William Dalrymple’s best books of 2014

william_dalrympleA lot of my best reading this year has been spent trying to understand the ever spiralling maelstrom of violence that is the contemporary Middle East. Birgül Acikyildiz’s amazing book The Yezidis (IB Tauris) shows how rich and varied is the culture-compost of the area between Iraq and Syria now being forcibly homogenised and ethnically cleansed by Isis. Jean-Pierre Filiu’s tragic history Gaza (Hurst C & Co) is essential for understanding the suffering of the Palestinians. Ziauddin Sardar’s Mecca (Bloomsbury) shows how much the Saudis have destroyed and suppressed in their Disneyfication of the most sacred city of Islam. But my two favourite books lay much closer to home, both of them stylishly written, powerfully moving books set against the bleak beauty and baroque decay of 21st-century Delhi. Deepti Kapoor’s A Bad Character (Cape) is in many ways the fictional counterpart of Rana Dasgupta’s brilliant non-fiction portrait of Delhi, Capital (Canongate). Both books darkly distil the essence of a corrupt, violent and traumatised city that is growing so fast it is almost unrecognisable to its own inhabitants. The book I haven’t yet read, but which I’d like to be given, is the latest masterwork from Roberto Calasso, Ardor (Allen Lane), an analysis of the labyrinth of the Vedic world.

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