose linked stories, You Can’t Go Home Again, will be awaited with interest after her last year’s debut novel, This Wide Night, was nominated for the DSC Prize).

Red Birds
by Mohammed Hanif (Bloomsbury)

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

2018 augurs well for fiction from the subcontinent, with this inimitable writer from Pakistan making a comeback. Mohammed Hanif’s new novel revives a trope from his gripping debut, A Case of Exploding Mangoes—that of the air crash. In Red Birds, though, the pilot, an American called Major Ellie, survives the landing and finds himself in a desert near a refugee camp. At the camp, a teenager called Momo is trying to figure out his brother’s mysterious disappearance, as he desperately seeks to make money. His squabbling parents, a crotchety dog, and an aid worker wanting to research Momo for her book on the “Teenage Muslim Mind" promise much hilarity in this scathing satire on war and America’s relationship with Islam.

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