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Saturday, 2 February 2013

Our selected books to take to INDIA

Where to start when one suggests fiction that brings India to life? There are so many novels out there where the heat, the smells, the life and the colour of the country really lift off the pages. One novel that recently crossed our path is East of the Sun by Julia Gregson, set in the late 1920s and just so evocative of the era and country. Unmarried young women on the search for husbands travelled to India in search of eligible young men based over there - the constant stream of women heading out East was charmingly called "The Fishing Fleet". Rose, arriving in Bombay describes her first impressions: "...there was too much to take in: the dazzling sun, the stink of drains and incense, the brilliant saris and dark faces." And there is more where that came from.... And what a beautifully designed cover!

Our next choice is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Compassionate realism and narrative are vividly captured in this masterpiece. It is 1975 and India is again in a state of flux, the location is an unnamed city by the sea (but it might well be Mumbai). A state of emergency has just been declared and, again, the lives of three characters are thrown together – a spirited widow, and two tailors from a hill station – living in a tiny apartment with an uncertain future.

The Toss of a Lemon by Padma Viswanathan spans the lifetime of one woman (1896-1962), and brings us intimately into a Brahmin household, into an India we've never before seen. Married at ten, widowed at eighteen, left with two children, Sivakami must wear widow's whites, shave her head, and touch no one from dawn to dusk. She is not allowed to remarry, and in the next sixty years she ventures outside her family compound only three times.

City of Devi by Manil Suri - Armed only with a pomegranate, Sarita ventures into the empty streets of Mumbai, on the eve of its threatened nuclear annihilation. She is looking for her physicist husband Karun, who has been missing for over a fortnight. She is soon joined on her quest by Jaz - cocky, handsome, Muslim, gay, and in search of his own lover. Together they traverse the surreal landscape of a dystopia rife with absurdity, and are inexorably drawn to the patron goddess Devi ma, the supposed saviour of the city. Groundbreaking and multilayered, The City of Devi is a fearlessly provocative tale of three individuals balancing on the sharp edge of fate.

Please add any novels in the Comments Box below which you would take to India with you and are really evocative of the location. Would you add Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, or perhaps Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.... or These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach (the book behind the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)? Help to make a really valuable resource for both actual and armchair travellers by adding your suggestions and your spontaneous review.

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