India

Midnight's Furies

"Named one of the best books of 2015 by NPR, Amazon, Seattle Times, and Shelf Awareness.

A  few bloody months in South Asia during the summer of 1947 explain the world that troubles us today.

Nobody expected the liberation of India and birth of Pakistan to be so bloody — it was supposed to be an answer to the dreams of Muslims and Hindus who had been ruled by the British for centuries. Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi’s protégé and the political leader of India, believed Indians were an inherently nonviolent, peaceful people. Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was a secular lawyer, not a firebrand.  But in August 1946, exactly a year before Independence, Calcutta erupted in street-gang fighting. A cycle of riots — targeting Hindus, then Muslims, then Sikhs — spiraled out of control. As the summer of 1947 approached, all three groups were heavily armed and on edge, and the British rushed to leave. Hell let loose. Trains carried Muslims west and Hindus east to their slaughter. Some of the most brutal and widespread ethnic cleansing in modern history erupted on both sides of the new border, searing a divide between India and Pakistan that remains a root cause of many evils. From jihadi terrorism to nuclear proliferation, the searing tale told in Midnight’s Furies explains all too many of the headlines we read today."

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Climbing the Mango Trees

"The enchanting autobiography of the seven-time James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and acclaimed actress who taught America how to cook Indian food.

Whether climbing the mango trees in her grandparents' orchard in Delhi or picnicking in the Himalayan foothills on meatballs stuffed with raisins and mint tucked into freshly baked spiced pooris, Madhur Jaffrey’s life has been marked by food, and today these childhood pleasures evoke for her the tastes and textures of growing up. Following Jaffrey from India to Britain, this memoir is both an enormously appealing account of an unusual childhood and a testament to the power of food to prompt memory, vividly bringing to life a lost time and place. Also included here are recipes for more than thirty delicious dishes from Jaffrey’s childhood."

A special thank you to book club member, Jo Jackson for the suggestion.

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The Devourers

"For readers of Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, China Miéville, and David Mitchell comes a striking debut novel by a storyteller of keen insight and captivating imagination.

Named one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post & a Lambda Literary Award winner. 

On a cool evening in Kolkata, India, beneath a full moon, as the whirling rhythms of traveling musicians fill the night, college professor Alok encounters a mysterious stranger with a bizarre confession and an extraordinary story. Tantalized by the man’s unfinished tale, Alok will do anything to hear its completion so he agrees to transcribe a collection of battered notebooks, weathered parchments, and once-living skins.

From these documents, spills the chronicle of a race of people more than human, ruled by instincts and desires ages-old. The tale features a rough wanderer in 17th century India who finds himself irrevocably drawn to a defiant woman—and destined to be torn asunder by two clashing worlds. With every chapter of beauty and brutality, Alok’s interest in the stranger grows and evolves into something darker and more urgent.

Shifting dreamlike between present and past with intoxicating language, visceral action, compelling characters, and stark emotion, The Devourers offers a reading experience quite unlike any other novel."

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A Matter of Rats

"It is not only the past that lies in ruins in Patna, it is also the present. But that is not the only truth about the city that Amitava Kumar explores in this vivid, entertaining account of his hometown. We accompany him through many Patnas, the myriad cities locked within the city—the shabby reality of the present-day capital of Bihar; Pataliputra, the storied city of emperors; the dreamlike embodiment of the city in the minds and hearts of those who have escaped contemporary Patna's confines. Full of fascinating observations and impressions, A Matter of Rats reveals a challenging and enduring city that exerts a lasting pull on all those who drift into its orbit.

Kumar's ruminations on one of the world's oldest cities, the capital of India's poorest province, are also a meditation on how to write about place. His memory is partial. All he has going for him is his attentiveness. He carefully observes everything that surrounds him in Patna: rats and poets, artists and politicians, a girl's picture in a historian's study, and a sheet of paper on his mother's desk. The result is this unique book, as cutting as it is honest."

A special thank you to book club member, Ester Elbert for the suggestion.

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Pinjar

"Brought together in this volume are two of the most moving novels by one of India's greatest women writers, The Skeleton and The Man.

The Skeleton, translated from Punjabi into English by Khushwant Singh, is memorable for its lyrical style and depth in her writing. Known as the most important voice for the women in Punjabi literature, Amrita Pritam portrays the most inmost being of the novel's complex characters.

The Man is a compelling account of a young man born under strange circumstances and abandoned at the altar of God."

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The Windfall

"A People/TIME Magazine/Rolling Stone Pick. On Entertainment Weekly's Must-List & Esquire's Best 30 Books of 2017.

A charming satire, Basu unfolds the story of a family discovering what it means to 'make it' in modern India. Mr. and Mrs. Jha's lives have been defined by cramped spaces and the small dramas of stolen yoga pants and stale marriages. They'd settled comfortably into their golden years, pleased with their son’s acceptance into an American business school. But then Mr. Jha comes into an unexpected sum of money, and moves his wife from their housing complex to the super-rich side of town, where he becomes eager to fit in as a man of status: skinny ties, hired guards, and all.
 
The move sets off a chain of events that rock their neighbors, their marriage, and their son, who is struggling to keep a lid on his romantic dilemmas and slipping grades, and brings unintended consequences, ultimately forcing the Jha family to reckon with what really matters. Hilarious and wise, The Windfall illuminates with warmth and charm the precariousness of social status, the fragility of pride, and, above all, the human drive to build and share a home. Even the rich, it turns out, need to belong somewhere."

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