Books to inspire your travels in India
Stories featuring its ethereal landscapes, bustling cities and fascinating history take on a life of their own and enjoy extraordinary longevity. Perennial family favourites like The Jungle Book, which captures the buoyant heartbeat of India, were written over a century ago and still enchant readers today. Here are some of our favourite books about India that will transport you to this beautiful and complex country.
A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
If you’re going to read one book set in India, you can’t go wrong with A Passage to India. Written by E. M. Forster in 1924, this classic novel captures the political atmosphere of India at the turn of the century and is best known for its dense political nature. It is a masterly portrait of a society gripped by imperialism, showing the racist, classist nature of society and the inherent prejudices and inequalities of the Empire. However, within this you’ll also find an affectionate portrait of the country’s natural beauty.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Midnight’s Children is thought by many to be Salman Rushdie’s magnum opus. It captures India’s naissance as a new nation with a shrewd eye for human detail. The novel follows the life of Saleem Sinai, who like 1,001 other children, was born on the stroke of midnight at the exact moment of India’s independence. Their lives are irrevocably linked to each other and to their motherland. Reading this book is like inhaling Indian history, creating an almost claustrophobic atmosphere that echoes the crowded heat of India.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
It’s easy to see why Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram is a favourite with tourists and travellers of all stripes – reading this novel is like being thrown head-first into the chaotic world that is India. From the slums of Bombay to five star hotels, from criminal wars to Bollywood films, from spiritual gurus to guerrilla fighters, this book embraces everything that India has to offer. The story follows Lin, an escaped convict with a false passport fleeing the Australian authorities, and is loosely based on the author’s own life. The search for self and for meaning in life intertwines with the search for love, and ultimately reveals a deep, infectious love for India.
Animal’s People by Indra Sinha
Describing the fallout of a chemical factory explosion which mirrors the Bhopal Disaster, Animal’s People by Indra Sinha gives the reader access to communities that would otherwise be largely unseen to Western audiences. This haunting novel tells the story of a disabled young man named Animal in vivid detail, from his own point of view. Making use of unusual linguistic devices, the story gives voice to a community affected by influences over which they have no control. It will make you laugh, cry, and want to explore India off the beaten track.
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
Not for the faint of heart, A Suitable Boy is one of the longest English language novels ever published in a single volume. The novel tells the story of four families in the context of post-partition, post-independence India. It portrays family drama, but also paints the picture of India’s changing political landscape. The political commentary is both serious and humorous, and betrays a deep affection for India. This same affection is also captured in the lyrical descriptions of the novel’s towns and cities. Read this book sooner rather than later, as the long awaited sequel will be published in 2017.
Around India in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh
Around India in 80 Trains is the only non-fiction book on this list, but what a piece of non-fiction it is. It takes the reader on a whistle-stop tour of India, as author Monisha Rajesh describes her epic journey of self-discovery, religious exploration and homecoming. To call the journey ‘epic’ is not an overstatement; the distance she travelled equals the circumference of the world. Written with a keen eye for details that will leave readers itching to catch a train themselves, this book is a perfect read while planning your next trip to India.