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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.
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 Gita‘s 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.
The Far Field
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
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
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.”
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 Zoya Factor
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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