The new year brings many things – social fatigue, a few days off work, and steely new resolutions to stick to – all of which mean it’s a time for looking forward to good books. Here are ten English-language titles (from among many more) which we help set the conversation through early 2016.
Aravind Adiga, Selection Day (HarperCollins)
Aravind Adiga has the distinction of being the only Indian Booker Prize-winner to write a second novel after the big one: the delicately-handled but still provocative Last Man in Tower. Now, after spending a few years reading Kannada literature (and endowing large scholarships for poor children in Udipi), Adiga is going for the hat-trick. His third novel, Selection Day is the story of a teenage boy, his wary ambition to play cricket, and his exploration of his family and his world. Expected in May 2016.
Alfred Assolant, translated by Sam Miller, The Marvellous Adventures of Captain Corcoran (Juggernaut)
Written in 1867, and set in the 1857 uprising, a giddy tale of a French hero and his pet Bengal tiger who join forces with an Indian prince to fight the British, and stumble through fantastical and amusing adventures (including, of course, the rescue of a beautiful Indian princess). The novel was giant success, admired by Zola and Sartre (who mentions it often in his autobiography), but due to its withering depiction of early British colonialism, was never translated into English. That is, until Sam Miller encountered it in the research for his last book Strange Kind of Paradise, and decided it was time. Expected in April 2016.
Rana Ayyub, The Gujarat Files (self-published)
Journalist Rana Ayyub, whose report on the extrajudicial killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh was called one of the 20 greatest magazine stories ever by Outlook, expands her investigation into Amit Shah and his role in Gujarat’s police and anti-terror underworld. A major publishing house was meant to publish The Gujarat Files, but backed out, which convinced Ayyub to publish it herself. She draws on new documents and sources that could bring Shah – currently the national president of the BJP, and recently relieved from a CBI probe – back into the harsh light of public scrutiny. Expected in March 2016.
Sarnath Banerjee, All Quiet in Vikaspuri (HarperCollins)
After a long sojourn in the scene, and the mode, of contemporary art, Sarnath Banerjee returns to the medium in which he first charmed us – the graphic novel. As ever, he digs beneath the tragicomedy of middle-class India life, this time to strike water – specifically, the mythic river Saraswati, which his hero is trying to find – and returns to the surface with an allegory about urban water wars. Expected in January 2016.
Maria Toorpakai, A Different Kind of Daughter: The Girl Who Hid from the Taliban in Plain Sight (Pan Macmillan)
A real-life version of Offside, the film about young Iranian women cross-dressing to sneak into a match at a football stadium, this is the memoir of Maria Toorpakai, Pakistan’s top-ranked women’s squash player. Growing up in Waziristan, she was trained by her father, but had to start out practising and even competing disguised as a boy to avoid being stigmatised. It gets better – she even competed in a junior weight-lifting contest, under the pseudonym Chingaiz Khan, and won. Expected in February 2016.
Kanishk Tharoor, Swimmer Among the Stars: Stories (Aleph)
A collection of short stories by the New York-based writer of prize-winning fiction and cultural essays. His publisher promises a fabulist style indebted to Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges and Angela Carter. An early review on Amitav Ghosh’s blog described it as ‘a voice for the Anthropocene’ – that is, the present geological age in which human activity is transforming the earth and its climate – noting the uncanny, planetary themes and how the stories seem to conjure up “possibilities that are better suited for times to come.” Expected in January 2016.
Audrey Truschke, The Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court (Penguin)
In the past year, the history of early-modern India has been mauled by mobs, ministers and, of course, manic news anchors. There’s never been a better time for a professional scholar to bring new perspective and soothing complexity to the viciously simplified debate. Truschke, a religious studies scholar at Stanford, does just that, revealing the profound level of communication exchange between traditional Sanskrit scholars and the Persian-speaking elites of Muslim kingdoms, and the Mughal court in particular. And later in the year, Juggernaut will release her book Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth, bringing to life the king who too many of us take at face-value. The Culture is expected to be published in March and Aurangzeb, in August, 2016.
Sunila Galappatti, A Long Watch: War, Captivity and Return in Sri Lanka (Hurst)
Two works of outstanding non-fiction have already been written about the conclusion of Sri Lanka’s civil war. Galappatti, formerly a dramaturg with the Royal Shakespeare Company, adds the story of Commodore Ajith Boyagoda, the highest-ranking Sri Lankan prisoner to be captured by the Tamil Tigers. After his ship is sunk at night by suicide boats, Boyagoda was picked up and held in captivity for eight years – time that he spent living among, closely observing and developing insight on the war and empathy for his counterparts in it.
Sunil Khilnani, Incarnations: India in 50 Lives (Penguin)
Sixteen years after Khilnani published The Idea of India, that phrase is in some jeopardy, used increasingly in sarcasm by the right-wing (“#IoI”) to snipe at the Nehruvian establishment. The Idea of India traced a national journey since 1947; in his new book, Khilnani starts much further back – in antiquity – and narrates the longer epic of Indian belief, thought, invention and power, which also culminates in the idea of India we cherish today. He examines fifty pivotal lives, and if you followed his BBC podcast, you’ll know who they are – the Buddha and Kautilya, Mirabai, Shivaji and Ambani – but the essays in the book allow him to go much deeper.
Anubha Bhonsle, Mother, Where’s My Country? (Speaking Tiger)
It’s a part of the country that defies simplification; there are few questions about it that have short answers. So it’s surprising there aren’t more books about Manipur. Journalist Anubha Bhonsle follows stories of defiance, such as Irom Sharmila’s historic hunger-strike and the ‘Indian Army Rape Us’ naked protest at Kangla Fort, and treads a path through the decades of deadly insurgency and counter-insurgency that is the history of modern Manipur. Expected in January 2016.