What books will help an American view the world from a bigger perspective?

Answer by Raakhee Venugopal:

Thank you for the A2A.

As an Indian, I’d like to suggest a few books that would definitely broaden anybody’s idea of India. Books like the ones I’m about to list below will expose the reader to an India they haven’t experienced before. Here are my top-picks with their synopses sourced from Amazon…

Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts

A novel of high adventure, great storytelling and moral purpose, based on an extraordinary true story of eight years in the Bombay underworld.

‘In the early 80s, Gregory David Roberts, an armed robber and heroin addict, escaped from an Australian prison to India, where he lived in a Bombay slum. There, he established a free health clinic and also joined the mafia, working as a money launderer, forger and street soldier. He found time to learn Hindi and Marathi, fall in love, and spend time being worked over in an Indian jail. Then, in case anyone thought he was slacking, he acted in Bollywood and fought with the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan . . . Amazingly, Roberts wrote Shantaram three times after prison guards trashed the first two versions. It’s a profound tribute to his willpower . . . At once a high-kicking, eye-gouging adventure, a love saga and a savage yet tenderly lyrical fugitive vision.’ Time Out

Amazon rating – 4.4/5*


The City of Joy – Dominique Lapierre

Living in the seeming hell of one of the poorest and most crowded quarters of Calcutta are the saints of today: saints such as Mother Teresa, saints such as Stephen Kovalski, an unkown Polish Catholic priest who made his home there to care for the poorest of the poor.

And Max Loeb, an American physician dedicated to fighting disease in this dirty hellhole.

City of Joy, the story of these saints, is a testament to the human spirit unbowed by the most wretched of circumstances.

Amazon rating – 4.4/5*


Q&A – Vikas Swarup

The bestselling book behind the Oscar-winning film SLUMDOG MILLLIONAIRE directed by Danny Boyle

Former tiffinboy Ram Mohammad Thomas has just got twelve questions correct on a TV quiz-show to win a cool one billion rupees. But he is brutally slung in prison on suspicion of cheating. Because how can a kid from the slums know who Shakespeare was, unless he is pulling a fast one.

In the order of the questions on the show, Ram tells us which incredible adventures in his life on the streets gave him the answers. From orphanages to brothels, gangsters to beggar-masters, and into the homes of Bollywood’s rich and famous, Ram’s story is brimming with the chaotic comedy, heart-stopping tragedy and tear-inducing joyousness of modern India.

Amazon rating – 4.4/5*


The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri

‘The Namesake’ is the story of a boy brought up Indian in America.

‘When her grandmother learned of Ashima’s pregnancy, she was particularly thrilled at the prospect of naming the family’s first sahib. And so Ashima and Ashoke have agreed to put off the decision of what to name the baby until a letter comes…’

For now, the label on his hospital cot reads simply BABY BOY GANGULI. But as time passes and still no letter arrives from India, American bureaucracy takes over and demands that ‘baby boy Ganguli’ be given a name. In a panic, his father decides to nickname him ‘Gogol’ – after his favourite writer.

Brought up as an Indian in suburban America, Gogol Ganguli soon finds himself itching to cast off his awkward name, just as he longs to leave behind the inherited values of his Bengali parents. And so he sets off on his own path through life, a path strewn with conflicting loyalties, love and loss…

Spanning three decades and crossing continents, Jhumpa Lahiri’s much-anticipated first novel is a triumph of humane story-telling. Elegant, subtle and moving, ‘The Namesake’ is for everyone who loved the clarity, sympathy and grace of Lahiri’s Pulitzer Prize-winning debut story collection, ‘Interpreter of Maladies’.

Amazon rating – 4.1/5*


Nine Lives – William Dalrymple

A Buddhist monk takes up arms to resist the Chinese invasion of Tibet – then spends the rest of his life trying to atone for the violence by hand printing the best prayer flags in India. A Jain nun tests her powers of detachment as she watches her best friend ritually starve herself to death.

Nine people, nine lives; each one taking a different religious path, each one an unforgettable story. William Dalrymple delves deep into the heart of a nation torn between the relentless onslaught of modernity and the ancient traditions that endure to this day.

LONG LISTED FOR THE BBC SAMUEL JOHNSON PRIZE

Amazon rating – 4.6/5*


A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

A Suitable Boy took the world by storm when it was first published. Twenty years later this beautiful, epic novel retains its power to delight and amaze.

Vikram Seth’s novel is, at its core, a love story: the tale of Lata – and her mother’s – attempts to find her a suitable husband, through love or through exacting maternal appraisal. At the same time, it is the story of India, newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis as a sixth of the world’s population faces its first great general election and the chance to map its own destiny.

A Suitable Boy may prove to be the most fecund as well as the most prodigious work of the latter half of this century – perhaps even the book to restore the serious reading public’s faith in the contemporary novel … You should make time for it. It will keep you company for the rest of your life’ Daniel Johnson, The Times

Amazon rating – 4.6/5*


 

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