The Indian literary tradition is one of the oldest in the world spanning thousands of years. While the history of Indian English literature may be relatively short, there are still many award-winning and critical masterpieces that anyone who loves books can’t miss.
Most Indian classics are set in the modern period after India's independence and continue to reflect Indian culture, tradition, and social values through the depiction of life in India and the life of Indian immigrants. These books will give readers a deeper understanding of India's history and how the nation of more than a billion people has emerged from various dilemmas.
To get you started on your reading journey, we've compiled a list of books by Indian authors who have had a great impact on Indian literature.
1. The Great Indian Novel
This is a satirical novel by Shashi Tharoor and is a fictional work that tells the story of the Mahabharata, a famous Indian epic. The book recasts and resets the story in the context of the Indian Independence Movement and the first three decades of post-independence.
Figures from Indian history are transformed into characters from mythology and the mythical story of India is retold as a history of more recent times. The author records India's struggle for freedom and independence with irony and poignancy.
Unlike regular historical fiction which deals with unearthing a secret or a perspective alteration of an already-told tale, this novel deals with the continuation of history in the present. Consequently, his plot forges a connection between the ancient and post-independent India. This is book a treat for all the fans of historical fiction.
Author: Shashi Tharoor
Year Published: 1989
2.Train to Pakistan
This book is one of the best Indian novels around and depicts the horrors that took place during the partition of India. This heart-tearing story is based on real events and set in the fictional town of Mano Majra.
The story shows how the brotherhood between two communities was replaced overnight by hatred sparked by the communal violence that erupted during the partition of India and Pakistan. This violence was based on religious divides.
In this novel, you can learn about the rivalry between Sikhs and Muslims that started because of a train that was loaded with dead bodies. Amidst this tragic story, there is also hope in the story of a Sikh boy and Muslim girl whose love transcends all the religious hate.
Author: Khushwant Singh
Year Published: 1956
3.Palace of Illusions
This an award-winning novel penned by famous novelist Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. This book retells the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, from the perspective of Draupadi, its lead female character who we don’t hear from much in the ancient epic. Draupadi is the daughter of King Drupad, wife of the five Pandavas, and mistress of a breathtaking and stupendous palace.
The story takes us to a world that is half history, half myth, and full magic. The novel centers on Draupadi’s struggles as a woman born in a patriarchal society at a time when the world is full of agony and controlled by the ever-manipulating hands of destiny.
Banerjee has written the whole story by stepping into Draupadi’s shoes and writing a completely male dominant epic from a female’s point of view. Her description of emotions like insecurity, jealousy, and love is amazing. No doubt this is the best fictional account of the Mahabharata and is a very unique book that has added a very interesting touch to the epic.
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Year Published: 2008
4.The God of Small Things
It’s not very often that an author’s debut novel gets him/her The Man Booker Prize. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy was one of those great novels.
This book tells the story of a family in Kerala in the 1960s. Delving deep into a range of issues from the caste system to the state’s encounters with communism. The story follows two fraternal twins, their parents, and their extended family as they navigate life in this highly acclaimed work by the famous activist and writer.
The novel begins in 1969 when India, although having achieved independence twenty years earlier, is still entrenched in the caste system. This powerful and well-written story tugs at the heartstrings as the author reveals to her readers a glimpse of an India clinging to its traditions.
Author: Arundhati Roy
Year Published: 1997
The Guide is a novel by the Indian author R. K. Narayan. The novel takes place in Malgudi, a fictional town in South India, and describes the transformation of the protagonist, Raju, from a tour guide to spiritual guide and then one of the greatest saints of India. This novel won its author the 1960 Sahitya Akademi English prize.
The movie “Guide” released in 1965 and featuring the iconic actor Dev Anand, was based on this novel.
This book is essentially a tale of human instincts, where faith and love can be expected to bring about a massive change in a man’s nature, capable of transforming a devil into a saint.
Author: R. K. Narayan
Year Published: 1958
6.A Fine Balance
The novel is set in 1975 against the backdrop of the central government declaring a State of Emergency throughout India. The book centers on four characters from varied backgrounds: Dina is a beautiful widow, Ishvar and his nephew Omprakash just survived a massacre, and the young student Maneck. Through the story, they come together and develop a bond.
From suspicion to reconciliation, the main characters develop familial feelings in the suffocating misery of their existence. But as soon as life begins to look a little brighter, bad choices, cruel destinies, and terrible things follow.
This is a sweeping story that exposes the changes in Indian society from independence in 1947 to the Emergency called by Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. This magnificent novel, though a fictitious story, captures all the cruelty and corruption, dignity and heroism of India.
Author: Rohinton Mistry
Year Published: 1995
The White Tiger, which was a Booker Prize winner in 2008, is a classic novel that sheds light on a man in the deprived section of the society, who is desperate to come out of his misery and lead an independent life.
This story told through a retrospective narration from Balram Halwai, a village boy, provides a darkly humorous perspective of India’s class struggle in a globalized world. Throughout the seven nights in the story, Balram tells us the terrible and transfixing tale of how he came to be a success in life—having nothing but his wits to help him along the way.
It’s one of the best novels by an Indian author that was written in English and offers a great examination of issues of religion, caste, loyalty, corruption, and poverty in India.
Author: Aravind Adiga
Year Published: 2008
8.Wings of Fire
The Wings of Fire is written by a visionary scientist, who from very humble beginnings rose to be the President of India.
Dr. Kalam by narrating his life journey evokes the reader to identify with one’s inner fire and potential, for he was of the firm belief that each one of us was born with the strength and ability to make a tangible change in the world.
This book is best suited for teenagers and young adults who dream and dare to challenge the status quo. The story shows us, how a person from a modest background ends up being the First Citizen of a nation of one billion people.
Author: Agni Ki Udaan
Year Published: 2008
9.A Suitable Boy
This is an epic love story set in post-independence India. The story is both funny and tragic with engaging and brilliantly observed characters. It centers around Lata and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, both trying to find a ‘suitable boy’ for Lata to marry.
At 1,349 pages, it is one of the longest novels ever published in a single volume in the English language. It is rare that such a long book is both an entertaining read and an intellectually satisfying challenge. Vikram Seth has more than succeeded in both areas.
The book meditates on a range of issues from post-partition politics, Hindu-Muslim strife, caste and class tensions, and changing family relationships. It’s one of the nation’s classic bestsellers and very worth a read.
Author: Vikram Seth
Year Published: 1993
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10.The Discovery of India
The former Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote this book during his imprisonment at Ahmednagar Fort for participating in the Quit India Movement (1942 – 1946).
The book begins with ancient history as Nehru writes at length on the Vedas, Upanishads, and textbooks of the ancient times and ends during the British raj. The book is a broad view of Indian history, culture, and philosophy.
Today, the Discovery of India is considered to be one of the finest writings on Indian History. The television series Bharat Ek Khoj, which was released in 1988, was based on this book.
Author: Jawaharlal Nehru
Year Published: 1946
Midnight’s Children is a faux autobiography in which personal farce and political realism fuse, only to disintegrate into contingency and absurdity. Its narrator, Saleem Sinai, combines the story of his childhood with that of India itself, having been born at midnight on the day of India’s independence.
His every act is mirrored and magnified in events that sway the course of national affairs. The most remarkable are the telepathic powers linking him with India’s 1,000 other “midnight’s children,” all born in that initial hour and endowed with magical gifts.
This novel is at once a fascinating family saga and an astonishing evocation of a vast land and its people. It stands apart as both an epochal work of fiction and a brilliant performance by one of the great literary voices of our time.
Author: Salman Rushdie
Year Published: 1981
The Shiva Trilogy is the collection of the best-selling books The Immortals of Meluha, The Secret of the Nagas, and The Oath of the Vayuputras written by Amish Tripathy.
This series is set in 1900 BC, during the time of the Indus Valley Civilization and revolves around the lives of the men who inhabited the land of Meluha, or as it was known back then—the Suryavanshi.
In this book series, the author describes the concepts of Karma and reincarnation with succinct ease. His style of writing is gripping and makes for a compelling read.
Author: Amish Tripathy
The Immortals of Meluha: 2010
The Secret of the Nagas: 2011
The Oath of the Vayuputras: 2013
13.The Interpreter of Maladies
This book is a collection of nine stories, all based on the lives of Indians and Indian Americans who are lost between the two cultures.
In these nine poignant stories, the author tells of the Indian immigrant experience by connecting the tales and creating one voice for them. The stories share a sadness of being separated from one's family by thousands of miles, yet also offered a glimmer of hope for their futures in India or the United States.
The book was published in 1999 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award in the year 2000. To date, it has sold over 15 million copies worldwide.
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Year Published: 1999
14.India a Million Mutinies Now
India a Million Mutinies Now is the third book in Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul’s "India trilogy", the other two books are An Area of Darkness and India and A Wounded Civilization. The third book is the most impressive among the three novels.
This book tells the stories of many of the people the author met while traveling more than fifty years ago and explores how the characters have been steered by the innumerable frictions present in Indian society. The story focuses on the contradictions and compromises of religious faith and the whims and chaotic effects of random political forces.
Author: V. S. Naipaul
Year Published: 1999
15.The Inheritance of Loss
This novel is set in northeastern India near the border with Nepal. The main character, Sai, is a teenaged girl who lives with her grandfather, Judge Patel. Biju, the son of the judge's cook, is a young man making a living by working in restaurants as an illegal alien in the United States.
When a Nepalese insurgency in the mountains threatens Sai’s new-sprung romance with her handsome tutor, their lives descend into chaos. The Gorkhaland movement is the historical backdrop of the novel.
The whole story is briskly paced and sumptuously written, reflecting on issues of nationhood, modernity, and class in a way that is both moving and significant. This book won a number of awards including the Man Booker Prize for that year, the National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award in 2007, and the 2006 Vodafone Crossword Book Award.
Author: Kiran Desai
Year Published: 2006
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