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Top 14 Books You Cannot Afford To Miss In 2014

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By Nitum Jain:

As we turn over the last page of the Chapter of 2013, here are 14 books that we recommend for 2014. The selection brought to you spans across different literary genres, ages and nationalities, and every title is an easy find in the nearest bookstore. The list below is in no particular order and each book was enjoyed as much as the other.

The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing
the golden notebook1One of the most perfect examples of theme of Modern fragmented life, this novel by British writer and recipient of Nobel Prize for Literature Doris Lessing is a collection of “books” that the protagonist Anna Wulf keeps in a (ultimately futile) bid to keep her life in neat colour-coded categories. It deals with her struggles with every aspect of Anna’s life in microscopic detail – her romance with Marxism, contradicting ideas of sexuality and feminism, insecurities as a writer and her anxieties about herself as a person. With every step that Anna takes to cling on to some definition she can give to herself, she becomes more aware of the chaos battering her walls. Lessing displays every little cluttered object found in the hoard-house that is Anna’s life and then shows us how it can all make a warm “whole” home.

The Gospel According To Jesus Christ РJos̩ Saramago
SaramagoPortuguese writer and Nobel Prize winner José Saramago is a celebrated name in the world of literature, lauded for his subversive treatment of some of the world’s biggest histories and his iconoclastic style of indifference to the rules of language and grammar. The Gospel According to Jesus Christ is one among the many short, witty, comic yet provocative works of the writer. Saragamo took upon himself the task to provide an alternate version of Christ’s trajectory – a non-divine path which sometimes corroborates yet turns over its head the major events of the New Testament – where the idea of a Jesus with ambitions and sexual desires caused many a ripple in the conservative waters. This work by Saragamo is an unflinching narration of fundamentals of an individual and the society and a little sliver of Enlightenment in a highly amusing package.

The Luminaries- Eleanor Catton
The Luminaries- Eleanor CattonThis Man Booker Prize winner consummate page-turner by New Zealand-based Eleanor Catton carries “multiple storylines with deft assurance, winding up a skein of a mystery that’s rich with secrets, sex and opium, a doomed love affair, murder and double dealing“. The writer presents a stage for one Walter Moody to stumble upon twelve characters telling their versions of events in a series of narrations and confessions, each bringing us closer or father from the truth of an unstated crime. Tethered to that one smoking room of the Crown Hotel room, they all meet to get their stories straight and to assemble a series of events to effect a happy ending; while Moody is left to discern what’s real from the conspired – all in an unusual format of 12 faces of a waning moon.

How To Get Filthy Rich In The Rising Asia – Mohsin Hamid
How To Get Filthy Rich In The Rising Asia - Mohsin HamidPakistani writer Mohsin Hamid of The Reluctant Fundamentalist fame uses enticement in the format of the self-help to tell the story of a man in an unspecified corner of Asia whose trajectory from literal rags to riches is traced. This one-line summation of the plot is a gross injustice to what actually the book depicts. Like most of Hamid’s work, the words thrums with energy of a strong-willed, intelligent person hell-bent on becoming “filthy rich” in a generic Asian setup while such nations are struggling with their GDPs.

The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri
The Lowland - Jhumpa LahiriIndian English writer Jhumpa Lahiri struck another load of literary gold with her second and most recent novel, The Lowland. At the heart of the novel is the forked road that two brothers find themselves in life and the consequences of the path taken by each brother form the rest of the narrative. The two come of age in the mid-1900s in Calcutta and while one involves himself in the Naxalite movement in the late 60s, the other moves to the States. The latter returns to a dead brother, a pregnant sister-in-law (whom he marries) and a conflicted heart. The words are familiar and the novel’s essence is not dissimilar to Lahiri’s The Namesake, as she immerses her readers into the best and the most selfish of human nature.

Chronicles of A Death Foretold – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Chronicles of A Death Foretold - Gabriel Garcia MarquezThis novella is another excellent and somewhat lesser-known works of renowned Latin America personality Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The short narrative, written in a pseudo-journalistic style, is like a detective novel inside-out. There is no mystery to discover as the very first lines of the narrative answers the questions surrounding the brutal death of young Santiago Nasar – who killed him, how he was killed, when he was killed, why he was killed and how everyone knew he was going to be killed. But it’s the genius of the literary God (Marquez) that the story is yet so compelling that each page is accompanied with frenzied nail-biting, as the reader expects one person after the other to warn Nasar. It’s a story pieced together from compounding, contradicting, truthful yet deceiving versions provided by the town’s people, bringing to forefront the traditions and prejudices that plague Latin America which seek to justify an innocent death.

One Thousand and One Nights
One Thousand and One NightsThere are few who have not heard of the Arabian Nights – a collection of West and South Asian folktales compiled in Arabic. The compilation is the result of hard work spanning across centuries and across historians, writers and chroniclers and stands as the most wonderful pieces of early literature to exist. The frame narrative is that of the ruler Shahryār known for executing his wives the next morning and his latest wife Scheherazade who decides to tell the emperor a compelling story each night and withholding it’s ending to distract him so that she could survive each morning. Some of Scheherzade’s tales – such as those of Aladdin, Sindbad and Ali Baba – are stories that we have grown up with but it’s the rest of the massive compilation of over thousand tales that would open an enthralling unbelievable wealth of fantasy to the readers just as it did to the emperor.

Beloved – Toni Morrison
Beloved - Toni MorrisonThe Pulitzer Prize winning novel by American novelist Toni Morrison invokes the history of slave trade to comment upon the contemporary racist state of the American society. Set shortly after the “end” of slave trade in the 19th century, Beloved is a story of an escaped slave Sethe who had started living her life at her big, old house in 124 Bluestone, only to continuously be chased by the ghost of the past (literally). It’s a story of humans de-humanized in the most inhuman manner, a mother reduced to killing her own children and a haunted woman desperate for life. Morrison plunges the readers into her characters’ mind, giving them all the ambiguities of human nature and the readers, a riot of sensations.

No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – Alexander McCall Smith
No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - Alexander McCall SmithThis is a series of novels written by Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith, with the main premise of a detective agency run by the first female private investigator in Bostwana, and covers the many adventures and foibles of its characters as they unearth mysteries. Mma Precious Ramotswe has since become a canon literary character not unlike Sherlock Holmes and has been adapted in print and television multiple times over the decades. The series are light, heart-warming reads about a traditional-yet-progressive intelligent woman who meets challenges and deals with each in her own unique way. Smith, with his dabbles in Africa, has sufficiently grasped its culture and produces the environ of the Agency with all its flaws and even the trials of an enterprising female in a surprisingly aware and refreshing manner.

The Palace of Illusions – Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
The-Palace-of-illusionsImagine the longest epic of the world retold from the female character’s perspective. Indian poet and novelist Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni did the same and gave us Draupadi’s view of the events of ancient Mahabharata – a story centered around the wars of men. From the “perpetrator” and “ill omen” of the epic war, the author makes Draupadi here the all-powerful narrator in an outstanding feminist feat by an Indian author. It’s Draupadi’s tale of her victimization which no historical record cared to mention and this Draupadi is defiant, passionate and provocative, vocal about her birth, her “marriage” to five men and her degradation by several others. Divakaruni, in her work, shows exactly how different the same set of events could become, simply by giving voice to the subaltern.

Please Look After Mom - Kyung-Sook Shin
Please Look After Mom - Kyung-shik ShinThis Man Asian Literary Prize winning novel by South Korean writer Kyung-Sook Shin is an intensely moving tale of a family that begins a desperate search when their 69-year-old mother goes missing among the crowd of Seoul subway station. Not only is the family propelled to carry out a physical search for her but Shin gives each character a mental trajectory where they “search” who “Mom” is actually and who is she to them; discovering how less the woman who now centers their world lived on the margins of their minds earlier. The book plays upon the familiar trope of the mother being taken for granted but expands its message when it hits that the “disappearance” doubles as a metaphor for the greater erosion of values.

How I Became A Nun РC̩sar Aira
CESARThe novel, contrary to its title has nothing to do with religion. Argentinian writer C̩sar Aira chronicles a year in the fantastical internal and external life of an introverted 6-year-old called C̩sar, who has one big, though unstated, problem: she is a precocious little girl trapped in the body of a boy. The story begins with one cone of cyanide-laced strawberry ice cream that sets the wheels in motion. Magic Realism comes into play as the writer takes the readers through the events from the point of view a young, imaginative child, such that it blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, lending a strange and sublime quality to its world. The story itself is in the metaphor of the ice cream Рseemingly pink and harmless package, but equally chilling and poisonous.

Kafka On The Shore – Haruki Murakami
murakami-haruki-kafka-on-the-shoreJapanese writer Haruki Murakami’s novel has been called a “metaphysical mind-bender”, has been lauded the World Fantasy Award and has succeeded to achieve cult status in many spheres. The narrative is divided in two parallel running plots of the two main protagonists which are headed for a real as well as metaphysical convergence. 15-year-old Kafka runs away from his father’s home to search for his mother and sisters, in order to escape an Oedipal prophecy. On the other hand, Nakata, an old man with the ability to talk to cats, goes far away from his home for the first time in search of one cat. The novel employs fantasy but Murakami makes his magic seem real; with excellent ability he has managed to turn the two basic themes of the novel- 1) One can run, but not escape, and life needs to be dealt, 2) That every person has a purpose and a destiny to fulfill – into a compelling piece of literature.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkein
TLOTRThere is hardly a person who can claim to have not watched Peter Jackson’s screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein’s massive contribution to fantasy literature. But even Jackson’s sublimely majestic landscapes do not hold a candle to the scale of Tolkein’s brainchild. In Frodo Baggins journey from the sheltered land of the Shire across the perils of the gradually darkening Middle Earth, in order to destroy the One Ring and subsequently its Lord, Lord Of The Rings marries the worlds of dwarves, elves, hobbits, humans and innumerable myths into one seamless quest for peace. Fantasy served in its perfect form, the trilogy is the gourmet version of contemporary fantasies such as Harry Potter. Tolkein’s narrative is tinted with nostalgia which contemporary fantasies lack – the Bardic traditions, the revelry and mostly, the grandness that is hard to compress in the written word.

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  1. Raghav Vij

    “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid, “Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, “Our Man in Havana” by Graham Greene.’

    1. Nitum Jain

      I am not a big fan of Graham Greene, but would love to check out Shadow Of The Wind, thanks!

  2. Anand Singh

    Love in the time of cholera.. The Road..

  3. theavidreader

    Before I say anything, I would like to mention, that each book in the above list is an amazing piece of work, and though I haven’t read all of them, I have most certainly heard about them. The ones I have managed to read were indeed beautiful. Having said that, there are two things I’d like to mention
    1. A lot has been written and said about books over a variety of genres, but a large part of the Indian readership hasn’t (and I have noticed this) read this brilliant author called Leon Uris. His insight through researched fiction on historical events, particularly the Jewish Holocaust is eye opening and brilliant. Highly recommended
    2. The author is evidently part of what our generation calls “a fandom” which owes it’s allegiance to The Lord of the Rings. Well to tell you the truth, I belong to it too. But, since a certain other series was mentioned-one I owe my childhood to- I wish to point out that there can be no comparison there. Two pieces of absolute genius cannot possibly be compared because they stand high and do not need anything but their sheer brilliance to hold them up.

    1. mahesh dabhi

      how can i got e-books to read? i am new on this sitr

    2. Nitum Jain

      @mahesh dhabhi, ebooks are available at Amazon.com and Flipkart, but these are paid sites. You can find the physical books at similar rates in bookstores though. Unfortunately, I will be no help in recommending free e-books sits because those are usually unreliable or books there are illegally distributed.

    3. Nitum Jain

      @theavidreader – I am glad you find the compilation interesting. I have been recommended Leon Uris before but never got around to picking one. I am a big fantasy and magic realism fanatic, so I will make it a goal to read him soon. Thank you!

  4. Jayasmita Ray

    Your list is good and well-written although i dont really consider “the lowland” and “the palace of illusions” more than a one-time read. “The lowland” is like some melodramatic prose piece with the right masala while the latter is just whimsical and poorly explored despite all its attempts to illustrate the struggles of Draupadi. Instead, i would recommend “Lolita” by Nabakov and “the bluest eyes”…However, i did love some of the books recommended and will try them out this year! 🙂 well-described!

    1. Nitum Jain

      I have enjoyed The Bluest Eye but I have always had a bias towards Beloved when it comes to Morrison, but it’s a beautiful book nonetheless. Lolita on the other hand has always been a bone of contention in many discussions I have had over it. It’s true that Russians make some of the best writers of the world but Lolita left me cold (not in a good way) even in its sadness. It is wildly popular but I have an odd aversion to the novel itself, which is why it didn’t feature the list.
      I hope you enjoy the titles on the list; a very happy new year to you!

  5. Anon

    Your list pretty much sums it up but leave few genre in my opinion.
    I am mainly into two genre epic fantasy and historical fictions. Though you covered epic fantasy by including LOTR by tolkein you could also include dominique lapeierre’s Freedom at Midnight or O Jerusalem. In Indian authors Khushwant Singh is worth a shot. Train To Pakistan and Delhi : A Novel are some of his better works. Jinnah’s Autobiography by Stanley Wolpert is also a must read.

    1. Nitum Jain

      Anon, you have given some excellent recommendations. As for historical fictions, Gospel According To Jesus Christ, Beloved and Palace of Illusions are all historical fictions and you might like Kafka On The Shore as it’s also fantasy, though not an epic. Arabian Nights kind of straddles the fence between the two genres. Enjoy!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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