Nilanjana Sen Roy
writer of Black River
Non-fiction: If you love books, you must read Irene Vallejo’s Papyrus, translated from the Spanish by Charlotte Whittle. From writers held in gulags who learn to hold entire books in their minds, the Library of Alexandria to booksellers in Greece who sold philosophy and plays at market stalls, Vallejo creates a gripping history of reading itself.
Fiction: I keep returning to Yiyun Li’s The Book of Goose because she nails the depths, secrets, intimacy and tangles of friendship between two girls — Elena Ferrante territory, but she makes it fully her own. Growing up in rural, postwar France, Fabienne and Agnès write a book that propels one of them out into a wider world, leaving the other behind. Yiyun Li is marvellous on the intensity of friendship and the writing life — and on the human capacity for both closeness and ruthlessness.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
writer of Independence
Fiction: My favourite book this year is Gitanjali Shree's Tomb of Sand. Even though I read it in translation, I was impressed by the nimbleness of the writer's language and style, and the many surprises that startle us as the narrative moves into unexpected areas.
There are many wonderful aspects to this book, but what attracted me the most is the protagonist and the way in which her character is slowly and marvelously revealed to us. From the depressed woman whom we see lying with her face to the wall in the beginning of the novel to the spirited adventuress who travels across the border, shedding sorrow and shyness as she goes, Ma enthralled me at every turn.
writer of The Company Quartet
Fiction: I would like to mention The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka. All that he's writing about I have lived, i.e. very broadly speaking. I have done all the things his protagonist has. I was there in Sri Lanka in the 1990s, writing and reporting; so it spoke to me.
Non-fiction: Another book that spoke to me is Anthony Sattin's Nomads. Among other books that I liked very much there is Alex Renton's Blood Legacy: Reckoning with a Family's Story of Slavery.
writer of The Small Tigers of Shergarh
Non-fiction: Superpowers on the Shore, by Sejal Mehta (Penguin Viking). (This is) a gem of a little book describing all the wondrous creatures that dwell on the intertidal zones of our coasts, which most of us have no clue about. Wonderfully written, funny, informative, imaginative. Every wooden school textbook should be written this way!
Fiction: The Titus Books by Mervyn Peake (Penguin). Re-read this after many years. Dark and glowering as ever, with characters you cannot easily forget and certainly one of the most gripping murder scenes I have ever read.
Also: The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell. Again, re-read this after more than twenty years. Even if a little self-indulgent and over-written, Durrell's descriptive powers — for places and characters — are unparalleled.
writer of The Inconceivable Idea of the Sun
Fiction: My favourite book this year was Marc Joan's forthcoming The Cartoon Life and Loves of a Stupid Man. Set in France, it's about a seller of comic books who becomes convinced his wife is having an affair. What I loved about the novel was its luxuriant language, its vivid descriptions, and the depiction of a man descending into a self-made hell. Jean-Paul Sartre, who loved comic books as a kid, wrote that hell is other people. Not necessarily. Hell is often simply one's self, that most intimate of strangers.
Non-fiction: I liked Kavita Iyer's Landscapes of Loss: Stories of an Indian Drought. It was in the tradition of Kusum Nair's pioneering ethnographic study, Blossoms in the Dust, a book which not many people seem to remember these days. What I liked about Iyer's book was its factual but very readable account of what it's like to be a small-scale farmer in modern-day India. It's what my professor called "shoe-leather research", the kind of scholarship in which the researcher isn't afraid to get out among the people to understand what is going on.
Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar
writer of My Father's Garden
Fiction: Subarnarenu Subarnarekha by Nalini Bera (Dey’s Publishing, Kolkata). This Bengali novel won the Ananda Puraskar in the year 2019. Set in villages on the border of West Bengal and Odisha, along the river Subarnarekha, we see the action taking place through the eyes of a young boy named Lolin. Set among mostly lower-caste people and the Adivasis, this novel reads almost like a memoir.
Hul! Hul!: The Suppression of the Santal Rebellion in Bengal, 1855 by Peter Stanley (Bloomsbury India). This is a military history and not a complete account of the Hul—the Santal Revolt of the year 1855. What struck me most about this book was that it stated that the Santals in the Santal Pargana — which wasn’t Santal Pargana at the time of the Hul — were migrants who were led to that region after the battle of Plassey.
writer of Memoirs of My Body
Fiction: In 2022, my children and I returned to a favourite Salman Rushdie work of fiction — Haroun and the Sea of Stories — enjoying it as much as our previous incursions into its pages of magic realism. Its vibrant, witty plea for freedom of expression felt especially pertinent in the context of the times, and the stupefying attack on its author.
Non-fiction: My non-fiction book of the year, Mantel Pieces, was also picked as a tribute to a favourite modern author – Hilary Mantel, who died this year. If, like me, you adored her Wolf Hall trilogy, you’ll love these sparkling essays on literature, politics and history. Her vast and highly entertaining knowledge of the milieu she inhabits, conveyed with her trademark elegance and wit, was a pleasure to read.
writer of A Naga Village Remembered
Poetry: I loved reading Siddharth Dasgupta’s volume of poetry, A Moveable East. It was such a marvellous combination of so many beautiful things: cafes, and meetings and partings, nostalgia and memory, images that come and go like shadows from the past, words that follow you home, like the last notes of a saxophone from an evening song.
Non-fiction: I enjoyed Shrayana Bhattacharya's book on Desperately Seeking Shahrukh. I also enjoyed Rukmini S.'s book on data journalism. Both are works of deeply researched non-fiction.
Fiction: I enjoyed reading Janice Pariat's new novel, Everything the Light Touches. It is a truly audacious and ambitious work.
writer of Hangman's Journal
Fiction: The Ink Black Heart, by J.K. Rowling, published 2022. As an unabashed fan of J.K. Rowling’s work, I found the latest Cormoran Strike-Robin Ellacott book well up to standard. There are three things I appreciate very much about the book and the series. First, of course, interest rarely flags throughout the thousand pages of the book. Second, the characters — certainly Strike and Ellacott — grow and deepen with time and new stories. Third, there’s an unrequited sexual tension between Strike and Ellacott that Rowling has played very well, much like the tension between the male and female leads in the two old TV serials The Mentalist and Bones.
Non-fiction: The best non-fiction book I read in 2022 was Big Snake, Little Snake, by D B C (Dirty But Clean) Pierre, published early this year. The closest contender? Sarah Imbler’s How Far the Light Reaches. Both are about science and people. For anyone into science, both are outstanding reads. The difference is simply this: Pierre’s book is not just about the science of probability but also some of the magic that it generates when you think in what-ifs and symbols and the richness of what-may-have-been rather than the bare numbers that represent probabilities.
writer of Infinite Variety: A History of Desire in India
Fiction: Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. This is a novella that perfectly captures the surprise, ache, longing, despair, delight, beauty, horror, and splendour of desire. That which violates our most deeply-cherished principles, overturns our most commonly-held beliefs, and holds out against capture by categories -- that is the desire in which this book is steeped. To read it makes one lose one's breath with no promise of ever finding it again.
Non-Fiction: Annemarie Schimmel's A Two-Colored Brocade: The Imagery of Persian Poetry. This is a stupendous analysis of the rhetorical devices that set apart Persian poetry. Written in countries around the world, and richly so in the Indian subcontinent, Persian poetry is perhaps the most intricately woven poetry in history. Steeped in ideas about love and mysticism, Persian poetry provides the most comprehensive introduction to love, desire, and sexuality.
Sharif D. Rangnekar
writer of Queer Sapien
Non-fiction: The Philosophy of Modern Song by Bob Dylan. This is amongst the first times that Dylan has commented on other artists and popular music. Being a songwriter himself, this book shares what Dylan learnt about his craft from other artists and the field of music. Covering mostly the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, Dylan writes about artists such as Nina Simone and The Eagles, Hank Williams and Elvis, and while sharing his view, he tells you how BlueGrass and Heavy Metal are connected. Only Dylan can do this, helping re-imagine music.
writer of Daddy Come Lately
Nonfiction: A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre. A fresh take on how a charming but ruthless MI6 agent and Soviet spy fooled his friends in the CIA and MI6 for years during the Cold War, which is why almost every Anglo-American spy operation failed. Relevant today, though published in 2014 — after all, Cold War 2.0 appears to have begun!
Fiction: Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors by Aravind Jayan. Hell breaks loose when a young couple is secretly filmed making out. The video goes viral, the cyber cops are unhelpful, and the parents (the usual conservative sort who care more about society than their own offspring) are unsupportive. Witty, hard-hitting, and a must read — it could happen to anyone!