Welcome to our half-yearly preview of the books to look out for over the next six months. Dates are tentative in some cases, btw, so check your friendly bookstore before you wreck your friendly bookstore.
The Forest Of Enchantments: Sneaking this under the line (it was published just this week). Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s new novel retells the Ramayana according to Sita, and is a meditation on “all kinds of love.” Hello. HarperCollins.
Tell Her Everything: Mirza Waheed, prize-winning author of The Collaborator and The Book Of Gold Leaves, returns with a novel about a doctor in an unnamed city, who finds himself in a crisis of ambition. Westland/Context.
The Queen’s Last Salute: Don’t feel up to braving Kangana Ranaut’s Manikarnika? Console yourself with Moupia Basu’s novel about India’s most famous warrior queen, and the women who stood with her during the 1857 rebellion. Juggernaut.
Unguarded: India’s coolest cricketer, Mithali Raj, writes her life story. Penguin Random House.
The Selected Works of Abdullah the Cossack: So what if we can’t see them at litfests any more? Handsome Pakistani writers are still committed to their first duty, which is to produce novels we can read and talk about. Thanks, HM Naqvi. Harper Collins.
Under Something Of A Cloud: Dom Moraes’s first job was poetry, but he was also a marvellous prose writer -- can someone reprint his Indira Gandhi biography already?! -- and we’re graced in the new year with a collection of his travel writing, which ranges across the Chambal valley and Bangladesh to Sri Lanka and Australia. Speaking Tiger.
Around The World In 80 Trains: Some years ago, British Asian journalist Monisha Rajesh took a long and very unusual trip across India. Around India In 80 Trains was breezy, sharp-edged and often insightful. She’s back with an even more Jules Verne-ish adventure this month. Bloomsbury.
How To Get Published In India: Get your mum to buy you an editor? Meghna Pant, bestselling author, says no. Her new book distills all the advice she got into something useful for nervous first-timers, plus some real talk on writing and publishing from authors such as Meena Kandasamy, Ashwin Sanghi and many more. Bloomsbury.
Line on Fire: Happymon Jacob writes about violations along India and Pakistan’s Line of Control and a history of military strategy on the frontline. Get the #BMKJ fan in your life some serious reading. Oxford University Press.
On Leaders and Icons: From Jinnah To Modi: One of India’s grandest old journalists, Kuldip Nayar, finished this book just weeks before he passed away last year. He spills the beans on his close encounters with some of the subcontinent’s most powerful people, from Nehru and Shastri to Indira Gandhi and Modiji. Speaking Tiger.
Kaifiyat: Rakshanda Jalil translates some of Kaifi Azmi’s “most haunting” poems and lyrics in celebration of the poet’s hundredth birth anniversary. Uth meri jaan! Penguin Random House.
This Could Have Become Ramayan Chamar’s Tale: A disruptive, experimental “anti-novel” that’s been a Bengali classic ever since it was published in the early 1980s, Subimal Misra’s best-known work is now available to read in English, along with another work that equals it for political and literary boldness, When Colour Is A Warning Sign. Harper Collins.
Gun Island: On a visit to his home city, Calcutta, a Brooklyn-based books dealer encounters an old legend about Manasa Devi, goddess of snakes. A series of uncanny events follows. Amitav Ghosh’s new novel is mere weeks away. Looks creepy in a good way. Penguin Random House.
The Patient Assassin: Among the victims of the horrific massacre of Jallianwala Bagh, exactly 100 years ago this year, was a man named Udham Singh. He travelled the world for 20 years in search of Sir Michael O’Dwyer, the Punjab official who let Reginald Dyer loose on the crowd. Anita Anand traces the shocking history of a quest for revenge. Simon & Schuster.
A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There: Other Indian writers call her the greatest living Indian writer. Luckily for English readers, a new Krishna Sobti translation appears early in the year. In A Gujarat Here, a young woman named Krishna gets offered a place as governess to the child maharaja of a princely kingdom in the Punjab, just after Partition. Translated by Daisy Rockwell. Penguin Random House.
Coming Out As Dalit: In 2016, a young Dalit university scholar named Rohith Vemula committed suicide. In the outpouring of grief and anger that followed, Yashica Dutt’s short essay struck deeper than most: after a lifetime of ‘passing’ as an upper-caste person, she wrote, she was claiming her Dalit identity publicly. Her memoir will be published this year, almost three years to the month after Rohith’s death. Aleph Book Company.
What Do Economists Do? Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, whose Poor Economics was on everybody’s bedside table a few years ago, circle back to address a petty fundamental question. Juggernaut.
The Third Pillar: Here’s something an economist does: he writes about how markets and the state leave the community behind. Not feeling it? The economist is Raghuram Rajan. Harper Collins.
99 Nights In Logar: Jamil Jan Kochai’s debut novel is about a boy who loses the tip of his finger to a dog, and spends the next 99 nights trying to find him. Kochai’s editor says he’s struck “the perfect balance between a sort of Salinger-esque sensibility,” and the oral tradition of Afghan history. Bloomsbury.
Beyond The Boulevards: A Short History Of Pondicherry: Colony, spiritual centre, party hub; Tamil, French and a little bit English -- one of India’s most-visited and least-understood towns gets the biographical treatment from Aditi Sriram. Aleph Book Company.
The Fate Of Butterflies: Nayantara Sahgal is (we hear) not messing around. Her new novel is supposed to be “brave and hugely readable,” is about rulers trying to wipe out vast swathes of a country’s history. Cough. Speaking Tiger.
A Sweet History Of Compassion: Paul Zacharia is a legend in Malayalam lit and a leading light of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi. He turns to English for the first time to write a novel in which three characters named Lord Spider(!), JL Pillai and Rosi get together to write a manifesto on Compassion for the Communist Party. Westland/Context.
Besharam: Priya Alika Elias, perhaps better known as @priya_ebooks, comes up swinging with a first book that her publishers say is a truly “hard-hitting and original work of feminism.” Penguin Random House.
The Lives of Freda: A British woman named Freda married an Indian Sikh communist called Baba Bedi in the 1930s. She moved here, was jailed for participating in the freedom movement, then worked with Baba to assist Sheikh Abdullah with his ‘New Kashmir’ manifesto after independence. She also helped Kashmiris set up a women’s militia unit in 1947; embraced Buddhism and worked with Tibetan refugees in the 1950s; and became one of the first women ever to be ordained as a Buddhist nun. Who knew Kabir Bedi’s mom was an OG? We’ll discover more in Andrew Whitehead’s biography. Speaking Tiger.
The Bells of Shangri-la: Parimal Bhattacharya, who wrote No Path in Darjeeling is Straight, returns with a novel about spies, thieves and scholars in historical Tibet. Speaking Tiger.
The Prince: Hello, Sam Arni! The author of Sita’s Ramayana and The Missing Queen steps away from the epics in her new novel, a tale of intrigue and adventure set in South Indian antiquity. Juggernaut.
Democracy On The Road: Tiny guards chase a tiny Ambassador on the cover of Ruchir Sharma’s new book, an account of Indian elections that’s been 25 years in the writing. Vroom. Penguin Random House.
The Transformative Constitution: A Radical Biography In Nine Acts: Gautam Bhatia, Supreme Court advocate and editor at Strange Horizons, has tweeted us through some of the court’s most tense moments in the last few years. Now, the Notorious GRB (we made up the middle initial) writes about the great social and political transformations to which the Indian constitution commits itself. Honestly, same. Harper Collins.
Heat: The Sahitya Akademi award-winning Poomani has written some of the most highly acclaimed Tamil novels of the last couple of decades. Heat, about a teenager on the run for committing murder, is slated to be adapted as a major Tamil movie later this year. Juggernaut.
Bad Man: Oh come on, did you think we wouldn’t put Gulshan Grover’s authorised biography on this list? Roshmila Bhattacharya writes. Penguin Random House.
Tall Tale: Anushka Ravishankar writes a book (in verse, we think?) about a cat looking for a brand new tail, in collaboration with the amazing Warli artists Mayur Vayeda and Tushar Vayeda. Tara Books.
Autumn Light: Pico Iyer returns to Japan, this time with a meditation on life in autumn, on death and dying, and how to hold on to the things we love. Penguin Random House.
Small Days and Nights: Poet and dancer Tishani Doshi is coming back out of the woods with her second novel. Stand by for a Pondicherry beach, a bus stop colonised by flying foxes, and sisters building a fragile life together. Bloomsbury.
The Assassination of Indira Gandhi: Upamanyu Chatterjee, noted wielder of sharp objects, publishes a collection of short stories written over the last three decades, most never published before. Speaking Tiger.
The Miraculous True History Of Nomi Ali: Pakistani writer Uzma Aslam Khan returns with a historical novel set in the Andaman islands, used as a prison first by the British, then by the Japanese. Westland/Context.
Writing Badly Is Easy: We don’t know much about Amitava Kumar’s new book, but if it’s anything like his other writing advice, we’re ready. Aleph Book Company.
The Lost Decade (2008-2018): Before you write your own millennial burnout essay, get the facts straight. One of our favourite economics reporters, Puja Mehra, walks us through India’s “growth story without growth” in these acche-est of dins. Penguin Random House.
Good Talk: In this house we are Mira Jacob fans. Captivated by The Sleepwalker’s Guide To Dancing, we took to Instagram to admire her wry comics about bringing up a (seemingly wonderful) biracial kid in Trump’s America. Good Talk is the graphic memoir that emerges from those Insta-comics. Bloomsbury.
The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters: Three sisters are instructed by their dying mother to carry out her last rites at the Golden Temple. What could go wrong? Balli Kaur Jaswal, who scored a major win with Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, writes a novel that aims to be equally life-affirming. Harper Collins.
I Have Never Seen Mandu: The Hindi writer Swadesh Deepak, acclaimed for his radical plays, went for a walk one day some years ago and never returned. Among his papers was his memoir, Maine Mandu Nahin Dekha, an extraordinary account of his struggle with mental illness. Jerry Pinto translates. Speaking Tiger.
Untitled: Shubha Mudgal is writing fiction! We don’t know yet what her book of short stories will be called, but we do know it involves scheming ustads, rival Sufi singing stars from India and Pakistan, and fallen divas. Speaking Tiger.
Body and Blood: Urmila Deshpande writes what a reviewer once described, admiringly, as “grown-up chick lit.” Sounds fine. Her new collection of stories tells “erotic” tales about breaking the ten commandments. Speaking Tiger.
Outcaste: Hands-down the most striking cover we’ve seen in a catalogue this year. Matampu Kujukuttan’s book also retells one of the most astonishing stories of the twentieth century in India: of the adultery trial of a Kerala brahmin woman named Paptikutty and how she used her testimony to take down sixty-four men. Translated by Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan. Aleph Book Company.
Back To School: The turnaround in Delhi’s primary education system is perhaps one of India’s biggest stories in the last few years. The politician widely credited with the transformation, Atishi, writes a book about fixing what’s broke. Penguin Random House.
Khoon Vaisakhi: The Punjabi writer Nanak Singh was a 22 year old in Jallianwala Bagh on April 13, 1919. His long poem about the massacre is translated to English, for the first time, by grandson Navdeep Suri. Harper Collins.
Kasturba Gandhi: It’s also 150 years since the birth of Kasturba Gandhi, marked by Brij Mohan Bhalla’s meticulously researched book about her life. Roli Books.
This Land Is Our Land: We didn’t love Suketu Mehta’s last book, but that doesn’t mean we don’t expect to be ready for every dinner-table conversation this summer to revolve around his next one. Mehta writes about how western democracies are being destroyed, not by immigration, but by fear of immigration. Penguin Random House.
How Not To Be A Man: Jordan Peterson threatened to punch him. Pankaj Mishra brushes the dirt off his shoulder and returns to writing about the connections between toxic masculinity, youth and the politics of anger sweeping the globe. Juggernaut.
Rivals: He’s an entitled opthalmologist. She’s a buttoned-up head of the ER. Could I make it any more obvious? These two central characters clash when the top job at their prestigious Karachi hospital opens up. To know more, look out for Saad Shafqat’s medical thriller. Bloomsbury.
Tawaifnama: The documentary filmmaker Saba Dewan (remember? She started #NotInMyName a couple of years ago) goes to Benaras to delve deep into the society, culture and history of the city’s tawaifs. Westland/Context.
My Life and Struggle: The Autobiography of Abdul Ghaffar Khan: You think you know a guy, then you realise his autobiography’s never been fully translated to English before. Imtiaz Ahmed Sahibzada renders, from Pukhto, the life story of one of the twentieth century’s greatest heroes. Roli Books.
The Camel Merchant of Philadelphia and Other Stories of the Lahore Court: Sarbpreet Singh hearks back to the days of the prince Ranjit Singh with a book of stories about the colourful characters who populated his court. Westland/Context.
Animalia Indica: The Finest Animal Stories In Indian Literature: Sumana Roy can’t do a thing wrong in our eyes after her wonderful memoir and first novel, both published in the last two or three years. Her new anthology is sure to be marked by her poets’ eye, and her unusual sensibility of the natural world. Aleph Book Company.
Kerala Cookbook: Sabitha Radhakrishnan’s Annapurni, a cookbook of Tamil Nadu’s “heritage cuisine,” was one of last year’s sleeper-hit food books. She’s following up with more incredible research, this time to document the history and variety of the cuisines of Kerala. Roli Books.
Tell It On The Mountain: What went wrong between the 1940s, when Indian and Chinese leaders sent each other jam and silks, and 1962, when you-know-what happened? Former diplomat Nirupama Rao traces the history of Asia’s biggest frenemies in the crucial years between 1949 and ‘62. Penguin Random House.
The Diary of Manu Gandhi: Ram Guha’s two-volume biography of MK Gandhi rekindled our interest in the Mahatma’s complex personal life, not least the (shocking, lbr) experiments in brahmacharya he conducted with his young niece, Manuben Gandhi. Now, Gandhi scholar Tridip Suhrud publishes excerpts from Manuben’s own diaries detailing her life between 1943-48, the time she spent as an aide to the Mahatma and Kasturba. MAJOR. Oxford University Press.
100 Iconic Bollywood Costumes: Aparna Ram illustrates and Sujata Assomull writes about the evolution of design in the clothes of Hindi film heroines through a hundred outfits they’ve worn, both on and off-screen. Will this be the book that brings back Madhubala’s feathered cap from Mughal-e-Azam? Roli Books.
The Wild Heart Of India: TR Shankar Raman, scientist and grandee of the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore, writes a personal history of his work as a field biologist. Sounds c(w)ell. Oxford University Press.
Crossing to Hampi: Legit icon Girish Karnad returns with a new two-act play about the battle of Talikota, the historic war between Vijayanagara and the Deccan sultans. Oxford University Press.
Raavan: Orphan of Aryavarta: Not on the Spine TBR list, but we know how vast and varied Amish’s readership is, so if an update to his mytho-fictional Ram Chandra series is your thing, rejoice. Westland/Context.
My Seditious Heart: Arundhati Roy’s forthcoming book is a weapon in more ways than one. It collects all her political essays from the last twenty years, many of which changed the way an entire generation articulated its relationship with democracy and the state. It’s also 1,224 pages long, which is just 24 pages more than this list. Penguin Random House.
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