Jonah Blank: Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God: Retracing the Ramayana Through India
I read this before I started my 2011 trip to India but want to recommend it to those interested in traveling in India. It provides many insights into Indian culture, helpfully woven through the tale of the Ramayana which is itself useful for travelers in India to help decipher all the depictions and references that pop up everywhere.
Raj Kamal Jha: Fireproof
Almost creepy story of some fantastical happenings during the outbreak of the Gujarat riots in 2002. Gives a sense of how close to the surface the communal tensions are, and how seemingly 'ordinary' folks can get caught up in the crowd mentality and do extraordinarily horrid things.
Manil Suri: The Death of Vishnu: A Novel
Another Indian slice-of-life story focused on the occupants of an apartment building in Mumbai, with the interesting twist that one of the lives covered is in the process of ending throughout the entire novel. Fascinating peak into the worldviews, big and small, that power each life.
Roger Deakin: Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees
Got this from another traveler, very different from everything else I've been reading. A quiet, contemplative ramble through our relationship with trees, wood and forests, from a long-time UK environmental activist. Very well written.
Mohsin Hamid: The Reluctant Fundamentalist
I'd read a review of this when it first came out more than a year ago, and it sounded interesting. Stumbled across it used, and it didn't disappoint. A long, one-sided 'conversation' where a US-educated Pakistani relates his love/hate relationships with the land that promised him so much, but in the end he couldn't accept the terms. A timely read right now.
Cormac Mccarthy: The Road (Movie Tie-in Edition))
I was lent this book by a fellow traveler and blew through it in one day. A very bleak day. The writing is phenomenal - a near-poetic prose that somehow beautifully renders the worst and most monochromatic worlds you can (or can't) imagine. Not a book one 'enjoys', but a gripping read that has you trying to figure out for days, weeks, what you want to take from it - hope? despair? save humanity with canned goods?
Aravind Adiga: The White Tiger: A Novel (Man Booker Prize)
Couldn't believe my luck: I found a near-new paperback version for TRADE (2 for 1) at my guesthouse in Jaisalmer. As the most recent Booker Prize winner and an Indian novel I had to grab it. Am enjoying it, and it's seeming disturbingly plausible so far.
Muhammad Yunus: Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism
From the Nobel Prize winner and founder of micro-credit phenomenon, Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. In this book he makes the case for a new form of enterprise where maximizing social benefits, rather than profits, are the stated objectives. This addresses directly the short-comings of 'corporate social responsibility' where good intentions can never, legally, replace or even undermine profit maximization as a corporation's raison d'etre. Interesting concept, and some real life examples.
Iain Banks: Espedair Street
Was without a book while in Thailand and couldn't find a good India-related one, so grabbed this one to pass the time and bus journeys. An author I've always liked, and this one didn't disappoint.
- Pankaj Mishra: Butter Chicken in Ludhiana
This book is sub-titled "Travels in Small Town India". I so enjoyed Mishra's novel (The Romantics) that I grabbed this one when I found it used. This is a chronicle of travels he did back in the '80s, a time when India's economy was just starting to boom and its middle class was forming. His intention was to find out if increasing wealth was actually translating into better standards of living in these towns (small cities, really), or if living standards were actually declining due to more congestion, pollution, income disparities, demands for water and electricity, etc. Lots of great insights, if not very heartening answers.
Pankaj Mishra: The Romantics
The first novel from a young Indian author, writing about the experience of a young, bookish Brahmin in the late 1980s in Varanasi (Benares), his first encounters with foreign tourists, his struggle to reconcile a conservative Indian upbringing in a world where that is less and less relevant, and his need to then define a new identity - at least I think that last part is where it's going. Enjoying it, a new author for me.
- Pavan K. Varma: Being Indian
Fascinating book I picked up in Leh: an Indian exploring the real national character of India and Indians, digging beneath the myths and stereotypes. The objective is to, as the subtitle says, reveal "the truth about why the 21st century will be India's". I'm finding it very illuminating by the second chapter, lots of insights that resonate so well with my experience of India.
Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything
My friend and colleague, Jens, had a great gift for me when I left Victoria: four audio books loaded on a CD, which I could copy onto my iPod one at a time to listen to on buses, trains, etc. What a great idea. I've started listening to this very interesting book I've had recommended to me by several folks, especially when the going is just a little too rough to actually try to read. So especially good in the mountains!
Greg Mortenson: Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time
I was recommended this book by a Canadian woman I met in Dharamsala, and when I cracked it open on the bus to Jammu a couple of days later I noticed the Canadian woman I'd just met sitting beside me was reading the same one. Seems popular among Canadians. True story of an American mountain climber that fulfills a promise to build a school in a remote Pakistani village, and finds that leads to lots more schools. Really enjoying it.
Sarah Macdonald: Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure
Had to be done, bestseller and all, and a quick read. An Ozzie finds herself living in an India she hates, and decides to make the best of it by embarking on a two-year religious (or religion) shopping trip. India is a shoppers paradise, after all. Handy overviews of many of India's major religious influences, a few remarkable experiences she was lucky to have (her description of the Khumb Mela sounds mind-blowing) and some good 'Westerner trying to understand India' insights.
Manju Kapur: Home
A novel exploring the intricacies and intimacies of the extended Indian family as it faces changing times. I seem to have a thing for these kinds of novels, and this one is as good as it gets. I find they offer flashes of insight into a worldview (or cosmological perspective?) that is so different from mine, and by setting it in day-to-day life makes it more accessible. Indian soap opera as literature - love it.
Shashi Tharoor: The Great Indian Novel
I actually read this on my previous trip but loved it so much I added it to this list. A wonderfully written novel that is essentially the history of the achievement of India's independence, but the history lesson is wrapped around the frame of the Mahabarata, one of India's most famous epic tales. Fabulous mixture of history and mythology, great lessons in both for the uninitiated (like me), and much fun to be had in separating fact from fiction.
William Hart: The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation: As Taught by S. N. Goenka
In preparation for a 10 day Vipassana meditation course I will undertake here in India. Somewhere. Sometime.
Gregory David Roberts: Shantaram: A Novel
A rambling tale of an Australian fugitive who falls in love with the people and city of Bombay. Supposedly true, about to be made into a movie with Johnny Depp. Wonderful insights of a foreigner's experience in India, though he could lose about 200 of his 1000 pages in the over-wrought descriptions of the woman he falls in love with.
William Dalrymple: The Age of Kali
A collection of essays by one of my favourite travel writers who has lived in India for several years. Is starting off pretty bleak - focusing on north India where political corruption and violence (in the 1990s) was widespread and the Age of Kali (the fourth and last age in the Hindu cycle, an age of societal destruction and chaos prior to re-birth) seems in full swing. Apparently gets better when he starts to focus on the positive economic and developmental achievements in the south. His question: which influence is waning, and which is waxing?