Jeet Thayil.  (Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint)
Jeet Thayil. (Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint)

Read, resist and relearn from new books in the new year

  • From politics to poetry, here’s a highlight of books from India to set your reading goals for 2020
  • Notable releases include titles by authors Jeet Thayil, Aravind Adiga, and Perumal Murugan, among others

As the new decade begins, the wheels of the publishing industry in India continue to roll in new directions. The last 10 years have witnessed the arrival of several remarkable writers from the subcontinent on the global scene (from Aatish Taseer to Madhuri Vijay), as well as impactful political reporting and historical writing (Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night and Ramachandra Guha’s two-volume biography of M.K. Gandhi, for example), alongside books that focus on social justice (as evident from the rise of writing about Dalit lives in English and in translation).

This has also been a period of radical climate change, the escalation of the worldwide #MeToo movement, the rise of right wing ideology, and protests against it. The practice of reading printed books has morphed into reading on electronic screens, listening to audiobooks, and in the worst-case scenario, reading nothing at all. As scholarship and research have evolved, so has the spread of fake news and misinformation. 

While the dawn of the year calls for a recalibration of our habits and belief systems, why not also pledge to read more in 2020, react mindfully to the surge of information online and resist the politics of division? Here’s a list of books—fiction and non-fiction—scheduled to appear in 2020, which caught our eye:

Stay tuned

The phrases “Jammu and Kashmir", “the abrogation of Article 370" and “human rights" loom large over the vocabulary of 2019. Meaning different things to different people, these words stir passion and protests, divide communities and bring them together. The issues at stake are complex, going back decades, with no quick fix. Under these circumstances, the more widely you read on the subject, the clearer your understanding of the big picture. Look out for Ather Zia’s Resisting Disappearance: Military Occupation And Women’s Activism In Kashmir (Zubaan Books), appearing in February.

In the last few days, India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, has left the country reeling from its violent crackdown on protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). In Love Jihad (Westland), journalist Mihir Srivastava and photojournalist Raul Irani team up to travel through the towns and cities of UP, speaking to ordinary people and recording their dreams and frustrations. Aakar Patel’s Our Hindu Rashtra: What Is It And How We Got Here (Westland) also takes a deep dive into another conundrum of our time: Why India, in spite of its secular Constitution, finds itself on the brink of turning into a majoritarian Hindu state?

B.R. Ambedkar.
B.R. Ambedkar. (Photo: Getty Images)

With debates over the National Register of Citizens (NRC), CAA and National Population Register (NPR) raging, there’s no better time to read, re-read and read around the Constitution. Madhav Khosla’s scholarly study, India’s Founding Moment: The Constitution Of A Most Surprising Democracy (Harvard University Press), is a timely addition to the existing literature on the subject. As for an evergreen resource on the values that underlie the Constitution, Oxford University Press is scheduled to publish the five-volume work B.R. Ambedkar: The Quest For Justice (edited by Aakash Singh Rathore) later in the year.

In the daily struggle to hear the litany of voices around us, and to be heard, it is useful to remind ourselves of the values that unite us as Indians, living in this country and beyond. Edited by Pallavi Aiyar, A Thousand Cranes For India: Reclaiming Plurality For India Amid Hatred (Seagull Books) is an attempt to direct our attention to the spirit of solidarity that still endures in India—and why. From reportage to verse, an eclectic assortment of writing lends new meaning to the well-worn dictum, “unity in diversity". 

Parmesh Shahani’s much-awaited second book, Queeristan: LGBTQ Inclusion In Corporate India (Westland), takes the conversation about rights and entitlements in the workplace in post-Section 377 India a step further. Out Of Line And Offline: Queer Mobilisations In ’90s Eastern India (Seagull Books) by activist Pawan Dhall puts the long struggle for LGBTQ+ rights in India in historical perspective.

Among other notable non-fiction, Myntra founder Mukesh Bansal’s first book No Limits: The Art And Science Of High Performance (Westland) is a scientific analysis of ways to enhance your performance. Kaveree Bamzai’s book , The Three Khans (Westland), on Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, and Young And Dynamic? Gen-Next Leaders In Indian Politics (Oxford University Press) by Pradeep Chhibber and Harsh Shah herald much interest as well. Photographer and journalist Arati Kumar-Rao’s Landscapes Of Loss (Pan Macmillan) takes us on a journey across India to chronicle environmental crises and suggest a plan for the future.

Telling tales

Coming out of a year when fiction in India, especially debut novels by women (Madhuri Vijay, Avni Doshi, Rheea Mukherjee et al), delivered unexpected riches, the expectations for 2020 are high. Judging from the fiction line-up, there’s much exciting reading to look forward to.

Megha Majumdar.
Megha Majumdar. (Photo: Twitter/@meghamaj)

The year kicks off with Jeet Thayil’s new novel Low (Faber & Faber), a drug-fuelled ride through the dark alleys of Bombay (now Mumbai) as well as the human psyche. On its heels comes Deepa Anappara’s Djinn Patrol On The Purple Line (Penguin Random House India), a novel that has begun to create ripples internationally before its publication. Narrated by a child, this is a gripping story offering disturbing insights into the sinister heart of contemporary India. Another much anticipated debut novel, A Burning (Penguin Random House India) by Megha Majumdar, is also getting glowing advance praise, from writers like Amitav Ghosh. Majumdar’s style has been compared with Jhumpa Lahiri’s.

Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilaka makes a comeback with his second novel, Chats With The Dead (Penguin Random House India), following the success of his 2010 debut Chinaman. While the latter told the story of Sri Lankan society through the device of cricket, Karunatilaka’s new book, 10 years in the making, is a whodunnit, with a twist, in that its protagonist takes on the task of solving his own murder. Sri Lanka is also a theme of Aravind Adiga’s new novel Amnesty (Pan Macmillan India), where an immigrant from the island nation grapples with his life in Australia as an undocumented refugee, denied formal rights to stay.

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

The most notable trend of the last decade continues into the new one as Indian publishers carry on building their translation lists. This year we have two books by Tamil writer Perumal Murugan, as Janani Kannan translates his first novel into English as Rising Heat for Penguin Random House India. Westland is scheduled to bring out the other book by him, Poonachi: Lost In The Jungle, taking off on his earlier work featuring the eponymous goat but this time adapted for young readers and illustrated by Priya Kuriyan.

Arupa Kalita Patangia
Arupa Kalita Patangia (Photo: Facebook)

Much loved in her home state Assam but not as widely known to the Anglophone world, Sahitya Akademi Award-winner Arupa Kalita Patangia is publishing a collection of short stories, The Loneliness Of Hira Barua (Pan Macmillan), translated by Ranjita Biswas. Tales of strife and the lives of women in the North-East set the tone of this anthology. Another affecting story from the region is Kynpham Sing Nonkynrih’s first novel, Funeral Nights (Westland), where a Khasi family gathers around a dead man to speak of his life and legacy. Mixing personal reminiscences with political history and folklore, it offers a glimpse into the traditions and culture of Meghalaya.

Last, but certainly not the least, pick up the new collection of poems by Akhil Katyal, Like Blood On The Bitter Tongue (Westland), set in Delhi. Witty and ironic, gentle and romantic, tough and fiery, these are lines worth taking into 2020.

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