5 Must Read Books About India

Books About India

5 Most Important Books About India

 

The culture in India is so rich, the history so interesting and the diversity so vast that there are a few books you must read to better appreciate your travel to India. Whether you read them before you get there, or pick them up as you go, these 5 books about India will certainly help you understand the country a little bit better, and enjoy your time there that much more.

 

Shantaram

 

Books About India

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Okay, this one isn’t written by an Indian author, but it’s still well worth the read. It’s a long undertaking, 900 pages, but you won’t want to put it down.

Gregory David Roberts might have exaggerated the real events of his life a fair amount to make it that much more interesting but you’ll get hooked in this story of a prison escapee from Australia, travelling on a New Zealand passport that lands in Bombay.

Through his journeys you’ll experience the slums, the criminal underbelly, the black markets, a bit of Afghanistan and have it all interspersed with the deepest philosophy.

The plot twists, the character development, the love story, the heroism, the captivating tale are all next to none… It’s big and tough to travel with… but also makes a perfect companion for all those Indian trains, or a great precursor before your trip. Just pick it up, you’ll love it!

 

 

Midnight’s Children

 

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Salman Rushdie at his best. This book will get you right into the psyche of India. Everything is connected but you’re not really sure how. There’s myth and folklore mixed with everyday life. Modernity clashing with conservative religious beliefs.

The story follows the children that were all born at midnight, on the 18th of July, 1947, on the same day of India’s independence. Their lives are all connected, naturally, supernaturally, physically and emotionally. Furthermore, they are connected to the story of the wonderful country itself.

You can’t learn everything you need to know about India in one book, but Salman Rushdie certainly takes a great shot at giving you the basics about the history, the religous clashes and the current culture. He’s got a phenomenal writing style which you’ll have to follow with intention to get all the nuances, all the metaphors and all the depth between the lines. A must read… but pay attention.

Just a little sidenote about this book, in 2008 it won the ‘best of the booker’ prize which was awarded to the book which was deemed to be the best out of the 40 previous winners… meaning that not only did it win the booker prize in 1981 for the best original full length novel, written in English, by the member of the commonwealth, but also that it was the best ever book to have won… I’m not one to say you must read a book simply because it’s won an award but come on… the best of the best is a heck of an award!

White Tiger

 

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After two fairly lenthy novels (Midnight’s Children is also a handful), thought I might as well throw a quick, leisurely book about India in there.

White Tiger by Aravind Adiga is another Man Booker prize winner. (In fact, it won the Man Booker Prize in 2008, the same year when Midnight’s Children won the prize as the best ever winner of the Man Booker).

Although you’ll be able to fly through this book (I read it in two days), you’ll get a great understanding at some of the issues between the castes in current day India.

The book is written from the perspective of a village boy, Balram Halwai, who works his way all the way up to the higher castes, and tells his story through small letters addressed to the Chinese Premier. This small book is just chalked full of humour and corruption, spiced with issues of loyalty, religion and caste.

 

 

A Fine Balance

 

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This is another huge and heavy book about India. Where Shantaram might take some slack for being longer than needed, A Fine Balance certainly does not.

By no means is this a light and leisurely read. If anything, this book portrays the incredible ability for the human spirit to continue in the face of great adversity. Many people rank this as book as being their favourite about India, and it moved down my list due to the fact that I read it just after both Shantaram and Midnight’s Children.

It certainly does a great job of capturing all the different sides of India, the hope and despair, the joy and grief, the love and hate.

Set in the 1970’s, you follow four distinct lives that intersect and interact with each other. Each life, each story being touched and changing thereafter. This book, perhaps more than any other, succeeds in capturing the spirit of India. The fine balance in a country where so much pain, so much hurt has occurred and yet so much love still resounds.

 

 

Siddhartha

 

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If White Tiger was a quick read than Siddhartha goes like a blink of the eye. If you have a long train you’ll have no problem reading it cover to cover. You’re looking at around 3 hours of total reading time.

Just think, in little more time than all those millions of people are spending on that incredibly deep spiritual quest of Transformers, or all those remakes of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you can get through this profound journey by Herman Hesse.

If you’re up for the challenge, than read this book in it’s original German language, as all books, and yes I’m including the bible in this generalization, lose something in the translation. Though the book itself is meant to be of great depth, it is written in basic language, and may be a great start at reading books in German. That being said, the English version of this book is what made it’s entry on my list.

This book is not only the oldest of the list, but it’s old enough to be the grandparent of any of the others on the list. Originally written in 1922, inspired by Hesse’s time in India in the 1910’s, it wasn’t published in the U.S. until 1951 and became a very influential book during the revolutionary 1960’s.

The story is even older still… The spiritual journey of a young boy who would go on to become one of the most well known people in history. Certainly worth picking up, even if it’s not your type of book. After all, how badly can 3 hours of deep philosophy ever hurt?!

 

The God of Small Things

 

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Yes, I called this list the 5… and this is the 6th. It is merely because no list of books about India is complete without listing this classic by Arundhati Roy.

This is yet another Man Booker Prize winner, taking the award in 1997. It follows a pair of twins, set primarily in Kerala and shifts back and forth in between 1969 and 1993.

Indian history and politics, like any great book about India, play integral parts in the plot.

Although it doesn’t make my list of the top 5, there’re many reasons why The God of Small Things tops the list of all runners-up and is worth mentioning here.

Packed with social discrimination and forbidden love; betrayal and class discriminations, you won’t want to put it down. It is yet another small book and quick read with a deep impact and lasting impression.

18 thoughts on “5 Must Read Books About India

    • Jonny Jenkins Post author

      Fantastic… Depending on just how quickly you read, you might want to start a couple of them ASAP… As they certainly weigh down a mind/backpack if left too long

      Reply
  1. Revati

    Hey Johnny, it’s a good list, however Shantaram, while it’s a greatly rivetting story basis itself on a lot of stereotypes and not fact (I believe the author was required to change the genre to fiction after it came out) So I’m really hoping people don’t come to my country expecting to find something like that!

    Reply
    • Jonny Jenkins Post author

      Yeah, from what I understand, and certainly could be wrong about this, he sort of fell into the James Fry (Million Little Pieces) category where he claimed that it was based upon his life to begin with… after a bit of research it was discovered that it was a gigantic stretch… And, although I certainly hear that you wouldn’t want people to expect much of what he experiences, there are some fairly revealing bits on what it’s like to travel in India… If nothing else, it certainly is a riveting story.

      Reply
  2. Veronika

    This is a great list! I heard really good things about Siddharta. I hope to go to India in a few months, so I should make these my compulsory reading! I’d start with Rushdie. Thanks for the tips!

    Reply
    • Jonny Jenkins Post author

      Anytime Alison, it’s such an interesting country, with many great emerging writers… I think we’re going to see an onslaught of great Indian books over the next decade or so.

      Reply
  3. Christina @ City Sea Country

    As I visited India a couple of years ago and liked the country after a cultural shock a lot 😀 your book list about India is great to see.
    I read a while ago: “Holy Cow!: An Indian Adventure from Sarah Macdonald”. It´s an awesome book too.

    Reply
    • Jonny Jenkins Post author

      Muchisimos gracias. A mi, me gusta mucho las botas de futbol… Pero, necesite borrar el link sobre gay bondage sex… Lo siento, no es porque no estoy muy interesado en eso, (como sabias?)… Es mas que, no creo que mi publico le gustaria mucho… Que Pena!

      El spam estes dias es muy loco de verdad!

      Reply
  4. girjaa

    JJ, I think you have a third or is it 4th, 5th, avocation…writing book reviews. Surely someone will pay you to do this ;_00. thanks for these essential summaries. funny, I just picked up “the god of small thing’s’… and will need a longer book for a 2 week vacation in Mexico in February…Santaram? Midnight’s Children?
    I would add to your list…’What The Body Remembers’ by Shauna Singh Baldwin. Told primarily thru several lens including Sikh /Hindu/British/Caste/Gender, this human and personal story begins in small town Punjab in 1935 (where muslim, sikh and hindu co-exist) thru to July 18th, 1947, the day of Partition and movement of 20 million people. I have never understood the role of Britain, the devastation, the human impact.

    Reply
    • Jonny Jenkins Post author

      Ha, ya who knows, maybe someday I’ll make a few bucks from it, for now it’s really more about attempting to provide my readers with anything that may be of value for them.

      Either Shantaram or Midnight’s Children make for great reads… Even in Mexico on a vacation. And thanks, I haven’t read ‘What the Body Remembers’, I’ll have to pick it up.

      Reply

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