The best contemporary Indian novels you have (likely) never heard of

Who am I?

I started writing fiction and writing about fiction at about the same time. My novels and stories tend to be about solitary characters pulled into the maelstrom that is contemporary Indian urban life and trying to make sense of it. I’ve always believed that to be an effective observer of your society you need to stay in tune with what your peers are doing and the last two decades in which I’ve been writing and publishing have been some of the most exciting for Indian fiction in general.  


I wrote...

The Cosmopolitans

By Anjum Hasan,

Book cover of The Cosmopolitans

What is my book about?

Qayenaat is a drifting, sensitive figure at the edge of the Bangalore art scene. When world-famous artist Baban Reddy, once a young man who hung on her every word, returns to the city to exhibit his latest artwork, all her old longings rise to the surface. Baban’s arrival accompanies other seemingly momentous events and sets Qayenaat off on the most unexpected journey of her life – to the heart of rural, war-torn India. The Cosmopolitans is a novel of ideas and emotions – one that questions the place of art in modern life, and draws a vivid portrait of a woman at odds with the world. 

The books I picked & why

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Ib's Endless Search for Satisfaction

By Roshan Ali,

Book cover of Ib's Endless Search for Satisfaction

Why this book?

I am always looking out for talented young writers and this debut really struck me for its narrator’s very distinctive voice, both stylish and sad. An Indian Catcher in the Rye but with a protagonist more hampered by family and circumstances, capable of greater angst, and looking for authenticity in the strangest and loneliest of places. 

Ib's Endless Search for Satisfaction

By Roshan Ali,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ib's Endless Search for Satisfaction as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"And then finally I felt sadness, aided perhaps by those futile notes, by the dust that keeps thickening, by the untouchable past, the inevitable future, and by everything else that pushes us around." 

Ib lives with his schizophrenic father and his "nice" mother negotiating life, not knowing what to do, steered by uncaring winds and pushy people. From his slimy, unmiraculous birth to the tragic death of a loved one, Ib wanders the city, from one thing to another, confused, lost, and alone, all the while reflecting on his predicament. He is searching for something - what he does not…


A Patchwork Family

By Mukta Sathe,

Book cover of A Patchwork Family

Why this book?

Crimes again women are discussed ad nauseam in the media but this was the first time I read a novel that made the subject painfully uncomfortable for me by telling the story not in the voice of the victim but through the reflections of a witness who probes everyone’s culpability, including her own. This powerful debut shines a very revealing light on what it means to be a comfortably middle-class Indian. 

A Patchwork Family

By Mukta Sathe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Patchwork Family as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

‘In Mukta Sathe we have a new voice that displays a deep understanding of both the old and the young, of their complex relationships, and of how crime and punishment play out under our flawed judicial system. A Patchwork Family is a novel that I found difficult to put down.’ —Shanta Gokhale, author, columnist and translator

Young and idealistic, Janaki is eager to serve the cause of justice as a lawyer. Her only confidant is Ajoba, an elderly friend of her grandfather’s, who supported her throughout her childhood. They are unrelated by blood or marriage ties, but they have both…


Into The Hidden Valley: A Novel

By Stuart Blackburn,

Book cover of Into The Hidden Valley: A Novel

Why this book?

A most affecting historical novel set in 19th century Assam as the British colonialists sought to push deeper into the country. I’ve read so many accounts of the early encounters between native and foreigner but what makes this one rare is Blackburn’s careful and tender individualising of his characters so that they can both be ranged against each other and yet in some human and mysterious and ultimately tragic way also be friends. 

Into The Hidden Valley: A Novel

By Stuart Blackburn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Into The Hidden Valley as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As the British Raj begins its expansion towards Tibet, the remote Apatani valley on the Indo-Tibetan border becomes a flashpoint. George Taylor, an up-and-coming officer in the Indian Civil Service, leads the first expedition into the valley and recommends setting

up a base nearby, as the Apatanis are a ‘friendly tribe’. During the expedition, a tenuous bond is established between him and Gyati,

the Apatani shaman who has long been anxious about the halyang outsiders creeping closer and closer to the ordered world of the valley. But this bond cannot survive. The increased British presence and



their arrogance towards the…


The Forest Beneath the Mountains

By Ankush Saikia,

Book cover of The Forest Beneath the Mountains

Why this book?

This is a marvellous novel about an area in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas that is not far from where I grew up. It’s a story about people and nature, how the relationship is at once very elemental for those who live off the land, as well as very convoluted and destructive because it’s driven by greed, politics, and fear. The narrator is a visitor to the region, looking to solve a mystery from his past, and this device of the curious outsider looking in works really well to make the whole place come to life. 

The Forest Beneath the Mountains

By Ankush Saikia,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Forest Beneath the Mountains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Description
Shaken by the news of his mother’s death, a man leaves his job in Delhi and
returns to Assam. Twenty-five years ago, his father, a forest officer here, was
found shot dead in his jeep. With the passing of his mother, the man learns new
and startling details of his father’s life, and trying to reclaim an entire life suddenly
made unfamiliar, he starts digging into events from far back in time, visiting
places where his father had served, in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas.
But the forests he had once roamed as a boy with his father…


Legal Fiction: A Novel

By Chandan Pandey, Bharatbhooshan Tiwari (translator),

Book cover of Legal Fiction: A Novel

Why this book?

This slim novel I read in one sitting not because, in the way of conventional thrillers, one hopes for a decent resolution, but because the story is so devastating. Its very hopelessness somehow pulls one in. Pandey has written a very gentle account of the very brutal forces ranged against one couple who have committed what can be a crime in modern India – marrying outside one’s caste and religion. 

Legal Fiction: A Novel

By Chandan Pandey, Bharatbhooshan Tiwari (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Legal Fiction as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is like Kafka in Deoria. Or Camus in the cow belt. But more accurate to say that Legal Fiction is an urgent, literary report about how truth goes missing in our land. I read it with a racing heart.

-- Amitava Kumar, author of The Lovers

Chandan Pandey goes looking for the story that lurks just out of sight, getting under the skin of news headlines and extracting a story that is as compelling as it is devastating.

-- Annie Zaidi, author of Prelude to a Riot

Chandan Pandey has written a brilliant, gripping political novel. Legal Fiction is…


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