Here’s our annual list of some of the best books published by Indian writers in 2014, all of which made it onto the Notable Books of 2014 selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review.
(1) Family Life by Akhil Sharma. Praise for this book has been widespread with critics reaching for their dictionaries in the hope of uncovering a superlative which hasn’t been used yet. This deeply moving portrait of a family tragedy is full of humour, sophistication, insight and empathy, rightly placing Sharma in the premiere league of contemporary novelists. Certainly the most acclaimed Indian novel of the year.
I had never seen hot water coming from a tap before. In India, during winter, my mother used to get up early to heat pots of water on the stove so we could bathe … During the coming days, the wealth of America kept astonishing me. The television had programming from morning till night. In our shiny brass mailbox in the lobby, we received ads on coloured paper. The sliding glass doors of our apartment building would open when we approached.
(2) Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande, an American surgeon, author, and public health researcher examines the author’s experiences as a surgeon, as he confronts the realities of aging and dying in his patients and in his family. Gawande is hoping to change the medical profession, not human nature, wrote Diana Athill in the Financial Times, and to do so in a way that is important to us all. His book is so impressive that one can believe that it may well contribute to that end… May it be widely read and inwardly digested
I learned about a lot of things in medical school, but mortality wasn’t one of them? The way we saw it, and the way our professors saw it, the purpose of medical schooling was to teach how to save lives, not how to tend to their demise.
(3) Gandhi Before India by historian and writer Ramachandra Guha makes it to the list is this extraordinarily vivid portrait of the formative years Gandhi spent in England and South Africa, where he developed the techniques that would undermine and ultimately destroy the British Empire. ‘What can a new biographer add?’, ased the Economist Magazine. ‘Gandhi Before India by Ramachandra Guha, India’s leading historian, offers plenty … Rather than lingering on Gandhi’s own well-studied words, Mr Guha has unearthed a wealth of previously overlooked school reports, diaries, letters and articles by collaborators and opponents of Gandhi. The result is a striking depiction of his transformation into mid-adulthood’
…’What is your object in coming back?’, the reporter asked, ‘I do not return here with the intention of making money’, answered Gandhi, ‘but of acting as a humble interpreter between the two communities [of Europeans and Indians]. There is a great misunderstanding between the two communities, and I shall endeavour to fulfill the office of interpreter so long as both the communities do not object to my presence.’
(4) Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty Indian-American writer Vikram Chandra, winner of 1996 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book, shares with the world his second obsession: coding. Is there such a thing as the sublime in code, the book asks? Can we ascribe beauty to the craft of coding? Of this the Guardian’s Stephen Poole wrote: ‘Computational thinking is not new, and it is grounded in more fundamental disciplines such as mathematics, philosophy and linguistics. This, indeed, is one of the messages of Vikram Chandra’s fascinating and often beautiful new book, a kind of techno-artistic memoir that is informed by his unusual double ability as both novelist and coder.’
A geek hunched over a laptop tapping frantically at the keyboard, neon-bright lines of green code sliding up the screen – the programmer at work is now a familiar staple of popular entertainment. The clipped shorthand and digits of programming languages are familiar even to civilians, if only as runic incantations charged with world-changing power.
(5) No Good Men Among the Living (American Empire Project) American author and journalist Anand Gopal’s “No Good Men Among The Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes” takes “A devastating look at how we got Afghanistan wrong.” A thoroughly original expose of the conflict that is still being fought, it shows just how the American intervention went so desperately wrong.
This is a book about the categories that people create and then come to believe in – with a force of conviction so strong that sometimes it literally becomes a matter of life and death.
(6) The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas The True American, by American author and newspaper columnist Anand Giridharadas, is about America’s love-hate relationship with immigrants, about the meeting of Islam and the West and about whether we choose who we become or let ourselves be hemmed in by history. “Exhilarating and deeply affecting, Giridharadas’s book is not only a captivating narrative; it reminds us of the immigrant’s journey at the heart of the American story and how, in the wake of violent tragedy, one new to our country can help us to see through to the best in ourselves, even when the law requires far less.” — Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,
On Sept. 21, 2001, Raisuddin Bhuiyan was working an extended shift at a gas station on the outskirts of Dallas when a heavily tattooed man wearing wrap-around sunglasses approached the counter, put a gun to Bhuiyan’s head and asked, “Where are you from?”