The best books about Calcutta (Kolkata) 📚

Browse the best books on Kolkata as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Complete Adventures of Feluda Vol. 1

Complete Adventures of Feluda Vol. 1

By Satyajit Ray

Why this book?

I suppose few people planning to visit London would use the stories of Sherlock Holmes as a travel guide. Today’s London bears little resemblance to the city the famous detective worked in. Feluda, the creation of India’s best-known arthouse filmmaker Satyajit Ray, is the Kolkata equivalent to Holmes. Ask any Bengali, she/he is likely to know the many short stories featuring PI Pradosh C. Mitter aka Feluda. Like the Holmes catalogue, the Feluda stories, written between 1965 and 1995, are now a little quaint, but then, so is Kolkata. The chasm between the literary view and the lived reality of…

From the list:

The best books on Kolkata (Calcutta India)

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Book cover of The Middleman

The Middleman

By Mani Shankar Mukherji

Why this book?

The Middleman was first published in 1973. The book recounts the story of Somnath, a young poet who is unemployed despite being middle-class and well-qualified. Frustrated by a fruitless search for a job and expected to become something by his family, Somnath becomes a middleman, a corrupt businessman, and a pimp. His dreams as well as his morality are crushed by the harsh rules of survival in Kolkata. Grim, relentless, and uncompromising, The Middleman discusses India’s too-much-of-everything and in some ways remains as pertinent to life in Indian metros today as it was then.

From the list:

The best books on Kolkata (Calcutta India)

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Book cover of The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery

The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery

By Amitav Ghosh

Why this book?

The Calcutta Chromosome is part thriller, part science investigation, part cult conspiracy, and part homage to the West Bengal Capital. Set across several time periods, the novel explores how Malaria was first linked to the mosquito and how this discovery by the Britisher Ronald Ross may have been manipulated by a shadowy movement invested in immortality. Not Gosh’s best, but his evocation of Calcutta is fantastic.
From the list:

The best books on Kolkata (Calcutta India)

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Book cover of The Epic City: The World on the Streets of Calcutta

The Epic City: The World on the Streets of Calcutta

By Kushanava Choudhury

Why this book?

A cracking, thorough portrait of contemporary Kolkata as the Bengali capital is now known, by an Indian author who grew up in New Jersey (very much the flipside to Calcutta) and who returns to the city of his ancestors to work for a newspaper. The book is well-written, crammed with interesting anecdotes and historic trivia. Past and present are held against the light and the results are often funny. It’s as good as a book by a privileged outsider who speaks the language is likely to be. Perhaps in another decade, a non-fiction chronicle will be written by a resident…

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The best books on Kolkata (Calcutta India)

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Book cover of Days and Nights in Calcutta

Days and Nights in Calcutta

By Clark Blaise, Bharati Mukherjee

Why this book?

Days and Nights in Calcutta is a fascinating dual view of the same time and place by a husband and wife, both highly esteemed writers. The couple has returned to her family home in the famously complex and crowded Indian city and this is the account-in-two-voices of their year there. His feels full of wonder and surprise; it has a sunlit quality. Hers feels full of intensity and concern; it is tightly wrought. The book shows me not just India, a place I love to see and feel, but the importance of everyone’s story and view.

From the list:

The best sensuous writing: literature of India

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Book cover of Calcutta: A Cultural and Literary History

Calcutta: A Cultural and Literary History

By Krishna Dutta

Why this book?

Another nonfiction similar in scope and outlook to Kushanava Choudhury’s The Epic City, this title dispenses with the personal narrative and offers a highly structured rundown of the main attractions/points of history/social and cultural issues, etc of the Bengali capital. Not quite a guidebook, Calcutta offers short texts on particular aspects of life in the city, then and now. Well written, the book suffers from the same issue as all other recent books on Kolkata – the British get away with way too much and the post-independence period is seen through the eyes of Calcutta’s privileged elite. That said,…

From the list:

The best books on Kolkata (Calcutta India)

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