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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Twenty-one of our top picks to read in 2021

Here's the literary roaster of 2021 consisting of both fiction and non-fiction.

Written by Paromita Chakrabarti | New Delhi | January 1, 2021 2:00:20 pm
These are the books to look out for this year. (Source: Amazon.in, Rupa Publications.co.in | Designed by Gargi Singh)

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri
(Hamish Hamilton; Fiction)

A new novel from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri is always great news, but what makes Whereabouts, slated for a June release, more exciting is the fact that this is Lahiri’s first novel written in Italian and translated to English. The story of a woman in search of change, yet not quite, this is also Lahiri’s first novel since The Lowland, published in 2013.

This is Lahiri’s first novel since The Lowland, published in 2013. (Source: Amazon.in)

Fractured Freedom: A Prison Memoir by Kobad Ghandy
(Roli Books; Non-fiction)

One of the most anticipated memoirs of 2021 is this account by Marxist thinker and political activist Kobad Ghandy, released from prison last year after nearly a decade of incarceration. In this book, slated to be published in April, Ghandy speaks for the first time of what drew him away from a life of ease and privilege to radical politics. Dedicated to his late wife Anuradha, Ghandy said in a statement that his memoir was an effort to trace the couple’s striving “for a just and equal world. It is being brought out at a time the world is witnessing an earth-shattering experience, never witnessed before, of pandemics, environmental devastation and economic disaster. In such a scenario, the book takes the reader on a long journey, spanning half a century, igniting hope, towards a new dawn.”

Enter Stage Right: The Alkazi/Padamsee Family Memoir by Feisal Alkazi
(Speaking Tiger; Non-fiction)

The history of theatre, indeed of the arts, in Independent India is incomplete without a homage to the Alkazis and the Padamsees. In this memoir that releases in January, Feisal Alkazi attempts a history of the first families of theatre, weaving them with anecdotes, insider accounts and some never-seen-before photographs.

By Many A Happy Accident: Recollections of a Life by M Hamid Ansari
(Rupa Publications; Non-fiction)

Ansari’s account, to be published in the first week of January, offers an insider’s insight into Indian politics and what goes on behind the scenes. (Source: Rupa Publications.co.in)

In a year that will see a slew of political memoirs, one of the most anticipated one comes from former vice-president, Hamid Ansari, who occupied the office for two full terms. Ansari’s account, to be published in the first week of January, offers an insider’s insight into Indian politics and what goes on behind the scenes.

In Search of the Distance by Anuk Arudpragasam
(Penguin Random House; Fiction)

After his DSC Prize-winning novel This is the Story of a Brief Marriage (2016), Sri Lankan writer Anuk Arudpragasam returns with a new stream-of-consciousness novel in July. In Search of Distance is built upon the reflections and reminiscences of a young man, Krishan, after the death of his grandmother’s former caretaker, Rani.

Jana Gana Mana by TM Krishna
(Context; Non-fiction)

In the last couple of years, people’s protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register for Citizens (NRC) have reclaimed India’s national symbols for the citizens. But what does patriotism mean in a country of such immense diversity as India, and can symbols hold together the idea of a nation? After his stirring Sebastian and Sons, Carnatic musician TM Krishna returns with Jana Gana Mana in August, in which he examines ideas of belonging and nationalism and why symbols can be both a succour and a problem.

The Heartbeat of Trees by Peter Wohlleben; Translated by Jane Billinghurst
(Viking; Non-fiction)

When it was first published in 2015, German environmentalist Peter Wollehben’s The Hidden Life of Trees brought to life the wonders of nature through a personal, anecdotal account. In The Heartbeat of Trees, out in April, Wohlleben draws on new scientific discoveries to further explore the symbiotic relationship between nature and man — and why conservation is vital for both.

The Loves of Yuri by Jerry Pinto
(Speaking Tiger; Fiction)

Jerry Pinto’s The Loves of Yuri is the first of a trilogy that is as much an ode to Mumbai as it is to friendships and first loves. (File)

One of the finest contemporary chroniclers of urban life, Jerry Pinto’s The Loves of Yuri is the first of a trilogy that is as much an ode to Mumbai as it is to friendships and first loves. Set in the 1980s, the trilogy encompasses the emotional and intellectual coming-of-age of Yuri from adolescence to the last hurrah of youth.

Water by Mridula Ramesh
(Hachette; Non-fiction)

By all accounts, India’s water crisis is at a crucial juncture. In her urgent new book, Mridula Ramesh traces the root of the water crisis in India – from India’s patterns of water consumption and conservation to the political exigencies that have shaped the course of water management in India – and why it is a problem that needs immediate attention.

The Nutmeg’s Curse: A Parable for a Planet in Crisis by Amitav Ghosh
(Penguin RandomHouse; Non-fiction)

amitav ghosh, author amitav ghosh, Gun Island, jnanpith award, indian express, indian express news In the book, Ghosh follows the nutmeg’s journey across the world to reflect on the trajectory of exploitation of both human resources and nature, made possible by the existing geopolitical hierarchy. (Photo by Praveen Khanna)

The climate-change crisis has had limited reflection in literary fiction but writer Amitav Ghosh has been among the few who have long engaged with it extensively, in both his fiction and non-fiction work. This book, slated for publication in October, is based on the Campbell Lectures that Ghosh will deliver at the Rice University in the US in September. In it, Ghosh follows the nutmeg’s journey across the world to reflect on the trajectory of exploitation of both human resources and nature, made possible by the existing geopolitical hierarchy.

My Life and Struggle: The Autobiography of Abdul Ghaffar Khan
Translator: Imtiaz Ahmad Sahibzada
(Roli Books; Non-fiction)

Originally written in Pukhto or Pashto, the translation is slated to be released by the end of January. (Servants of God). (Source: Amazon.in)

For the first time ever, an English translation of the 1981 autobiography of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known in the sub-continent as Frontier Gandhi, will be available to readers, thanks to the efforts of retired Pakistani bureaucrat Imtiaz Ahmad Sahibzada. Originally written in Pukhto or Pashto, the translation, slated to be released by the end of January, is an account of a life spent practising ahimsa, that was adopted and propagated by Khan’s followers, the Khudai Khidmatgars (Servants of God).

China Room by Sunjeev Suhota
(Hamish Hamilton; Fiction)

One of Granta’s best young British authors of 2013, Sanjeev Suhota’s novels, including his Man Booker Prize-shortlisted second novel, The Year of the Runaways, are nuanced accounts of intergenerational British-Asian experiences. In his new novel, slated to be published in June, Suhota goes back to 1929 agrarian Punjab, where a young bride, married off one night along with two other young women to three brothers of a family, is trying to find out who her husband is. A multi-generational story of love, repression and a breathless pursuit of fulfilment, the novel is partly inspired by the writer’s family history.

Languages of Truth by Salman Rushdie
(Hamish Hamilton; Non-fiction)

Written between 2003 and 2020, these works reflect Rushdie’s engagement with contemporary socio-politics and its resultant cultural churn. (File)

He might be best known for his expansive works of fiction, but a collected volume of non-fiction, including new, revised and expanded essays, criticism and speeches will offer readers a different perspective on the genius of Salman Rushdie. Written between 2003 and 2020, these works reflect Rushdie’s engagement with contemporary socio-politics and its resultant cultural churn.

The Good Girls by Sonia Faleiro
(Viking; Non-fiction)

In May 2014, two teenaged Dalit girls — cousins — were found hanging from a tree in UP’s Katra village. They had been sexually abused before being murdered. Faleiro, author of Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars (2010), pieces together the case and its dark aftermath in her new book, out in January.

Club You to Death by Anuja Chauhan
(HarperCollins; Fiction)

With her delicious wit and instinctive understanding of all things Delhi, an Anuja Chauhan novel is always a good read. In a departure from her previous novels, her latest is a murder mystery, where the death of a handsome personal trainer in a posh Delhi club sets off a chain of events that only the most intrepid of investigators can unravel.

A Time Outside This Time by Amitava Kumar
(Aleph Book Company; Fiction)

In this novel, the US-based Amitava Kumar takes on fake news, memory and the role of truth in the creation of fiction. (Express photo by Abhinav Saha)

A writer who has never shied away from taking a political stance, in this novel, the US-based Amitava Kumar takes on fake news, memory and the role of truth in the creation of fiction.

Dead Men Tell Tales by Dr B Umadathan; Translated by Priya K Nair
(HarperCollins; Non-fiction)

His expertise is relied upon by all good investigators but a forensic surgeon seldom takes centerstage. When he does though, the tales he unpacks are fascinating accounts of science and insightful reflections on human nature. Known as the Sherlock Holmes of Kerala, Dr B Umadathan, who passed away in 2019, was a professor and police surgeon in Thiruvananthapuram, Alappuzha, Kottayam and Thrissur medical colleges. He had been the forensic surgeon on high-profile cases including the Sister Abhaya murder (1992), the Chacko murder of 1984 and the death of the Malayali actor Miss Kumari, to name a few. First published in 2010 in Malayalam to runaway success, his fascinating memoir has now been translated into English by academic Priya K Nair and will be released in March.

Asoca by Irwin Allan Sealy
(Viking; Fiction)

“I wish to show you how History is made,” a character in Irwin Allan Sealy’s first novel Trotter-Nama (1988) had declared. In this novel, to be published in July, Sealy returns to familiar territory with an imagined memoir of Ashoka the Great, ruler of India in the 3rd century BC, tracing the life and times of one of history’s most enigmatic characters.

A Forgotten Ambassador in Cairo by NS Vinodh
(Simon and Schuster; Non-fiction)

In this well-researched biography releasing in January, NS Vinodh rescues Syud Hossain, India’s first ambassador to Egypt, from oblivion. A man of erudition, Hossain served as an editor of Motilal Nehru’s newspaper The Independent. The book follows both his political ascent and his personal life, including his elopement and brief marriage to Vijayalaxmi Pandit. Hossain is also known for advocating for immigrant rights in the USA, that led to the conversion of the Luce-Celler Bill into an Act in 1946.

This Life at Play: A Memoir by Girish Karnad; Translated from the Kannada by Srinath Perur and Girish Karnad
(HarperCollins; Non-fiction)

Girish Karnad, Girish Karnad memorial, Girish Karnad death, Girish Karnad memorial meeting, Mumbai news, Mumbai, Indian Express Girish Karnad died at the age of 81 at his residence in Bengaluru. (Photo: Express Archive)

Thespian, director, writer, thinker, activist — Girish Karnad was one of modern India’s finest public intellectuals. His memoirs, published in Kannada in 2011, were meant to be translated into English by Karnad himself. But he could only finish a part of it before his demise last year. The translations, now completed by Srinath Perur, will offer readers a glimpse into the life and times of a towering personality and the events that shaped his inimitable genius.

Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth by Wole Soyinka
(Bloomsbury; Fiction)

Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka’s first novel in 48 years is both a whodunit and a satirical critique of individual and political greed. Written during lockdown and set in contemporary Nigeria, this book, slated to be published in September, explores the dark underbelly of power and its fallouts

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