Omair Ahmad: Jimmy the Terrorist (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin India)
In Moazzamabad, Uttar Pradesh, a place that is too large to be a town and too backward to be a city, a young man stabs a police inspector and is beaten to death. The last words he speaks are, ‘My name is Jimmy the Terrorist.’ Journalists descend on the town, ‘like shrill birds’, and a long-time resident decides to tell a story that none of them will know. Jimmy was once Jamaal, son of Rafiq Ansari of Rasoolpur Mohalla, a Muslim neighborhood in a Hindu town. His story goes back a long way: to the time when Moazzamabad was named, after Aurangzeb’s son; when Rafiq was seduced by the wealth and refinements of Shabbir Manzil and married Shaista; when the Hanuman temple grew 10 storeys high and the head priest was elected mayor; when Shaista died, a mosque was brought down in Ayodhya and Rafiq became a mullah.
Omair Ahmad grew up in India and Saudi Arabia, and has worked as an analyst, reporter and political adviser in New Delhi, London and Washington. His published work includes the novels Encounters and The Storyteller’s Tale.
U.R. Ananthamurthy: Bharathipura (Oxford University Press, India, Translated by Susheela Punitha)
Perhaps the most significant work in caste literature since Premchand’s Godan (1936), Bharathipura reveals U.R. Ananthamurthy’s preoccupation with moving beyond caste and class interests. First published in 1973, Bharathipura is about the practice of untouchability in a traditional society that is evolving into modernity through new economic forces brought in by a certain class of people. When the town’s wealthiest landlord returns home, multiple realities unfold. Violent and unexpected events follow Jagannatha’s attempts to revolutionize everyone and everything by linking his own transformation to the changes he wishes to orchestrate.
U.R. Ananthamurthy, a teacher of English literature and one of India’s leading contemporary writers, does all his creative writing in Kannada. A Jnanpith awardee and author of five novels, including the widely acclaimed Samskara (English translation, OUP 1976), he has six collections of short stories, five collections of poems, a play, and sixteen volumes of critical writings. He was Vice-Chancellor, Mahatma Gandhi University (Kerala) and President, Central Sahitya Akademi.
Susheela Punitha has taught undergraduate and postgraduate courses in English language and literature. Her publications include children’s fiction for UNICEF and course books in spoken English.
Chandrakanta: A Street in Srinagar (Zubaan Books, India, Translated by Manisha Chaudhry)
Srinagar, capital city of the famed ‘paradise on earth’, Kashmir. Ailan Gali, a deep, dark narrow lane that lies at its heart, where houses stand on a finger’s width of space and lean crookedly against each other, so deep, so narrow, so closely connected that even thieves do not dare enter. Yet people live and love here, they cling on to their old ways, they share stories and food, joys and sorrows, sufficient unto themselves. But the outside world beckons, youngsters begin to leave, and slowly change makes its way into Ailan Gali only to find its hitherto hidden mirror-image – the change that has insidiously been working its way into the lives of those who are the gali’s permanent residents. This funny, poignant, evocative story of a Kashmir as yet untouched by violence – but with its shadows looming at the edges – is a classic of Hindi literature, available in English translation for the first time.
Chandrakanta Studied in Srinagar and Rajasthan and published her first story in 1967 in Kalpana. She has since written and published many novels and short story collections as well as a volume of poetry.
Manisha Chaudhry has translated stories, novels and documents for a range of publishing houses and organisations, from both Hindi and English. She is currently Head, Content Development with Pratham Books.
Siddharth Chowdhury: Day Scholar (Picador/Pan Macmillan, India)
Zorawar Singh Shokeen of Chandrawal is one of those Delhi musclemen who run its politics from the shadows. He owns a house in the environs of the University North Campus, which he lets out as a hostel for boys. Occasionally, he uses the hostel to host his mistress, Madam Midha. Otherwise, he recruits from among his young tenants the footsoldiers for his campus campaigns; their leader, a scrawny MA (Previous) student from Bihar — the legendary Jishnu da. It is 1992, and at this aggressively male world, ordered along the simple principles of caste, class and region, arrive two kids from Patna. The fresh-faced Pranjal Sinha and his up-for-it best friend, and the narrator of Day Scholar, Hriday Thakur. In the twilight years between adolescence and adulthood, the Shokeen Niwas boys are concerned with elections, girls and examinations. And Hriday, who hopes to be a writer some day, is drawn, like moth to flame, irresistibly to the material they provide. Forsaking his first love, he becomes trapped instead by a series of misjudgements that lead him finally to the doorstep of Madam’s house and, in it, her fourteen-year-old apple-cheeked daughter Sonya. If Hriday can be saved, it is only by the act of reading and writing.
Siddharth Chowdhury is the author of Diksha at St. Martin’s and Patna Roughcut. He studied English Literature at Zakir Husain and Hindu Colleges in Delhi University. In 2007, he held the Charles Wallace Writer-in-Residence fellowship at the University of Stirling in Scotland. Part of Day Scholar was written there. He lives in Delhi and works as Editorial Consultant with the house of Manohar.
Kishwar Desai: Witness the Night (HarperCollins/HarperCollins-India)
Durga. A fourteen-year-old girl, found all alone in a sprawling farm house tucked away in a corner of Punjab. Silent, terrified, and the sole suspect in the mass murder of thirteen members of her family. Simran. Whisky-swigging, chain-smoking unmarried social worker from Delhi. She is Durga’s sole hope, for Simran is the only one who believes that Durga may be more a victim than a suspect. As Simran tries to unravel the mystery of what really happened that night of the multiple murders, she comes in close and often uncomfortable contact with Jullundur and its people, from Durga’s enigmatic tutor Harpreet and his disfigured wife to the picture-perfect high-society Arminder and her superintendent husband Ramnath. The prejudices she encounters are deep seated and the secrets manifold. And Simran knows she cannot rest until she has uncovered the whole truth.
Kishwar Desai has worked in print and broadcast media as journalist, scriptwriter, TV anchor, producer and the head of a TV channel in India. Her first book, Darlingji: The True Love Story of Nargis and Sunil Dutt, was published by HarperCollins India in 2007. Kishwar lives between London, Delhi and Goa. This is her first novel; it has won the 2010 COSTA first novel award and was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize, 2009.
Namita Devidayal: Aftertaste (Random House, India)
Diwali 1984. Mummyji, the matriarch of a prosperous mithai business family, lies comatose in a Bombay hospital. Manipulative, determined, and seemingly invincible, Mummyji has held together her family through bribes of money, endless food, and adoration.Surrounding her are her four children: the weak and ineffectual Rajan Papa who is desperately in need of cash; Sunny, the dynamic head of the business with an ugly marriage and a demanding mistress; Suman, the spoilt beauty of the family who is determined to get her hands on Mummyji’s best jewels; and Saroj, Suman’s unlucky sister, who has always lived in her shadow. Each one of them wants Mummyji to die. Aftertaste tells the story of one business family and its bitter dynamics: of resentful bahus, emasculated sons, controlling mothers-in-law, and rapacious siblings. For at the heart of the family lies money, not love. Full of rare period detail and insights into the world of Baniya families, Aftertaste is worldly, astute, and utterly riveting.
Namita Devidayal was born in 1968 and graduated from Princeton University. The Music Room, her first book, was a winner of the 2008 Vodafone Crossword Popular Book Award and was named an Outlook book of 2007. A journalist with The Times of India, Namita lives in Mumbai.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: One Amazing Thing (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin India)
A group of nine are trapped in the visa office at an Indian Consulate after a massive earthquake in an American city. Two visa officers on the verge of an adulterous affair; Jiang, a Chinese–Indian woman in her last years; her gifted teenage granddaughter Lily; an ex-soldier haunted by guilt; Uma, an Indian–American girl bewildered by her parents’ decision to return to Kolkata after twenty years; Tariq, a young Muslim man angry with the new America; and an enraged and bitter elderly white couple. As they wait to be rescued—or to die—they begin to tell each other stories, each recalling ‘one amazing thing’ in their life, sharing things they have never spoken of before. Their tales are tragic and life-affirming, revealing what it means to be human and the incredible power of storytelling.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the author of fifteen books including the award-winning short story collection Arranged Marriage, the novels Sister of My Heart, The Mistress of Spices and The Palace of Illusions. Her work has been translated into eighteen languages, and two of her novels have been made into films. Her writings have appeared in various publications including The Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker, and have been published in The Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and the Pushcart Prize anthology. Divakaruni also writes for children. She is the Betty and Gene McDavid Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Houston.
Manu Joseph: Serious Men (Fourth Estate/HarperCollins, India)
Ayyan Mani appears to be just another man in Bombay, stranded in the rot of a good marriage, an unremarkable life and a dead-end job as personal assistant to an insufferable astronomer called Arvind Acharya at the Institute of Theory and Research. To entertain himself and to give his wife the hope that they are heading towards a spectacular future, he embarks upon a secret game, weaving an outrageous fiction around his ten-year-old son. As he builds the small plots to promote the myth, he sets in motion a chain of events that soon threatens to overtake him. When the formidable reputation of Arvind Acharya, who is obsessed with the theory that microscopic extraterrestrials are falling on Earth all the time, plummets after a major scandal, and he is rocked by the vicious office politics in the institute, Ayyan sees in the crisis an opportunity to further his own game and make his son a national celebrity. But in the exhilaration of the game lurks danger.
Manu Joseph is a journalist based in Bombay. Serious Men, his first novel, is being published simultaneously in India, Britain and the US. It has also been translated into Dutch, German, French and Serbian. The author was listed among the top new novelists of 2010 by The Daily Telegraph.
Usha K.R: Monkey-man (Penguin/Penguin India)
3 January 2000. It is the start of the new millennium. On Ammanagudi Street in Bangalore, a strange creature is spotted. As the beast seizes the imagination of the city, the first people to sight it—Shrinivas Moorty, a teacher in a local college, Pushpa Rani, who works in a call centre, Neela Mary Gopalrao, secretary to an influential man, and Sukhiya Ram, her office boy—are invited to talk about it on Bali Brums’s hugely popular radio show. What was it that they saw? A bat? A malevolent avatar? A sign of the displeasure of the gods? The grotesque mascot of a city that is growing too fast and crumbling too soon? Or merely a monkey that has lost its way?
Usha K.R. is the author of the novels Sojourn, The Chosen and A Girl and a River was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, 2008, and won the Vodafone Crossword Award, 2007.
Shehan Karunatilaka: Chinaman (Random House, India)
Why am I chasing a man who only played four test matches for Sri Lanka? A man who denied me interviews, delighted me on occasion, disappointed those he played with, and disappeared three years ago.’ Retired sportswriter, W.G. Karunasena is dying. He will spend his final months drinking arrack, upsetting his wife, ignoring his son and tracking down Pradeep S. Mathew, an elusive spin bowler he considers ‘the greatest cricketer to walk the earth’. On his quest to find this unsung genius, W.G. uncovers a coach with six fingers, a secret bunker below a famous stadium, an LTTE warlord, and startling truths about Sri Lanka, cricket and himself. Ambitious, playful and strikingly original, Chinaman is a novel about cricket and Sri Lanka – and of Sri Lanka through his cricket.
Shehan Karunatilaka has written advertisements, rock songs, travel stories and basslines. Chinaman is his first novel.
Tabish Khair: The Thing About Thugs (Fourth Estate/HarperCollins-India)
Amir Ali leaves his village in Bihar to travel to London with an English captain, William Meadows, to whom he narrates the story of his life – the story of a murderous thug. While Meadows tries to analyse the strange cult of the Indian Thug, a group of Englishmen sets out to prove the inherent difference between races by examining their skulls – with bizarre consequences. Set in Victorian London, this story of different voices from different places draws intricate lines of connection from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century, between England and India, across individual and cultural differences.
Tabish Khair is an acclaimed poet and novelist whose recent novels have been shortlisted for the Encore Award (UK) and the Crossword Prize (India). Translated into various languages, his works include Where Parallel Lines Meet, Babu Fictions: Alienation in Indian English Novels, The Bus Stopped, Filming: A Love Story, The Glum Peacock and The Gothic Postcolonialism and Otherness: Ghosts from Elsewhere.
Jill McGivering: The Last Kestrel (Blue Door/HarperCollins-UK)
Ellen Thomas, experienced war correspondent, returns to Afghanistan’s dangerous Helmand Province on assignment, keen to find the murderer of her friend and translator, Jalil. In her search for justice in a land ravaged by death and destruction, she uncovers disturbing truths. Hasina, forced by tradition into the role of wife and mother, lives in a village which is taken by British Forces. Her only son, Aref, is part of a network of underground fighters and she is determined to protect him, whatever the cost. Ellen and Hasina are thrown together—one fighting for survival, the other searching for truth—with devastating consequences for them both.
Jill McGivering has worked in journalism for 25 years. She is currently a senior foreign news journalist with the BBC having previously held the position of South Asia Correspondent (based in Delhi). Now based in London, she travels extensively for the BBC including assignments to Afghanistan and China. She has already written non-fiction, short fiction and plays. The Last Kestrel is her first novel.
Kavery Nambisan: The Story that Must Not Be Told (Viking/Penguin India)
Simon Jesukumar, an ageing widower, aspires to do something worthwhile with what remains of his circumscribed, frustratingly blameless, cocooned middle-class life. His aspirations are stirred by his nagging guilt about the slum next door—incongruously and deludedly named ‘Sitara’. The well off residents of his colony use the inhabitants of Sitara for menial jobs but ignore their real needs. Simon’s friendship with his errand boy Velu, and the strangely gifted Thatkan, propels him towards others from the slum—Swamy, the schoolteacher who is also the butcher; ‘Doctor’ Prince who has no medical degree; the belt-buckle factory owner who employs children to melt brass for buckles; Tailorboy, who has thirteen fingertips to please women; the bizarre and inscrutable Baqua; and Nayagan the Leader, optimistically called ‘Merciful Diamond’, whose party bosses consider Sitara to be nothing more than a captive vote bank. As the story plunges into the heart of the slum—bringing the most unlikely individuals to the brink of collision—Simon begins to understand that good intentions and small acts of kindness achieve little when faced with the problems of a stratum of humanity he knows next to nothing about. Simon’s dilemma is ours: how can, and how should the rich (and the not-so-rich) help the poor?
Kavery Nambisan graduated from St John s Medical College, Bangalore, and did her surgical training and FRCS in England; since then she has devoted a large part of her working life to practice in rural India. She is the author of several novels including The Scent of Pepper and Hills of Angheri. She lives in Lonavla with her husband Vijay Nambisan.
Atiq Rahimi: The Patience Stone (Chatto & Windus/Random House-UK, Translated by Polly McLean)
A young woman prays at her husband’s bedside as he lies in a coma with a bullet in his neck. From outside come the sounds of tanks, gunshots, screaming and, most terrifying of all, silence. Inside, her two frightened daughters call to her from the hallway. As she tries to keep her husband alive, the woman rages against men, war, culture, God. Even as her mind appears to unravel, she becomes intensely clear-sighted. Now is her chance – her first ever – to speak without being censored. Her husband’s body reminds her of the legend of the patience stone, a stone that hears all confessions until it explodes, and finally, spurred to new heights of daring, she spills out her most explosive secret.
Born in Afghanistan in 1962, Atiq Rahimi fled to France in 1984. There he has made a name as a writer, film- and documentary- maker of exceptional note. His first novel, Earth and Ashes, was widely acclaimed and his film of the book was in the Official Selection at Cannes, 2004. He is adapting his second novel, A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear, for the screen. Since 2001, he has returned to Afghanistan many times to set up a Writers’ House in Kabul and offer support and training to young writers and film-makers. He was the winner of the Prix Goncourt Prize 2008 for The Patience Stone (Syngué Sabour), his first novel to be written in French. He lives in Paris
Kalpish Ratna: The Quarantine Papers (HarperCollins-India)
That first Sunday in December, while the Prime Minister in India dozed in Delhi, lesser things happened to lesser people in Bombay. Mohammad Yunus doused his clothes with kerosene and struck a match. Balkrishna More leaned out over the frenzied maha-aarati in the street and jumped to his death. In a shuttered room in Girgaum, three old men waited for an answer. Enraptured, Radhika and Anwar were oblivious to the nasal monotone on BBC. Who saw it first? It was there, happening right before them. A saffron ant crawled up the black dome. Then one more. Then another. Then a swarm of them. And then madness spilled every which way. In 303, Nandanvan Apartments, Ratan Oak looked out of the window and discovered he’d been living in the wrong house all his life.
So begins, The Quarantine Papers, a story of love and death in Bombay, Kalpish Ratna weaves history and medicine, passion and betrayal, music and murder in a novel where the palimpsest that is Bombay gets written over and again in hate and is sometimes redeemed in love.
Ishrat Syed & Kalpana Swaminathan are surgeons. The anonym Kalpish Ratna is an almost-anagram of their first names. The Quarantine Papers is their first Ratan/Ramratan Oak novel.
Samrat Upadhyay: Buddha’s Orphan (Rupa Publications, India)
Called “a Buddhist Chekhov” by the San Francisco Chronicle, Samrat Upadhyay’s writing has been praised by Amitav Ghosh and Suketu Mehta, and compared with the work of Akhil Sharma and Jhumpa Lahiri. Upadhyay’s new novel, Buddha’s Orphans, uses Nepal’s political upheavals of the past century as a backdrop to the story of an orphan boy, Raja, and the girl he is fated to love, Nilu, a daughter of privilege. Their love story scandalizes both families and takes readers through time and across the globe, through the loss of and search for children, and through several generations, hinting that perhaps old bends can, in fact, be righted in future branches of a family tree. Buddha’s Orphans is a novel permeated with the sense of how we are irreparably connected to the mothers who birthed us and of the way events of the past, even those we are ignorant of, inevitably haunt the present. But most of all it is an engrossing, unconventional love story and a seductive and transporting read.
Samrat Upadhyay is the author of Arresting God in Kathmandu, a Whiting Award winner, The Royal Ghosts, and The Guru of Love, a New York Times Notable Book and a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year. He has written for the New York Times and has appeared on BBC Radio and National Public Radio. Upadhyay directs the creative writing program at Indiana University.