As 2018 waits tantalizingly at the threshold, we look back on a year in which dissent and speaking up became necessary to survive, when books alone stepped up to the challenge, helped keep our sanity or question it. As we look ahead, there is a kind of willfulness in taking stock, a ritual with solemnity inherent to the idea. In a year when so much has been written, published and read, it is difficult to gather only a few names. Here is a list of 10 books (fiction) that we have read and loved and a quiet acknowledgment of those that space omits.
The Chocolate Saints – Jeet Thayil
Jeet Thayil’s book is rich in characters and stories. Homage to the world of art and literature, it is a startling book of incandescent prose, a masterpiece in the Roberto Bolaño mould. Narrated in a variety of voices and styles, The Chocolate Saints promises to become part of literature’s most memorable.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness – Arundhati Roy
Roy’s second novel in two decades was a much anticipated book – the anticipation started, perhaps, from the day she won the Booker in 1997. It brings together many of the ideas that inform her non-fiction, speaking up with passion and compassion for ‘minorities’ across the socio-political-economic spectrum, making it a book of the times, for the times.
Leila – Prayag Akbar
Described as ‘dystopic’ by some reviewers, Leila is about a mother’s search for her daughter. Whether dystopic or not – the author certainly rejects categorizing – the novel uses the fantastical to probe urgent issues related to the urban spaces and the society we create and which we inhabit.
The Small Town Sea – Anees Salim
Small towns come to life in Anees Salim’s books; sorrow is a lasting trace and satire a way to deal with the sorrow. The Small Town Sea is about a son’s bereavement, the challenge he faces in being uprooted from the big city to a nondescript town and the unsettling aftermath of his father’s death.
Mrs C Remembers – Himanjali Sankar
The family is often a place of dys-function, of intense politics couched in familial love. Himanjali Sankar’s book relates the family with subtle story-telling, incisive observation and compassion. The first-person narration of Mrs C and her daughter Sohini heightens the sense of unease regarding credibility and layers the narrative of this Bengali family within which the mother’s mind slowly disintegrates and the daughter’s comes into its own.
Kitaab’s The Best Asian Short Stories (ed., Monideepa Sahu; series editor, Zafar Anjum)
Kitaab’s The Best Asian Short Stories explores the idea of what it is to be an Asian. The anthology combines fresh voices, emerging writers and established names from Asia – Jordan and Syria to Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Singapore, Malaysia, The Philippines, Thailand, Japan and Korea. The stories transcend social and political divisions within which they arise, drawing readers into the lives and places they explore while simultaneously raising uneasy questions and probing ambiguities. Crafted with love, they continue to resonate after the last page.
Don’t Run, My Love – Easterine Kire
Easterine Kire’s books combine a spiritual love for nature with haunting, lyrical prose, succinct and tightly woven. As in When the River Sleeps, which won the Hindu prize for 2015, Don’t Run, My Love is also rich in folklore and uses it to explore love, power and the concept of beauty.
When I Hit You: The portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife – Meena Kandasamy
Ownership within marriage and the consequent abuse is a reality with which women contend. Meena Kandasamy brings the turmoil out in the open in this evocative narrative as a wife begins to understand that what is love for her translates into ownership and abuse for her husband. Ideals and dreams crumble even as resistance builds up.
When the Moon Shines by Day – Nayantara Sehgal
When reality is dystopic, a book like Sehgal’s digs deeper into the wound. When the Moon Shines by Day creates a searing portrait of our times when the ab-normal is the norm, the writer’s stance made clear in the very title she chooses.
Polymorphism – Indira Chandrashekhar
The 19 elegantly told stories in this book range from science fiction to literary; the boundaries are porous and the ideas often disturbing, raising questions, lingering in the mind even after one has finished reading the book. Influenced by the writer’s background in scientific research, the collection explores life, fertility and relationships.