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The Summer Dozen

Looking for an engrossing summer read? From suspense to biography,

Visi Tilak
lists 12 books with distinct Indian themes

From a princess in hiding to a murder in a boarding school and from an intimate portrait of a nations remaking to harnessing our power to change the world, readers have a exciting array of characters and plots to enjoy this summer. Whether it is the biography of Subhas Chandra Bose or Mahatma Gandhi, or an examination of female culture in India, the narratives aim to entertain and enthrall. The South Asian literary scene has always been a colorful one, and this summer is no exception. There are at least a dozen books that are definitely worth devouring. Here is a brief overview of the dynamic dozen.


F ICTION Untold Story

Monica Ali
Scribner, $25
hortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker Prize for her Brick Lane, Britainbased Monica Ali fictionalizes the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, had she not died so tragically. What would have happened to her, where would she be living if she were alive today these are the imaginings in Untold Story. This book launches on the anniversary of Dianas 50th birthday. In this story, a fictional princess, believing that the establishment is plotting her assassination, fakes her own death and begins a new life under an assumed identity. After a period of intense upheaval, she settles in a small Midwestern American town and over a period of 10 years starts believing that her life is finally her own. A chance encounter with a member of the paparazzi robs her of that certainty and leads up to a very dramatic end. Untold Story is Monica Alis fourth novel and has resulted in intense controversy in the United Kingdom. publication of this novel could seem as a shoddy cash-in, but it is a thoughtful, compassionate and utterly untrashy piece of work. It is also, in the last third especially, a suspenseful and gripping read, the Financial Times notes.


The Sly Company of People Who Care

Farrar Strauss Giroux, $26

Rahul Bhattacharya

ts impossible, reading Bhattacharya, not to be reminded of V. S. Naipaul, even if he werent referred to several times throughout the story. Naipaul defined the lonely, empty middle ground occupied by the descendants of Indian immigrants living in Africa and the Caribbean who no longer belong to any nation, The New York Times says. This debut novel is the adventure story of a 26-year-old Indian cricket reporter who has left Bombay to explore Guyanas exotic landscape and people. Life as we know it, is a living shrinking affair, and somewhere down the line I became taken with the idea that man and his world should be renewed on a daily basis. Thus begins this novel whose prose is filled with local voices and culture. In vigorous yet lyrical prose employing a pungent vernacular, Bhattacharya describes Guyanas horrid heat and thunderous rain in sensuous detail. Bhattacharyas distinctive voice, which incorporates both Guyanese and Indian dialects, results in an authentic and sybaritic tale, a starred review in Publishers Weekly says.

Miss Timmins School for Girls

Nayana Currimbhoy
Harper Collins, $14.99
et during the monsoon of 1974, Miss Timmins School for Girls is an intense, irreverent love story and a dark murder mystery. A debut novel by Nayana Currimbhoy, who attended an all-girls boarding school, it is set at the confluence of three cultures the conservatism of the heroines middle-class Brahmin family, the colonial mindset of the boarding school officials and the rock n roll, drugs and free love culture of the 1970s. Charulata Apte, the protagonist, arrives at Miss Timmins School three weeks before her 21st birthday. By day, she shares Shrewsbury biscuits and tea with the schools British missionaries and teaches Shakespeare to a bunch of privileged Indian girls; by night she finds herself drawn to the troubled and charismatic Moira Prince, a colleague with secrets of her own, and her potsmoking hippie friends. One monsoon night, a teacher is murdered and Charu is implicated. Suddenly, her real education begins. The book is an engaging read and a page-turner one that is sure to keep the summer thrilling.

The Girl in the Garden

Grand Central Publishing, $24.99

Kamala Nair

y the time you read this, I will be flying over the Atlantic on my way to India. You will have woken up alone and found the diamond ring I left on the bedside table and beneath it, this stack of papers that you now hold. But for the moment you are sleeping peacefully. Even when I lean down, touch my face to yours, and inhale your scent, you do not stir. Watching you sleep my heart aches. I have done a terrible thing. Thus begins the The Girl in the Garden. This debut novel by Kamala Nair is the redemptive journey of a young woman, unsure of her engagement, who revisits in memory the events of one scorching childhood summer. Her beautiful yet troubled mother spirits her away from her home in the United States, to an Indian village untouched by time, where she discovers in the jungle behind her ancestral house, a spellbinding garden that harbors a terrifying secret. Written in expressive prose, this novel has a fairy-tale quality to it. It uncovers surreptitious events, yet is culturally mystifying.

Tiger Hills

Sarita Mandanna

Grand Central Publishing, $24.99

n rich lyrical prose, Sarita Mandanna narrates this sweeping saga. The story is set in the southern Indian region of Coorg between the late 19th century and the Second World War. The novels heroine is Devi, a girl so willful that, at age 10, she declares to her mother that she will marry no one other than Machaiah, a handsome local hero and famed tiger hunter. She has no idea that her lifelong friend, the shy, sensitive Devanna Machaiahs younger cousin harbors his own hopes of marrying her. And so Tiger Hills seems bound for territory already well trod by Jane Austen and Jennifer Aniston, The New York Times review notes. Written very elegantly, Mandannas debut novel is a triangle involving Devi, the first girl to be born into the Nachimada family; Devanna, a boy whose mother has died under tragic circumstances; and Machu, a handsome young man regarded as a local hero for killing a tiger a near impossible feat. The Independent sums it up fittingly, The up-and-down intrigue that binds the longed-for daughter Devi, her childhood sweetheart Devanna, and the intrepid tiger-slayer Machu, may come from familiar stock. But this novels strength stems from its close and colorful attention to place and epoch. Change and conflict shake the fragile equilibrium between the local coffee-growing dynasties and European settlers in these sumptuous highland landscapes. Sarita Mandannas spectacular fusion of history and romance makes for an aromatic blend.

Miss New India

ccent neutralization and accent enhancement courses abound in a country like India where call center outsourcing is one of the most lucrative fields for young graduates. This new generation of twentysomething Indians is the new face of India. With this as the milieu, Bharati Mukherjee presents Anjali Bose, a character who encapsulates a moment in time. Miss New India is the story of Anjalis rebirth. Born into a traditional lower middle-class family in Gauripur, a backwater town, she is faced with an unpleasant arranged marriage. Armed with ambition, moxie and a gift for language, she walks out of her parents home one night and heads for Bangalore. She falls in love with an audacious and ambitious crowd of young people who have learned to sound American to get jobs as call center service agents, to quickly outearn their parents. In this distinctly modern and urban landscape, Anjali is able to confront her past and reinvent herself. She is the epitome of Miss New India.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25

Bharati Mukherjee

N ONFICTION His Majestys Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and Indias Struggle Against Empire
Sugata Bose
Belknap Press, $35

ugata Bose is Gardiner Professor of History at Harvard University. He is also the great grand nephew of Subhas Chandra Bose, a contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi and a prominent Indian freedom fighter. Subhas Chandra Bose was also a highly controversial personality who advocated for armed resistance to end British rule in India and sought to join forces with the Nazis and other militarist regimes at war with Britain. He is presumed to have died Aug. 18, 1945, in a plane crash in Taiwan, though evidence of his death has not been universally accepted. In fact, there have been several conspiracy theories about his death, and claims that he actually survived the crash but feigned his death. Sugata Boses biography claims to solve the mystery surrounding the death and end many of the controversies about Subhas Chandra Bose. Whether it does that or not, this book is very fascinating not just for those who love history and politics, but for anyone who loves to read an illustrious story about a famous person.

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes: Harnessing Our Power to Change the World
HarperOne, $25.99

Deepak Chopra with Gotham Chopra

ho does not want to be a superhero, or figure out how to harness power to change the world? Even for those who are not fans of self-help books, this one happens to be an intriguing read. The father-son duo reveals seven principles for rising to our potential and discovering the superhero within: balance, transformation, power, compassion, intuition, creativity and transcendence. Together these offer the potential to improve our lives and the world around us. Superheroes have been part of the worlds culture since long before Superman and Spider-Man. In this remarkable book, the insightful Deepak Chopra probes the amazing origin of superheroes dating back to Buddha and Lord Shiva a reading experience not to be missed, says Stan Lee co-creator of Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, The Avengers, Thor and The Hulk. Some may laugh off the concept and find it hard to believe that they can exploit their own latent superpowers, but others believe that each one of us has at least one secret force that we have to discover and harness. That is what makes each of us unique and special. Read, analyze and implement, and this book may actually make you a superhero before the summer is out.

India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nations Remaking

Anand Giridharadas
Henry Holt & Co., $25
very Indian-American experiences a feeling of lost identity. In Western society, ones Indian roots are easier balanced in language than in reality. In this book, Anand Giridharadas explores his own past, narrating the story of his parents marriage and emigration, his own choice to move back to India and the resistance he felt as a latecomer to the Indian party. Torn between his Indian roots and American upbringing, his own transformation through this book is as compelling and complex as his intimate portrait of a nations remaking. Giridharadas, a journalist and columnist for the New York Times and International Herald Tribune, depicts a country gripped by powerful forces of transformation. Besides business, foreign investment and global politics, he also scrutinizes individuals seeking to reconcile old traditions and customs with new ambitions and dreams. India Calling is a wonderfully written book.


Ramachandra Guha
Belknap Press, $35
ow can we best understand the India of today? It is the seventh-largest country geographically, the second-most populous and the most populous democracy in the world. Perhaps, we should look to the people specifically some of those responsible for the making of the modern state. In Makers of Modern India, the first major anthology of Indian social and political thought, Ramachandra Guha, an established historian, brings together writings and speeches from 19 key political figures of the 19th and 20th centuries to highlight the range and diversity of ideas about the forming nation. Guhas selection of writings includes a broad ideological spectrum liberal, socialist, lower caste, feminist -- and also encompasses Indias diverse linguistic cultures. He acknowledges the writers perspectives are sometimes complementary and, more often, competitive, yet he manages to give a coherent shape to the wide range of views assembled. He selects works from well-known figures Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rabindranath Tagore and lesser-known figures Raja Rammohan Roy, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, E.V. Ramasamy and for each one, he includes passages that express some of the writers central ideas as well a sense of their language and local interests. Makers of Modern India begins with an extensive introduction and includes biographical sketches of each figure and guides for further reading. Guha is a learned historian whose writing and subject matter do not fail to captivate.

Makers of Modern India

Sideways on a Scooter
Miranda Kennedy
Random House, $26
his is an incisive and witty memoir that explores the female culture in India. It is a cultural examination that peels back the stereotypical image of India as a land of call centers, yoginis and Bollywood to reveal an ancient place where, Miranda Kennedy claims, womens lives have scarcely changed for centuries. Sideways on a Scooter is a personal account of Kennedys experiences during her time in India as a reporter for National Public Radio. As she settles and builds a life for herself, she is pulled closely into the lives of several Indian women, six of whom play a key role in this memoir. Kennedy is immersed in their lives and to an American whose cultural background of India is next to nothing, most daily things seem very unique and different. This is not Eat, Pray, Love. This is someone who is looking, experiencing, absorbing, analyzing and reporting. Looking at the daily lives of Indian women from the perspective of an American, especially one whose writing is masterful, makes for excellent reading.


Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India

Joseph Lelyveld
Knopf, $28.95
hen Joseph Lelyveld decided to pen Mahatma Gandhis biography, it is highly unlikely he anticipated the outrage it has generated. In the West, the book was well received, but in India, many claimed it portrayed Gandhi as a bisexual with a relationship with one of his disciples, the German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder Hermann Kallenbach, a charge that Lelyveld insists is incorrect. It is a responsible book, it is a sensitive book, it is a book that is admiring of Gandhi and his struggle for social justice in India and it's been turned into as if it is some kind of sensationalist potboiler. It is not, he says. Lelyveld was executive editor of the New York Times from 1994 to 2001. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author and a

frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books. In his rigorous biography of Gandhi, he offers an unexpected perspective one that focuses more on the Mahatmas failures and vexations than his triumphs. Gandhis story is one of the most inspiring in history, and Joseph Lelyveld proves himself equally inspiring in telling the story. This book is a brilliant and glittering match, brimming with well, souls, Nicholas D. Kristof, columnist for the New York Times, writes. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen describes the book as a deeply insightful analysis of perhaps the most intriguing political leader of our time. A marvelous book. Though it is not a light read, it is a must-read