Despite being rich in intellectual value, Indian novels seldom make noise in the mainstream literary industry. A major part of Indian literature has often been discredited as ‘poorly written in Indian English’. While this is absolutely untrue (those who read Indian literature can vouch for it), it’s also very detrimental to the potential of an Indian writer who has expended a lot of blood, sweat, and tears on their work. If you want to debunk this myth and see for yourself, here is a list of brilliant novels for everyone just starting out on an exploration of Indian novels.
Difficult Daughters by Manju Kapur
Primarily set around the time of Partition, this is a story of three generations of women. Their lives have been torn apart by familial drama, socially disapproved of love affair, and desire for higher education. Kapur showcases the universality of women’s suffering that transcends generations and boundaries. Written with a lot of empathy, this novel is truly a hidden gem.
Clear Light Of Day by Anita Desai
Set against the backdrop of old Delhi, in India, this is a saga of family scars, the compassion to forgive and forget, and the multifaceted nature of familial love. Members of the Das family have drifted away from each other. Bimla lives with her brother in her childhood home and teaches at a women’s college. When her sister pays her a visit old scars reopens. However, unlike many domestic dramas, this is a tale of empathy and understanding.
Poonachi: Or The Story Of A Black Goat by Perumal Murugan
An old couple receives Poonachi, an orphan female goat kid, as a gift. She is a metaphor for the universal human experience of marginalized people. From forest to habitation, childhood to motherhood, Poonachi’s fears, yearnings, and joys will resonate with that of the reader. This book is a social commentary on the current world we live in, the choices we make, or are forced to make and the vulnerability of an individual in the hands of the state.
Milk Teeth by Amrita Mahale
Childhood allies Ira and Kartik are supposed to get married. While they grew apart once they went to college, their paths cross again in adulthood. What seems like a perfect match initially, would eventually fall apart! Secrets are spilled and relationships crumble against the backdrop of the city of Bombay, India. Old Bombay is slowly metamorphosing into a cosmopolitan city. Conflicts between traditionalism and modernization are at its peak. Amidst everything the characters come of age, thus making for a beautifully haunting and heartwrenching tale.
Em And The Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto
A brilliant take on mental health, this novel is one of a kind. A father trying to hold the family together is the highlight of this book. His wife’s degrading mental health is impacting the rhythm of their day in the most adverse way possible. This book provides a nuanced understanding of not just mental health but also what’s it like to live with someone whose mental health is always declining.
Latitudes Of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup
A lyrical debut novel about intimacy, longing, and the inherent need for love, this book is indeed canonical in the history of magical realism. The range of characters is extremely interesting as starting from a scientist who studied trees to a yeti seeking human companionship, this book has it all. Weaving a tale where such a diverse assortment of characters comes alive is no easy job. Ergo, it’s needless to say that Swarup’s work is groundbreaking.
The Glassblower’s Breath by Sunetra Gupta
Going back and forth between Calcutta (India) and New York, this experimental novel (which sometimes gets absurd) is a unique account of a woman trying to balance her responsibilities with her own desires. Her intrinsic need to experience the emotional, the sexual, and the intellectual are juxtaposed with men’s perception of her. The narrator is elusive but exceptional in her own way. This book has often been compared with Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.