Why you should care
The God of Small Things started the firestorm. These writers are stoking the flames of hot Indian lit.
After Arundhati Roy’s debut novel, The God of Small Things, won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1997, the Indian book market was suddenly flooded by novelists writing in English — with varying quality. Almost two decades later, Indian writing in English seems to have come of age. This new set of authors, hailing from varied backgrounds, write with humor, courage, sarcasm and fury, creating images that reflect India’s changing society. “Collectively, these contemporary authors are widening the canvas of Indian writing in English by bringing various perspectives and genres in popular literature,” explains Ritu Malhotra, Assistant Managing Editor, Oxford University Press.
Here are some noteworthy contemporary Indian writers to add to your bookshelf:
This former columnist and editor of OPEN magazine became known for his satirical, wicked humor-lined stories when he started writing fiction in 2010. “Each of his novels … have been breathtaking in their scope and artistry,” says Udayan Mitra, his publisher from HarperCollins Publishers India Ltd. Start with Serious Men, which examines discrimination on grounds of caste in modern India. Then follow up with Miss Laila, Armed and Dangerous, an unapologetic and potentially offensive political satire about Akhila Iyer, a neurosurgery student with a strong sense of humor — a story that Mitra calls “an uproariously funny, yet desperately sad novel about the India we call our own.”
Adiga won the Man Booker Prize in 2008 for his debut novel, The White Tiger, which he wrote while working as an international journalist. Between the Assassinations is a set of linked short stories set in the rural, coastal south (where Adiga is from), that tells stories of injustice and ironies in the lives of the local people, whereas the autobiographical Selection Day is a subtle critique of Indian capitalism and corruption. Both The White Tiger and Selection Day are now being made into films.
The journalist and poet is a respected name in the Indian literary circle, known for his thorough research. Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb, is an extensive background study based on the life of a Bollywood dancer and actress, captured in literary prose. Pinto’s debut novel, Em and the Big Hoom, a compelling story about a manic-depressive mother, won the Sahitya Akademi, India’s prime literary award, in 2016.
In her six books of fiction and poetry, Doshi speaks in the language of rebels.
Pariat is the first writer from Northeastern India to receive the Sahitya Akademi, in 2013, for Boats on Land. It’s a collection of 15 interconnected short stories that infuse folklore with the supernatural, with a storyline that traces the early days of the British Raj in India to both world wars to the arrival in India of Christian missionaries. Pariat’s latest, The Nine Chambered-Heart, an experimental narrative that explores the concept of love — what it looks like, its multiple layers — is being translated for publication into six international languages.
Appupen or George Mathen
Starting in 2009, Appupen indulged in an experiment to infuse alternative fiction into graphical form, which in turn became a series of four connected stories set in a mythical realm. In each he explores “the dark, dystopian, mythical world of Halahala in unforgettable, nightmarish detail,” notes Mitra (Oxford published the second and the third in the series). The Legends of Halahala, the second in the series, is said to be India’s first wordless graphic novel.
Writing When the River Sleeps was “a spiritual journey in itself,” Kire said to me minutes before walking onstage to receive The Hindu Literary Prize in 2016. Her strength lies in using a simple writing style to tell the stories of her people in Nagaland in extreme Northeast India — a perspective “not covered in mainstream literature before,” notes Malhotra. In Don’t Run, My Love, Kire’s latest novel, a mother-daughter duo challenge the deep-seated patriarchy in their community and move on to chart a life of their own. Published in 2003, Kire’s A Naga Village Remembered was the first novel by a Naga writer published in English.
In her six books of fiction and poetry, Doshi speaks in the language of rebels. Her latest, Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods, is a poetic expression of anger and protest against the rape, violence and other forms of abuse inflicted on women in India and everywhere. As a journalist, dancer, poet and cricket blogger, Tishani brings a multifaceted background to her writing and subjects.