Nine Lives by William Dalrymple
A middle-class woman from Calcutta finds unexpected fulfilment living as a Tantric in an isolated, skull-filled cremation ground . . . A prison warder from Kerala is worshipped as an incarnate deity for two months of every year . . . A Jain nun tests her powers of detachment watching her closest friend ritually starve herself to death . . .
The twenty-third in a centuries-old line of idol makers struggles to reconcile with his son’s wish to study computer engineering . . . An illiterate goatherd keeps alive in his memory an ancient 200,000-stanza sacred epic . . . A temple prostitute, who resisted her own initiation into sex work, pushes her daughters into the trade she nonetheless regards as a sacred calling.
Jaipur Journals by Namita Gokhale
From a septuagenarian who has completed her semi-fictional novel but does not want to publish it, to an author who receives a threat in the form of an anonymous letter, from a historian who reunites with a past lover, to a burglar who is passionate about poetry, from a young woman who has no idea what this world has in store for her, to an American woman looking for the India of her hippie youth, this metafictional, wryly funny, pacey novel is an ode to literature.
Told from multiple perspectives, set against the backdrop of the vibrant multilingual Jaipur Literature Festival, diverse stories of lost love and regret, self-doubt, and new beginnings come together in a narrative that is as varied as India itself.
The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular and disappointed BBC worker, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends.
Despite a prickly relationship and very different lives, they’ve never quite lost touch with each other – or with their former teacher, Libor Sevcik, a Czechoslovakian always more concerned with the wider world than with exam results.
Now, both Libor and Finkler are recently widowed, and with Treslove, his chequered and unsuccessful record with women rendering him an honorary third widower, they dine at Libor’s grand, central London apartment.
It’s a sweetly painful evening of reminiscence in which all three remove themselves to a time before they had loved and lost; a time before they had fathered children, before the devastation of separations, before they had prized anything greatly enough to fear the loss of it. Better, perhaps, to go through life without knowing happiness at all because that way you had less to mourn?
Treslove finds he has tears enough for the unbearable sadness of both his friends’ losses. And it’s that very evening, at exactly 11:30pm, as Treslove hesitates a moment outside the window of the oldest violin dealer in the country as he walks home, that he is attacked. After this, his whole sense of who and what he is will slowly and ineluctably change.
The Exile by Navrej Sarna
In this nuanced and poignant novel that draws upon true events, Navtej Sarna tells the unusual story of the last Maharaja of Punjab.
Soon after the British had annexed his kingdom, Duleep was separated from his mother and his people, taken under British guardianship and converted to Christianity.
At sixteen, he was transported to England to live the life of a country squire—an exile that he had been schooled to seek himself. But disillusionment with the treatment meted out to him and a late realisation of his lost legacy turned Duleep into a rebel.
He became a Sikh again and sought to return to and lead his people. The attempt was to drag him into the murky politics of nineteenth century Europe, and leave him depleted and vulnerable to every kind of deceit and ridicule. His end came in a cheap hotel room in Paris, but not before one last act of betrayal and humiliation.
Big Snake Little Snake by DBC Pierre
Big Snake Little Snake is a cascade of true stories by DBC Pierre, recorded while on his way to make a short film with a parrot in Trinidad, which not only examines the nature of gambling, the love affair between gambler and game and the mindset of obsessive practitioners, but aims to shed light on the invisible odds and outrageous chances of everyday life on Earth.
Snakes symbolise a road in a Trinidadian numbers game based on dreams and superstition. The inquiry was prompted by a little snake on Pierre’s doorstep.