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Bound’s Guide To The Best Books Published In 2021

It goes without saying that the Bound team loves to read and discover new voices in publishing, as we have been championing books across all of our platforms. We’re sharing our favourite books of 2021, what we loved reading this year and why they stayed with us. The Bound team read widely this year, and we have compiled the best books of 2021 in fiction, non-fiction, and poetry for you. There is something in this list for everyone and every mood.

New Voices

The Desi Travel Memoir

1)     Tales of Hazaribagh by Mihir Vatsa

The Bound team loves to travel and read books that let us travel through the writing! We don’t often get to see travelogues of small towns in India written with so much intimacy and warmth. If one could write a love letter for their hometown, this would be a good example. Vatsa began a blog and newsletter to tell the world about his love for his hometown and now it has grown into a memoir like no other. The pages make one experience the landscape of Hazaribagh through personal experiences of the author and historical narratives as well. The shapes and sounds of Hazaribagh’s ecosystem will seep deep into your senses and stay there even when the book is shut.  

The Feminist Romantic

2)     Arzu by Riva Razdan

We love stories about women, by women. Razdan’s debut has added a colourful feather on the hat of Indian romance writing. Arzu, the novel’s protagonist, is a young girl who sets out to seek her own voice, after experiencing a big heartbreak. We are intrigued by books set in the 1990s as we grew up in that period. Razdan managed to capture the changes in the 1990 economy very well. In this cleverly crafted novel, the reader gets to understand the workings of a business family, the state of the country and its politics through a gripping tale and an inspiring female protagonist, Arzu. We follow Arzu as she experiences setbacks and triumphs, all the time rooting for her because we start to care for her and wish the best for her.

A Campus Horror Show

3)     Young Blood by Chandrima Das

This book was released in November this year, when it’s mandatory to consume horror reads on account of Halloween. We experienced nostalgia for our college days as the stories are set on college campuses throughout India. But they are no ordinary stories, all of them are based on horror urban legends. The author has covered some of the most well-known campuses in India like Fergusson College, Pune. Das has showcased her talent through various nuances in her storytelling. Her protagonists struggle with gaslighting, domestic violence, bullying and many other traumatic issues which makes the stories thought provoking. A must read for anyone who wants to experience chills up their spine. Aishwarya Javalgekar, the Content Head at Bound, had a lot of fun editing this book and she can’t recommend it enough.

Watch out for an episode with the author in the upcoming season of our podcast, Books and Beyond with Bound.

The Bombay Catholic Novel

4)     Gods and Ends by Lindsay Pereira

We were enthralled by Pereira’s debut novel which captures the people and the essence of Orlem, the place that houses the second largest Catholic population in Bombay. Written in the form of vignettes, every character’s voice stays with you. The inhabitants of Obrigado Mansion stand out for their personalities. We get to see their darkness without any censorship, and Pereira holds up a mirror to these characters and their flaws. The dialogues in this novel stood out for capturing the authenticity of Goan catholics in Bombay. Readers who enjoyed Bombay Balchao by Jane Borges will appreciate this too. This was a favourite of Michelle D’costa, the Managing Editor of Bound, as she’s a Catholic from Bombay.

‘Now I know everyone here men, years I’ve spent saying hello hello to everyone, All these f*ckers I know. Wot they do, wot dey say after mass, all bullshit. No one bleddy gives a damn about Orlem men if you go outside.’

A Portrait Of Patriarchy

5)     The Anger of Saintly Men by Anubha Yadav

Through these interlinked stories we get to follow the lives of three brothers Sonu, Anu, and Vicky, growing up in the 90s in Gurgaon. We get to grow up with them. Yadav has sliced open the lives of young boys and old men with an empathetic scalpel. Finding love, a partner to spend their life with, discovering their sexuality, finding a job and respect in society are only some of the things these characters struggle with and we get to be with them every step of the way. Yadav addresses masculinity through stories that intersperse Hindi and English effortlessly.

The Intersection Of Technology And Sex

6)     Intimate City by Manjima Bhattacharjya

The author closely analyses the workings of the sex industry in Bombay and how technology has influenced it. The narrative goes beyond Mumbai because it also covers the hidden dark corners of the internet. How do we understand intimacy in a digital age? How do we perform transactions and form relationships beyond geographies? One gets to explore this dark world of Bombay through the lives of sex workers in Bhattacharjya’s book.

The Cost of Consumerism

7)     Mountain Tales: Love and Loss in the Municipality of Castaway Belongings by Saumya Roy

This searing book covers the lives of people living in Deonar, the biggest dumping ground in Mumbai. We love books that make us look at a place from a new angle. This book definitely opened our eyes to a reality lived amidst many realities in the expanse of Mumbai, the city of dreams. Roy pushes us to think about pollution, poverty and climate change through her thought-provoking prose. She writes with the discerning eye of a journalist and the heart of a social worker.

New books by known voices

Historical Fiction and Family Drama

8)     China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

Sahota’s fans have been looking forward to this novel since The Year of The Runaways. Inspired by his own family history, Sahota travels back in time to show us what life was like for Mehar, the novel’s protagonist who is based on his great-grandmother. Written with heart warming empathy, this book brings alive the intricacies of an Indian marriage in 1929. We get to witness layers of family history and tradition as the novel progresses. While the protagonists grow and  find themselves in this novel, we find ourselves too.

Medical History

9)     Lady doctors by Kavitha Rao

The Bound team loves its fix of non-fiction that pushes boundaries. Rao’s book is a unique look at the lives of India’s first women doctors. We get to understand what their worlds were like, their motivations, the efforts they took to shatter the glass ceiling when women were not allowed in the medical field. The book has no medical jargon to put a layperson off, it is for everyone who is interested in history. Rao has made the stories of these women accessible using very scarce resources. Kudos to her for bringing to light these women who were hidden in the dusty corners of history.

Watch out for an episode with the author in the upcoming season of our podcast, Books and Beyond with Bound.

Royal art

10)     False Allies by Manu Pillai

We began our podcast Books and Beyond with Bound with Pillai’s interview so you know we are his fans but it’s not just us, all of our listeners love his work as well. One of the most prolific writers of Indian history today, his most recent book False Allies was released recently. The book follows the lives of royal princes through Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings. We caught up with Pillai to find out what it was like to research and write this book during the pandemic.

Watch out for an episode with the author in the upcoming season of our podcast, Books and Beyond with Bound.

Military Women

11)  Girls in Green by Tanushree Podder

Podder is known for her fast paced, well-written prose. Her latest book allows readers an exclusive entry into the world of army women in India. We follow the lives of four women- Billy, Lakme, Shiny and Nutty who undergo strenuous steps to make it the Indian army. The book is an ode to women who have fought all odds to make a space for themselves in a patriarchal universe. Bound’s founder, Tara Khandelwal, enjoyed editing this book and she can’t recommend it enough.

Soul Stirring Poetry

12) Where Stories Gather by Karuna Ezara Parikh

Parikh’s debut novel was on our list last year, and this year she’s out with another book, a different genre this time–poetry. We are mesmerised once again! These poems are like thermal wear in winters. You will cherish them and return for more. Here are a few lines from a poem-

It took me a long time

to come into my own,

but now that I’m here

I plan to inhabit me completely.

Non-fiction Set in the North East

13) Invictus by Nidhie Sharma

This is a story of survival set in a military base camp in Arunachal Pradesh. The Bound team loves stories set in the North East. Invictus is a real life-account of the author of having survived the harsh and unknown terrain of Tawang where her father was posted. What happens when the last day of your summer vacation turns out to be nothing like you had imagined it would be? Six children are in for a life-changing experience when all they wanted was a fun trip. The reader gets to visit the picturesque terrain of the North east while also feeling the danger lurking between the sentences.

Translation at its best

14) Anti-Clock by V.J. James

Anti-Clock is a translation from Malayalam. The book was recently shortlisted for the JCB prize for literature. The novel’s premise stood out to us for the way it plays with the concept of time. Its protagonist, Hendri, is a coffin-maker who wants to see his enemy, Satan, in a coffin he has built. A 112 year old clockmaker, Pundit tries to turn back time by creating an anti-clock. The anti-clock and Hendri share a unique bond. We liked how each chapter of the novel began with a passage from the Bible. The novel is a reflection on life, death, and time. Translations are reigning now and we can’t do enough to champion this work.

The Intergenerational Influence of Matriarchy

15) The Blind Matriarch by Namita Gokhale

Gokhale is a household name with over twenty books to her credit. Her latest novel follows a family drama headed by Matangi-Ma who oversees everything happening in her family. Readers who enjoy intergenerational stories and literary fiction will appreciate this novel. The mechanics of matriarchy- the good, bad and ugly come alive in this book.

Biography of a legend

16) A Map of Longings: Life and Works of Agha Shahid Ali by Manan Kapoor

Agha Shahid Ali’s poetry has influenced generations. We admire his ghazals. His love for Kashmir is palpable through his words. Manan Kapoor has painted an unforgettable portrait of  legend through interviews with the poet’s family and friends. We get to experience his brilliance first hand through this intimate account of his life. We recommend this to everyone who loves biographies of writers and great thinkers.

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