I usually don’t go the route of reading challenges but when I saw that I was woefully slow in reading for the past few months, I decided 2020 would be the year of loads of reading, especially Indian authors and translated works. But 2020 would forever be remembered as the year that upturned plans and for being unpredictable, so I didn’t read as much as I expected.
However here’s a list of the top 5 books I read this year so far, each memorable in its own way.
1. Kohinoor by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand
As the subtitle suggests, it is the story of the world’s most infamous diamond. It’s investigative journalism in a way that turns into a history of empires in the Indian subcontinent, fascinating, shocking and even gory in turns, uncovering events and character traits that are glossed over by history textbooks.
What I found most engaging was Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s flourishing empire that hinted at machinations and following certain social norms that I as a Sikh had not read about or had expected. We have a way of glorifying our generals and leaders but following the trail of the diamond Kohinoor, from the Maharaja to his son Duleep Singh who was defrauded of the diamond by the British is a fascinating account.
2. Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag, translated by Srinath Perur
My introduction to Kannada literature came from this excellent book that talks about families and economic circumstances on the surface but is a commentary on something much deeper and very profound. The book is a short read, relatable to nearly everyone by virtue of the economic struggles and familial values of a close knit family. If you look beyond the obvious, it is deeply unsettling in little ways, hinting at a degradation of moral values, indecision and apathy in the face of challenges and holding a moral ground.
Vincent, the waiter at the Coffee House, Chitra the social activist who arouses unease in the narrator, Anita, whose strong views and outright opinions the family is fearful of, bring forth the dilemma of the book. The narrator’s inability or reluctance to step in and correct things may hold a mirror to many of us.
3. Chosen Spirits by Samit Basu
Chosen Spirits is feted as it in the shortlist for JCB prize for literature. That’s not the only reason to read it. It’s a dystopian viewpoint of our society, set in near future so that it’s still recognisable in some ways having its roots in the present political and social scenario. Joey and Rudra tell us the story through their thoughts and their deeds and the things that they don’t do any longer for they just don’t help in ekeing out an existence.
What stood out for me was the uncertainty presented in the book; I had a feeling of being on shifting sand, new tech, new emotions, new ways of subterfuge and new ways of navigating the world. Chosen Spirits is a revolutionary look at how things might turn out for us with an uncanny projection of today’s situation into a volatile tomorrow.
4. Kintsugi by Anukrti Upadhyay
Craft and beauty of jewels and workmanship of artisans form the backdrop of the book that’s really about relationships and the rising of people from the ashes of failed expectations. Shattering and joining the shards of their former selves to transform into persons who negotiate life on their own terms, Kintsugi is delightful. It straddles two cultures and many layers of human emotions.
I immersed myself completely in the beauty of the places, the narrow shaded lanes of Jauhri Bazar in Jaipur to the baithaks and gaddis of jewellers to Kyoto’s ephemeral beauty and the hills and the traditional Onsen. I was mesmerized by the craftsmanship of jewels and gem setting and the elements of design. In all this were the different shades of love, from lust to unconventional relationships to expected expectations.
5. Along Came a Spyder by Apeksha Rao
Books for children and young adults is a different ballgame. You need to get the language and setting right for your ideal reader which this books does so admirably. Samira, at 17 just wants to follow the family profession of spying. The book is about her adventures and whether her spying is smooth and how she comes of age.
The best thing about the book is that it is relatable for teenagers with a great role model. Sassy, a little girl, head strong and wanting approval, Samira is all this and some more. Children and young adults who dream of adventure after reading the chase stories and mysteries of The Famous Five, Secret Seven, Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys would happily graduate to Samira’s dose of adventure and independent spirit.
The High Priestess Never Marries: Stories of Love and Consequence by Sharanya Manivannan.
This collection of short stories is a mix of nostalgia and intense emotion, love and its varying shades, longing and lust all presented through a bevy of women.
For me, the evocative writing is like coming home. I picked this collection to ease myself into her literary world, fearing I wouldn’t be able to get the nuances in ‘The Queen of Jasmine Country’, a highly acclaimed book. I am still reading the book, revisiting some stories and mulling over others.
Written for Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa campaign, it is the first in the series of 8 posts for the month.