Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil
Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil

Inside the debutant’s club

As Deepa Anappara makes her much talked about debut, Lounge picks six writers from the subcontinent whose first novels made global buzz

A first novel that makes a big splash is rare and romantic stuff in the hard-nosed world of publishing.The received wisdom is that it is tough to get a book out if you are an unknown debut writer. Ask any publisher worth their salt, however, and they will tell you they are always on the lookout for that spark of genius as they root through agent submissions and unsolicited manuscripts.

But only once in a blue moon does an editor chance upon a remarkable debut that has the potential of a best-seller. Sometimes, an award or two has to intervene before the book gets its due recognition. Arundhati Roy’s The God Of Small Things was published by the indie press India Ink before it became a Booker-winning global sensation. Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger was rejected by several publishers. The Booker Prize, once again, sealed its fate as one of India’s perennially loved best-sellers.

On the cover of this issue of Lounge is a debut writer from India, Deepa Anappara, whose novel, Djinn Patrol On The Purple Line, has created ripples across the world within days of its release. Translated into 20 languages, it got a mixed reception. Will it change the landscape of publishing for Indian writers globally? Is it going to be the giant best-seller that it is predicted to be?

Only time will answer these questions, but for now here are six debut fiction titles from the subcontinent in the last decade that were critically acclaimed internationally:

NARCOPOLIS BY JEET THAYIL (2012)

Set in and out of a dingy opium den in Bombay, before the city became Mumbai, this first novel by the well-known poet was compared to William S. Burroughs’ Junky and Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions Of An English Opium-Eater. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2012 and awarded The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, among others, the novel announced the arrival of a distinctive fictional voice: fearlessly experimental and daring to venture into terrains that are usually shirked by most Indian writers.

The Gurkha’s Daughter by Prajwal Parajuly
The Gurkha’s Daughter by Prajwal Parajuly

THE GURKHA’S DAUGHTER BY PRAJWAL PARAJULY (2012)

Born to an Indian-Nepali father and Nepalese mother, Parajuly shot into the limelight when he was signed for a two-book, multi-country deal in 2011. The Gurkha’s Daughter, a collection of eight stories, was the first to appear, followed by a novel, Land Where I Flee (2013). The stories were noted for their crisp, unaffected style and avoidance of the usual clichés about the ethereal beauty of the Himalayan region. Instead, the men and women in the book are cosmopolitan, part of the Nepalese diaspora, and refuse to fit into the roles expected of them.

The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy
The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy

THE WILDINGS BY NILANJANA ROY(2012)

How far could some stray cats from Delhi’s Nizamuddin go? As it turned out from Nilanjana Roy’s debut novel—to Canada, Europe and the UK. Winner of the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize, this oddly charming, at times sinister, tale about feline life (and much more) won hearts in India and far beyond.

The Scatter Here Is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer
The Scatter Here Is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer

THE SCATTER HERE IS TOO GREAT BY BILAL TANWEER(2014)

In a nod to its title, the narrative design of this ambitious debut novel is deliberately broken. Told through the multiple perspectives of an eclectic cast of characters living in Karachi, the book portrays the tragedy and bathos of urban Pakistani life hauntingly. Awarded the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize, it was praised for its sensitive depiction of the struggles of ordinary men and women living in one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

The Story Of A Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam
The Story Of A Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam

THE STORY OF A BRIEF MARRIAGE BY ANUK ARUDPRAGASAM (2016)

Sri Lanka has produced exceptional novelists like Romesh Gunesekera and Shyam Selvadurai in the last decade. But Anuk Arudpragasam’s slim debut novel, set among the survivors of the civil war in a refugee camp, stands out for its sheer craft and gritty candour. Winner of The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2017, it was described by Irish writer Colm Toibin as having “the aura of a small, timeless masterpiece".

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay
The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

THE FAR FIELDBY MADHURI VIJAY(2019)

The most recent entrant to the famous first-timers’ club is the Indian writer, Madhuri Vijay, who won several major prizes last year, including the richest prize for literary fiction in India, the JCB Prize for Literature 2019. It was warmly lauded by The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Reviewand The Washington Post, among others. Narrated by 30-year-old Shalini, the arc of the story moves from Bengaluru to Jammu and Kashmir. A family drama charged with grim political undertones, Vijay’s novel also depicts the trials faced by a single young woman travelling by herself in contemporary India.

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