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Looking for a good book to read while you're traveling in India? Check out my list of books about India and by Indian authors.

Bhagavad Gita

Krishna Dvaipayana, Stephen Mitchell
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant

As the best-known and most famous of Hindu texts, the 700-verse Sanskrit scripture is actually part of a larger work, the Mahabharata, but it is the Bhagavad Gita that is the most well-known. The Gitas call for selfless action inspired many leaders of the Indian independence movement including Mahatma Gandhi, who referred to it as his “spiritual dictionary.” Many translations of the text have been made over the two millennia since it was originally written, but with Stephen Mitchell’s gift for breathing new life into ancient texts, his edition is the safe bet.

Project Gutenberg

The Far Field

Madhuri Vijay
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant | Sense of Culture

A young woman from the southern Indian megapolis of Bangalore travels north to Kashmir in search of a man she believes had an affair with her recently deceased mother. Numerous critics site the protagonist’s mother as one of the highlights of the book, with Southern Living calling her “one of the most memorable characters in contemporary literature.” In 2019, the novel won the second JCB Prize for literature, India’s most prestigious literary award.

Freedom at Midnight

Larry Collins, Dominique Lapierre
CATEGORIES: Person/Place/Event

The author team of Collins and Lapierre have a knack for turning complex historical events into fascinating reads. Beginning in the last year of the British Raj and ending with the death of Mahatma Gandi, the nonfiction book was described by British journalist James Cameron as “the result of deep research into events often neglected by other historians.” (Recommended by H.E. Navtej Sarna, Indian ambassador to the U.S., in CN Traveler.)

The God of Small Things

Arundhati Roy
CATEGORIES: Sense of Culture

Roy’s debut novel helped pave the way for one of India’s most successful and beloved authors. The Booker Prize winner tells the story of fraternal twins whose lives are destroyed by the “Love Laws” that lay down “who should be loved, and how. And how much.”

The Night Diary

Veera Hiranandani
CATEGORIES: Person/Place/Event

The Newbery Honor recipient tells of the Partition — the separation of India and Pakistan — through the eyes of 12-year-old Nisha. Fearing for their safety in the predominantly Muslim West Pakistan, she and her family travel from Mirpur Khas to Jodhpur India, as did many Hindus at that time — including the author’s own father.


Herman Hesse
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant

Although I wasn’t a fan of this book (or Hesse’s other “masterpiece,” Steppenwolf), I recognize that it’s considered a classic in many cultures — in Switzerland and Germany, both of who claim the author as their own, and in Nepal and India, where the story, which prominently features Buddha and Buddhism, takes place. Several well-known music artists (Yes, Pete Townshend, Nick Drake) have written songs based on the book, so maybe you need a musical ear to get Hesse.

The White Tiger

Aravind Adiga
CATEGORIES: Sense of Culture

Adiga says his novel “attempt[s] to catch the voice of the men you meet as you travel through India — the voice of the colossal underclass.” Balram Halwai, the everyman protagonist of the 2008 Booker Prize winner, uses his equally charming and repugnant personality to rise up from his impoverished roots to become a successful Bangalore entrepreneur. The 2021 film adaptation, starring Priyanka Chopra Jonas, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Zoya Factor

Anuja Chauhan
CATEGORIES: Sense of Culture

An ad exec becomes the lucky charm for the Indian Cricket Team when the “men in blue” learn she was born at the exact moment India won its first and only cricket World Cup, in 1983. Publisher HarperCollins Publishers India knew it had a hit on its hands and ordered a staggering 20,000-copy initial run — almost unheard of in India. The success of the book prompted a 2019 film adaptation.

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