Which is the best Indian novel to read

Bookspiration: The Most Beautiful Novels About India

When I travel to a foreign country, I read at least one book about it beforehand. For example, novels that make me want to deal with culture and national history. So I don't feel quite so ignorant anymore.

I dedicate this bookspiration to novels and two autobiographies from and about India, which are perfect for beach reading in Goa.

Snappy portrait of society: Aravind Adiga, The White tiger

Before my first trip to India last year, a friend who had lived and worked in India for years gave me “The White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga, with the words: “You can read how it really is in India”. Said friend is sometimes a bit cynical and grumbles a lot about the conditions, but loves the country wholeheartedly despite all its downsides.

And that's exactly how Adiga's debut reads, about a little village boy who works his way up to the chauffeur of a rich man in Delhi and later founds his own taxi company - not without walking over corpses. The Indian lower class and its members, who have to fight hard for every bit of prosperity, are vividly portrayed. Sewer, poverty and corruption literally crept into my bones while reading and the fate of the protagonist did not let me go. Reads without lying down on a flight to Mumbai!

Incredible, but (almost) true: Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

Shantaram means “man of peace” - a name given to the protagonist of this 1000-page adventure from the mother of his best friend. Lindsay, who fled a maximum security prison in Australia and goes into hiding in Mumbai, is not a classic converted villain, but one who the wrong thing for the right reasons does, as it is often said in the more philosophical passages of the novel, which is based on the author's biography.

After losing his savings, he first lives and works in the slum, later he gets involved with a powerful mafia boss. He is a wanderer between the worlds of his expat clique from Café Leopold’s, the slum (which Roberts describes so lovingly that it almost sounds like a place of longing), his great love Karla and his work as a mafiosi.

What I enjoyed most while reading: on the one hand the lively depiction of Mumbai and its inhabitants and on the other hand the great depth with which Roberts describes Lindsay's male friendships. It's going to be pretty brutal, and I was wondering if the name “Shantaram” is really justified - nonetheless, Lindsay is an absolute popular figure.

Wanderer between two worlds: Shilpi Somaya Gowda,The golden son

Anil Patel is the first from his village in Ghujarat state to make it out, first studying medicine in Ahmedabad and then moving to Texas to become a resident. He leaves behind his father the village elder, his mother, four siblings and his childhood friend Leena, who is married soon afterwards.

While Anil learns in Texas that life in America is not all good, Leena suffers the harsh fate in her marriage that is still a reality for many women in India today - there is no trace of equality. The stories of the two protagonists are told from changing perspectives and in parallel - and of course their fate remains intertwined.

In the novel by the Indian-born Canadian Shilpi Somaya Gowda, tradition and the brave new world meet. Indian village culture, family ties and social constraints are vividly described, as are the challenges Anil faces in his new life as a migrant in the USA.

Searching for clues in a haystack: Saroo Brierly,Lion: The long way home

In Shantaram the Australian becomes Indian. Here the Indian becomes the Australian - in a no less incredible, true story. A long way home is the autobiography of Saroo Brierly, who in 1986 at the age of five accidentally crossed half of India as a stowaway on a train and lived on the streets of Calcutta, ended up in an orphanage, was adopted by an Australian couple and moved to Tasmania.

He remembers only very roughly the name of his home village and the constellation of the railroad tracks and the houses near the train station; When Google Earth opened up new possibilities 25 years later, however, he seriously went in search of the needle in the haystack in order to find his original home and his family again (spoiler: he will find them!). The text is the testimony of his adventures as a child and this search, which reads like an adventure novel.

Spiritual Hero's Journey: Radhanath Swami,Journey Home - Autobiography of an American Yogi

The autobiography of the eminent spiritual teacher and ISKCON monk Radhanath Swami is on the reading list for the Jivamukti Teacher Training - after all, he is the founder of the ashram where the India training takes place annually. As a college student, the American Richard Slavin went on a trip to Europe, which he did not end again as planned; instead, following his intuition, he more or less set off on foot eastwards to India.

He describes his adventures along the way and the enlightening learning experiences in just as much detail as his life in asceticism and his ardent search for his guru. During his journey and transformation to a sadhu he meets mystical yogis in the Himalayas, world-famous spiritual teachers, other seekers and finally finds his home in Bhakti Yoga, Krishna and the ISKCON movement (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) - he becomes Radhanath Swami.

This autobiography also reads like a (somewhat transcendental and magical) adventure novel and I can recommend it to you if you want to learn more about spiritual schools in India and life in holy, spiritual places like Varanasi or Vrindavan.

Fate of two brothers: Jhumpa Lahiri,TheLowlands

I came across Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri through an American friend who has Indian roots herself. As in The golden son are also in TheLowlands the experiences of two protagonists between India and the USA are told in parallel.

The two brothers Subhash and Udayan grew up in a suburb of Calcutta in the 1950s. They are inseparable, but also very different. One dutiful, one daring. Both are interested in science and politics. While Subhash moves to the USA to devote himself to science in peace, Udayan gets involved with militant Maoists and becomes a Bengali activist.

The drama across generations and continents unfolds when Udayan perishes, leaving behind a pregnant woman. Subhash brings her to him and marries her to save her life as a widow.

While reading, I became aware of how indifferently the protagonists accept their fate and how many people in India and around the world probably simply have no other choice. Suffering, which, with my privileged, idealistic worldview, I would probably try to avert by all means, becomes the mold of the character.

So many books, so little time ... which books about India do I still have to read? I look forward to your tips in the comments!

All the best,

Uli

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