The best books that uncover the many mysteries of India

Who am I?

As a writer and a professor, I love sharing knowledge of my birth country (India) and the experiences of Indian immigrants in America. My first book, Arranged Marriage, is about the transformed lives of immigrant women and won an American Book Award. Mistress of Spices is about a spice-shop owner who knows magic, was a national bestseller, and became a film. One Amazing Thing is a multicultural novel about nine people trapped by an earthquake, was a Citywide Read in over 25 US cities. Recently, fascinated by the richness of Indian history, I have delved into it in novels like The Last Queen, set in the 1800s, and Independence, set in the 1940s. 


I wrote...

Independence

By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni,

Book cover of Independence

What is my book about?

Set during the partition of British India in 1947, a time when neighbor was pitted against neighbor and families were torn apart, award-winning author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s novel brings to life the sweeping story of three sisters caught up in events beyond their control, their unbreakable bond, their dreams of love, and their struggle against powerful odds as their country moves toward Freedom.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Passage to India

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni Why did I love this book?

Forster’s novel showed me the majesty and mystery of India at the height of British occupation. In delineating a complex friendship between an Englishman (Fielding) and an Indian (Aziz), it illustrated for me the difficulties of interracial relations at that time, even with the best of intentions. I love that the novel centers around a dramatic event in the Malabar Hills, a mystery that kept me guessing as to what really happened.

By E.M. Forster,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Passage to India as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set in British India in the 1920s, this book looks at racial conflict. The characters struggle to overcome their own differences and prejudices, but when the Indian Dr Aziz is tried for the alleged assault of Adela Quested even the strongest inter-racial friendships come under pressure.


Book cover of The Home and the World

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni Why did I love this book?

Tagore’s novel, though set in the same time period as Forster’s, invited me into a very different India—the interior of a great, mysterious mansion and the minds and hearts of the women who live there, especially Bimala, the heroine. It helped me understand the freedom movement that was taking shape against the British, the desire of women to be part of this adventure, and the corruption and greed that crept in among the patriots. It’s a coming-of-age story and a love story, too.  

By Rabindranath Tagore, William Radice (editor), Surendranath Tagore (translator)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Set on a Bengali noble's estate in 1908, this is both a love story and a novel of political awakening. The central character, Bimala, is torn between the duties owed to her husband, Nikhil, and the demands made on her by the radical leader, Sandip. Her attempts to resolve the irreconciliable pressures of the home and world reflect the conflict in India itself, and the tragic outcome foreshadows the unrest that accompanied Partition in 1947.


Book cover of Sea of Poppies

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni Why did I love this book?

I am fascinated by the adventure at the heart of Sea of Poppies, set in India in the 1800s, just before the Opium Wars begin. A group of misfits, Indian as well as Western, men as well as women, enemies, and star-crossed lovers, each immensely interesting, run away from their lives and families for fascinating, often heartbreaking reasons. They find themselves on a vast ship, the Ibis, voyaging across the Indian Ocean, hoping to discover a better life. From the lush poppy fields of India to the dangerous alleys of Canton, this book took me on a magical journey. 

By Amitav Ghosh,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Sea of Poppies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At the heart of this epic saga, set just before the Opium Wars, is an old slaving-ship, The Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean, its crew a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts. In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a truly diverse cast of Indians and Westerners, from a bankrupt Raja to a widowed villager, from an evangelical English opium trader to a mulatto American freedman. As their old family ties are washed away they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais or ship-brothers. An…


Book cover of The Henna Artist

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni Why did I love this book?

I love that The Henna Artist, set in the 1950s, is a book with heart, written in an easy style. Escaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant and beautiful pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the most highly requested henna artist—and confidante—to the wealthy women of the upper class.

Then, just when she thinks she is safe, she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down. He is accompanied by a high-spirited young girl in tow—a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. As her life turns upside-down, Lakshmi must find new ways to overcome old problems. This book kept me turning the pages!

By Alka Joshi,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Henna Artist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For fans of Balli Kaur Jaswal's Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows and Thrity Umrigar's The Space Between Us, Alka Josh's The Henna Artist by is lushly-rendered, emotional book club fiction set in post-Raj 1950s Jaipur about a young woman struggling to shape her own destiny in a world pivoting between the traditional and the modern.

After fleeing an arranged marriage as a fifteen year old to an abusive older man, Lakshmi Shastri steals away alone from her rural village to Jaipur. Here, against odds, she carves out a living for herself as a henna artist, and friend and confidante to…


Book cover of The Space Between Us

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni Why did I love this book?

Set in the present-day cosmopolitan city of Mumbai, India, the novel follows the lives of two women: Serabai Dubash, a middle-class widow, and her maidservant, Bhima. The pair experience similar situations in their lives: abuse, the death or absence of a husband, and the longing for a better future. They both have pregnant daughters, a fact that becomes significant as the novel progresses.

This book shows us the difficulties faced by women in Indian society but also their courage. Ultimately it is an upbeat book with great spirit. The plot twist at the end, and the resolution, blew me away. 

By Thrity Umrigar,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Space Between Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this beautifully crafted novel about the interlinked lives of two women, Thrity Umrigar explores the complex relationships between the classes in India, rarely addressed in contemporary fiction.

'Bhima is real. She worked in the house I grew up in, year after year, a shadow flitting around our middle-class home, her thin brown hands cleaning furniture she was not allowed to sit on, cooking food she was not allowed to share at the family dining table, dusting the stereo that mainly played American rock and roll, music that was alien and unfamiliar to her, that only reminded her of her…


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These Tangled Threads: A Novel of Biltmore

By Sarah Loudin Thomas,

Book cover of These Tangled Threads: A Novel of Biltmore

Sarah Loudin Thomas Author Of These Tangled Threads: A Novel of Biltmore

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Appalachian West virginian Dog lover Hiker

Sarah's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Seven years ago, a hidden betrayal scattered three friends living in the shadow of Biltmore Estate. Now, when Biltmore Industries master weaver Lorna Blankenship is commissioned to create an original design for Cornelia Vanderbilt's 1924 wedding, she panics knowing she doesn't have the creativity needed. But there's an elusive artisan in the Blue Ridge Mountains who could save her--if only she can find her.

To track the mysterious weaver down, Lorna must seek out the relationships she abandoned in shame. As she pulls at each tangled thread from her old life, Lorna is forced to confront the wounds of long ago. She'll have to risk the job that shapes her identity as well as the hope of friendship--and love--restored.

These Tangled Threads: A Novel of Biltmore

By Sarah Loudin Thomas,

What is this book about?

Seven years ago, a hidden betrayal scattered three young friends living in the shadow of Biltmore Estate. Now, when Biltmore Industries master weaver Lorna Blankenship is commissioned to create an original design for Cornelia Vanderbilt's 1924 wedding, she panics knowing she doesn't have the creativity needed. But there's an elusive artisan in the Blue Ridge Mountains who could save her--if only she can find her.

To track the mysterious weaver down, Lorna sees no other way but to seek out the relationships she abandoned in shame. As she pulls at each tangled thread from her old life, Lorna is forced…


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Interested in the upper class, India, and social class?

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