Bound’s Guide To The Best Indian Books Published In 2020
The Bound team is partial to Indian writing – both fiction and non-fiction.
2020 witnessed genre bending works from writers in India: debut authors instantly established themselves in the Indian literary scene with their fiction and non-fiction masterpieces, and established authors ventured into unfamiliar genres and showed the breadth of their writing skills.
We have devoured books – some funny, some gut-wrenching, some path-breaking – by Indian writers this year and we wanted to share them with you. We also got to chat with some of them on our podcast, Books and Beyond with Bound!
Here are Tara and Michelle’s favourite picks of 2020!
A Dark Detective Tale
‘Djinn Patrol On The Purple Line’ by Deepa Anappara
Tara says: What a fabulous read! It tells the story from a child’s point of view, bringing to light the issue of child-trafficking in India. Jai, the protagonist, decides to become a detective, when a boy at school goes missing. The Bound team loves detectives and Jai has become a favourite. Together with his friends Pari and Faiz, Jai encounters the darkest sides of the city, and grows up in the process. Anappara is one of the most empathetic storytellers we have come across. It was shortlisted for the 2020 JCB Prize and was longlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction.
A Campus Love Story
‘Three Impossible Wishes’ by Anmol Malik
Tara says: This is a light, refreshing and heartwarming read. Arya is a student in the UK, whose grades in accounting aren’t the best (she is actually a chef). She needs help getting her grades up or fears being deported. And along the way, she meets the mysterious Russian, Vladimir and rethinks her friendship with Delhi boy Sahil. Full of laugh out loud moments, this is the first romantic comedy of its kind in India. The writing is fantastic, mature and effective, and will make you smile along the way. The book will certainly make you nostalgic for your college days and will appeal to all those of us who may not necessarily pick up love stories.
A Mental Health Memoir
‘It’s All In Your Head, M’ by Manjiri Indurkar
Michelle says: If you’re looking for an engaging and life-changing non-fiction read, then look no further. Indurkar’s memoir is one of those books that discusses mental health in a way no one has before. We loved it! Her memoir covers difficult topics like child abuse and trichotillomania. It is heart-wrenching and well-written. I particularly loved the book because I have been following Indurkar’s work for years. She has written many personal essays that have resonated with many readers but this is the first time we get to see her life in the form of a book. Any reader who enjoys the exploration of the self, and how our interactions with others form our identity should read this book.
A “Forbidden” Love Story
‘The Heart Asks Pleasure First’ by Karuna Ezara Parikh
Michelle says: We love love stories and this book is a one-of-a-kind love story. A romance that will make you think about the way ‘love’ is influenced by many factors that might seem beyond our control. Parikh’s debut novel explores the lives of Aaftab and Daya, two young lovers in a small town in Wales. He is practicing law and she is studying ballet. The author weaves history into this narrative and creates a “forbidden” love story for us to understand the way The Partition can affect lives even centuries later. The story discusses topics like Islamophobia and Jihad through characters that make you want to turn the page. She’s a voice to look out for.
A Critical Research Book
‘Why Men Rape’ by Tara Kaushal
Tara says: This is a book that is much-needed for our times. Kaushal spent years researching and writing this book. She went undercover to interview nine men accused of rape. Each word in the book gives you a sense of the palpable danger the author would have experienced while interviewing these men. She looks at the issue of rape from a socio-political lens, traversing across caste, class and background to get to the heart of what drives these crimes. The research is contextualised within academia and the narrative is sensitive and objective. This book was shortlisted for the Atta Galatta Book Prize 2020.
For Lovers of Dystopias and Short Story Collections
‘Analog/Virtual: And Other Simulations of Your Future’ by Lavanya Lakshminarayan
Tara says: Lakshminarayan’s extraordinary debut sinks its teeth into a dystopian future. This book is especially dear to us because we first read Lavanya’s work when she applied to our writer’s retreat. Immediately, we knew that she was a very special writer. A collection of short stories, this is a fascinating and joyful read for anyone interested in speculative fiction. It throws you into a world which may be closer in the future than we think.
Temples, Traditions and Thrills
‘Girl Made of Gold’ by Gitanjali Kolanad
Tara Says: Girl Made of Gold is told from multiple perspectives, and in doing so, more aspects of the book’s mystery and plot come together. In this story, one gets to know more about the rich traditions and lives of devdasis. Traditionally, devdasis are said to have belonged to God and had high status in society. Dance and song were a big part of their lives, and the author of this book is a dancer herself. We enter the world of temples, priests, dancers, landlords, love, lust and loss.
New Books By Known Voices
Fiction From North-East India
‘Undertow’ by Jahnavi Barua
Michelle says: Barua’s is one the most promising voices from the North East of India. Her previous novel and her debut short story collection left us mesmerised. Her third book ‘Undertow’ was recently longlisted for the JCB prize. We loved it! It is an exploration of the way politics has changed Assam and its people. It has romantic and familial relationships at its core which drives the narrative. I return to Barua’s writing for the way she’s able to portray difficult themes like a broken marriage and political unrest. Loya is twenty-five and we follow her journey to Assam from Bangalore. What does she discover about her past, her identity over there? This slow paced book will keep you hooked because Barua knows how to weave suspense in a calm narrative.
A Lockdown Literature Classic
Essential Items: And Other Tales from a Land in Lockdown by Udayan Mukherjee
Tara Says: Mukherjee’s book is the pandemic book you’ve been looking for. This was one of our favourite books of the year because it was the first fiction book about the pandemic. It told stories about people from all walks of life, be it migrant workers, middle class city-dwellers, older people, domestic help and more. My favourite story was about the lives of the Doms who work in Varanasi and make a living among the dead. The book gave the reader an intimate look into how everyone’s lives have been affected by this crisis with startling authenticity. We are pretty sure it will be hailed as a classic of pandemic literature in the years to come.
A Magical Memoir
‘The Water Phoenix’ by Rituparna Chatterjee
Michelle says: The Bound team loves memoirs. We enjoyed Chatterjee’s memoir for the way she narrated her experience with child abuse through a poignant tale infused with magical realism. It is a genre bending book that will make you see the way stories are told differently. We feel the vulnerability of the narrator on the page. We stay hooked to the page for the language that shows the “innocence” of the narrator and its musical quality. Chatterjee’s prose is very poetic and leaves you with vivid imagery and metaphors. We have not read any memoir like hers. This book might give you the courage and space to self-reflect, heal and forgive.
A Bold and Funny Book
The 12 Commandments Of Being A Woman by Tahira Kashyap
Michelle says: Kashyap’s eye for humour in ordinary life is extraordinary. Her memoir made us laugh and cry. As women, we related to her experience on so many levels. A candid, heartwarming and hilarious book that you can finish within a few hours. She has been writing for years but this is her first book which reveals details from her life that she has never shared before. We get to see the ups and downs of her marriage to Bollywood actor Ayushmann Khurrana. We learn how she navigates cancer and having kids. She is a strong woman with a forte for creativity. Her book will make you revisit your own life to pick lessons from it.
A Genre-Bending Business Book
‘Queeristan: LGBT Inclusion In The Indian Workplace’ by Parmesh Shahani
Michelle says: Shahani has written a unique book that fuses business with Bollywood masala and personal anecdotes. Where will you find such an interesting combination? We loved the way Shahani summed up the rich experiences from his life to write this informative book that takes us through the Indian workplace and how the LGBTQ experience has changed over the years. The Bound team highly recommends this for anyone who wants their non-fiction to be informative, entertaining and accessible.
An Award-Winning Translation
Moustache by S. Hareesh, translated by Jayashree Kalathil
Michelle says: Translations from regional languages are now being noticed by the English reading crowd. Moustache is the second novel by this Malayalam writer and has won the JCB prize for literature this year! In the book, Vavachan, the protagonist, hails from the Pulaya Dalit community of landless labourers. He is encouraged to grow his moustache for a local play. What happens after the play, is where the story begins. He refuses to shave off the moustache and decides to let it grow. The moustache is a marker of caste identity and this story will change the way you see caste in India. We rarely get to read authentic and refreshing stories from the margins. We loved it and want to read more translations that come out of different regions of India.
A Food Lover’s Delight
‘Those Delicious Letters’ by Sandeepa Datta Mukherjee
Michelle says: Mukherjee is known for her book ‘Bong Mom’s Cookbook’. Her latest novel involves recipes and relationships. Shubha, the protagonist, starts receiving letters with traditional Bengali recipes just after her fortieth birthday. The letters are from a mysterious lady in Calcutta who claims to be her grandmother. We are taken on a journey of Shubha’s self-discovery as she tries to find the mysterious writer. The letters give her courage to take a second chance at life. We found it engaging and a fun read. If you are a foodie like us, you will love this book.
About the authors
Tara Khandelwal is an editor and writer. She is a graduate of Barnard College, Columbia University and the Columbia Publishing Course. She currently works with Asia’s largest literary agency, Writers’ Side. She has worked with Penguin, BloombergQuint, SheThePeople.TV and more. She is the founder of Bound which provides skill building for creatives through writers’ retreats, workshops, writing coaching and editorial services.
Michelle D’costa is a Mangalorean from Mumbai. She was born and raised in Bahrain. Her poetry and prose have been published in over 50 journals like Out Of Print, Eclectica, Litro UK, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Coldnoon, Vayavya, Guftugu and more. She loves to interview writers. She blogs about books on WordPress