1. The Namesake — Jhumpa Lahiri
The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name.
Lahiri brings great empathy to Gogol as he stumbles along the first-generation path, strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs. With penetrating insight, she reveals not only the defining power of the names and expectations bestowed upon us by our parents, but also the means by which we slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define ourselves.
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2. The Pearl That Broke Its Shell — Nadia Hashimi
In Kabul, 2007, with a drug-addicted father and no brothers, Rahima and her sisters can only sporadically attend school, and can rarely leave the house. Their only hope lies in the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows young Rahima to dress and be treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age. As a son, she can attend school, go to the market, and chaperone her older sisters.
But Rahima is not the first in her family to adopt this unusual custom. A century earlier, her great-great grandmother, Shekiba, left orphaned by an epidemic, saved herself and built a new life the same way.
Crisscrossing in time, The Pearl the Broke Its Shell interweaves the tales of these two women separated by a century who share similar destinies.
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3. The Story of a Brief Marriage — Anuk Arudpragasam
Two and a half decades into a devastating civil war, Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority is pushed inexorably towards the coast by the advancing army.
Amongst the evacuees is Dinesh, whose world has contracted to a makeshift camp where time is measured by the shells that fall around him like clockwork. Alienated from family, home, language and body, he exists in a state of mute acceptance, numb to the violence around him, till he is approached one morning by an old man who makes an unexpected proposal that Dinesh marry his daughter, Ganga. Marriage, in this world, is an attempt at safety, like the beached fishing boat under which Dinesh huddles during the bombings.
As a couple, they would be less likely to be conscripted to fight for the rebels and less likely to be abused in the case of an army victory. Thrust into this situation of strange intimacy and dependence, Dinesh and Ganga try to come to terms with everything that has happened, hesitantly attempting to awaken to themselves and to one another before the war closes over them once more.
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4. Nobody Killed Her — Sabyn Javeri
The nation sinks deep into mourning as news of former prime minister Rani Shah’s assassination arrives. Intelligence agencies, opposition leaders, the Army top brass, her closest relatives – all seem to be shifting in their chairs even as special investigative teams gear up to file a report. Conspiracy theories abound for there were many who stood to gain if she pulled out of the imminent elections. The needle of suspicion points most immediately to Madam Shah’s close confidante Nazneen Khan, who was seen sitting right beside her in the convoy and, oddly, escaped the bomb blast unscathed.
Sabyn Javeri’s tale of intense friendship between two ambitious women unfolds in a country steeped in fanaticism and patriarchy. Set against a backdrop of intrigue and political machinations, this is a novel about love, loyalty, obsession and deception.
Nobody Kills Her is dark noir meets pacey courtroom drama. An electrifying debut you will rave about to everyone you meet.
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5. Happily Never After — Jane DeSuza
Tina Raja’s average day involves a houseful of kids, animals, fleas, leaking pipes and sundry relatives. Is this the marriage she signed up for? And anyway, with an absentee husband, can she be certain she’s married still?
Okay, so there are a couple of options: she could have an affair (but only if the blinking phone will stop ringing); she could see her therapist (but he’s an absolute dingbat); she could pour her woes out on her secret blog (but her readers are lecherous brutes). Meanwhile, loneliness and bad plumbing aside, her best friend is mooning over a guy called Moo, her ten-year-old daughter is writing a super-secret diary of her own and her sister is being a dolt as usual. There just might be one silver lining, though, in the form of a kissable dentist. But hello, is her husband even paying enough attention to feel jealous?
Look, guys, this is pretty serious stuff. STOP laughing.
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6. The Liberation of Sita — Volga
Valmiki’s Ramayana is the story of Rama’s exile and return to Ayodhya, a triumphant king who will always do right by his subjects.
In Volga’s retelling, it is Sita who, after being abandoned by Purushottam Rama, embarks on an arduous journey to self-realization. Along the way, she meets extraordinary women who have broken free from all that held them back: Husbands, sons and their notions of desire, beauty and chastity. The minor women characters of the epic as we know it – Surpanakha, Renuka, Urmila and Ahalya – steer Sita towards an unexpected resolution. Meanwhile, Rama too must reconsider and weigh out his roles as the king of Ayodhya and as a man deeply in love with his wife.
A powerful subversion of India’s most popular tale of morality, choice and sacrifice, The Liberation of Sita opens up new spaces within the old discourse, enabling women to review their lives and experiences afresh. This is Volga at her feminist best.
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7. Yasmeen — Sophia Khan
Yasmeen Khalil is beautiful and charming. She is also unpredictable, enigmatic, funny and tragic. One day she vanishes, leaving behind a heartbroken husband and desolate daughter Irenie who refuses to accept that Yasmeen is gone; she haunts the house with the scents and sounds of her dazzling mother in an effort to maintain the illusion of her presence.
Five years after her mother’s disappearance, Irenie discovers a box of letters, beautiful, intimate love letters, which reveal a different Yasmeen, a woman who, all her life, was in love with a man named Ahmed. Why did the two never get together? What really happened to Yasmeen? On a quest for answers that she suspects her father James has long suppressed, she travels to Islamabad, where she uncovers a trove of secrets for which she may not be ready. Over the course of a summer, father and daughter find that they must help each other move out of Yasmeen’s shadow and forge their own stories.
Simultaneously shattering and uplifting, this is a sophisticated debut about obsessive love, family ties and a desperate search for closure.
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8. Alphabet Soup for Lovers — Anita Nair
Lena Abraham knows that love can end in only one way — disappointment. Her marriage to KK is perfect precisely because she is not in love with him, and their life on a tea plantation in the picturesque Anamalai Hills is idyllic. Then, one rainy morning, a man arrives to take up temporary residence in the homestay they run.
Shoola Pani is south Indian cinema’s heartthrob, an actor in flight from his own superstardom, and the last thing he is looking for is emotional entanglement. But when Lena and he meet, something flares between them that neither could have anticipated. She becomes his Lee and he her Ship, and Arcadia the place they inhabit.
Told partly from the point of view of Komathi, the cook, whose own relationship with Lena is fraught with buried truths from the past, this searing tale of unexpected passion and adultery reaffirms the magical power of love in all our lives.
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9. Dark Star: The Loneliness of Rajesh Khanna — Gautam Chintamani
If there were ever a life meant to be a book, few could stake a claim as strong as Rajesh Khanna. Born in a time when film stars were truly larger than life, Khanna was destined to become not just any film star but the one for whom the term ‘superstar’ was coined. Born Jatin Khanna to middle-class parents, the actor was adopted by rich relatives who bought him up like a prince. By the time he won the Filmfare–United Producers Combine Talent Contest, he was already famous for being that struggler who drove an imported sports car. With seventeen blockbuster hits in succession and mass adulation rarely seen ever before or since, the world was at Khanna’s feet. And then in matter of months it all changed. Mirroring the meteoric rise, Khanna’s career hit a downward spiral just three years after Aradhana (1969) and never really recovered.
Chronicling the films and the times of Rajesh Khanna, Dark Star looks at the phenomenon of an actor who redefined the ‘film star’. Much like a celestial object doomed to darkness, after a glorious run, Rajesh Khanna might have spent a better half of his career in the shadow of his own stardom, but even after forty years of his last monstrous hit, he continues to be the yardstick by which every single Bollywood star is measured.
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10. My Beautiful Shadow — Radhika Jha
‘I have a secret. I belong to a club. And my club is the biggest, best kept secret in all of Tokyo.’
Kayo is a young Tokyo housewife and mother. Outwardly, she is no different from other young mothers. But she has a secret. She belongs to a kind of club. It involves beautiful clothes and accessories and is the most important thing in the women’s lives.
The club makes it possible for Kayo to escape the tedium of her life, and to embrace a dazzling new world. But it quickly becomes an obsession, a drug, the way to both paradise and hell.
Can Kayo find her way out of the dark underworld of debt, lies and prostitution? Or is she doomed to exchange one form of loneliness for another? A deeply absorbing novel about the ‘holes’ that suddenly appear in women’s lives, My Beautiful Shadow is also a powerful cautionary tale about consumerism gone mad.
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11. The Valley of Amazement — Amy Tan
Shanghai, 1905. Violet Minturn is the young daughter of the American mistress of the city’s most exclusive courtesan house. But when revolution arrives in the city, she is separated from her mother in a cruel act of chicanery and forced to become a ‘virgin courtesan’.
Half-Chinese and half-American, Violet moves effortlessly between the cultural worlds of East and West, quickly becoming a shrewd businesswoman who deals in seduction and illusion. But her successes belie her private struggle to understand who she really is and her search for a home in the world. Lucia, Violet’s mother, nurses wounds of her own, first sustained when, as a teenager, she fell blindly in love with a Chinese painter and followed him from San Francisco to Shanghai, only to be confronted with the shocking reality of the vast cultural differences between them. Violet’s need for answers will propel both her and her mother on separate quests of discovery: journeys to make sense of their lives, of the men – fathers, lovers, sons – who have shaped them, and of the ways we fail one another and our children despite our best attempts to love and be loved.
Spanning fifty years and two continents, The Valley of Amazement resurrects lost worlds: from the moment when China’s imperial dynasty collapsed, a Republic arose, and foreign trade became the lifeblood of Shanghai, to the inner workings of courtesan houses and the lives of the foreign ‘Shanghailanders’ living in the International Settlement, both erased by World War II.
It is also a deeply evocative narrative of family secrets, the legacy of trauma, and the profound connections between mothers and daughters. With her characteristic wisdom, grace and humour, Amy Tan conjures a story of the inheritance of love, its mysteries and betrayals, and its illusions and truths.
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12. The Golden Son — Shilpi Somaya Gowda
The first of his family to go to college, Anil Patel carries the weight of his family’s expectations when he leaves his village to begin a medical residency at one of the busiest and most competitive hospitals in America. Back home in India, nil’s closest childhood friend, Leena, struggles to adapt to her demanding new husband and relatives. Though Anil and Leena struggle to come to terms with their identities thousands of miles apart, their lives eventually intersect once more — changing them both and the people they love forever.
Tender and bittersweet, The Golden Son illuminates the ambivalence of people caught between past and present, tradition and modernity, duty and choice; the push and pull of living in two cultures, and the painful decisions we must make to find our true selves.
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