This Deepavali, read the outshone books

  • Books
  • Tuesday, 06 Nov 2018

Interpreter Of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.

One of the challenges of writing this column is that for every book that is included as a must-read in the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die volume, I feel like there are many that should be there but aren’t.

Some of these are a question of personal choice, while others is obviously a matter of space – even with 1001 books, one still can’t cover every must-read novel.

So occasionally, I find it interesting to look at the authors whose books did make it onto the list, and think about their works that didn’t – and quite often, I find that I may even prefer these “also-rans”.

With this year's Deepavali, my initial idea for this month’s column was to talk about novels by the various authors of Indian origin who are in this list.

But instead, I’ve decided to share those books by them that I love, but didn’t make the cut.

Reading, after all, should be like any good celebration – you can start with a programme, but you don’t always have to follow it.

The Interpreter Of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

It is, of course, Lahiri’s The Namesake that made the cut, and I have no dispute with that. However, I still hold a special place in my heart for The Interpreter Of Maladies, a collection of short stories that was her first published book. In many ways, it reads like the roots of what would later become The Namesake – stories that capture the in-betweenness of Indian immigrants in America. But Lahiri’s skill with the short story form also creates an entire world populated by characters who both seem self-contained and somehow connected, which leaves you feeling like you’ve glimpsed into a story far larger than each individual one.


Haroun And The Sea Of Stories by Salman Rushdie

There is no shortage of Rushdie’s books on this list, from Midnight’s Children to The Satanic Verses to Shame. And with Rushdie, I’ve loved some of his work and couldn’t stand others. Ironically, my favourite Rushdie novel is actually one that is rarely included in any list of his best works – Haroun And The Sea Of Stories, often described as a children’s book. In his magical story of a boy who goes on an adventure to save the sea of stories from being poisoned, Rushdie uses a much lighter touch than usual, while still making powerful points about the dangers of censorship.


Chokher Bali by Rabindranath Tagore

The Home And The World, which is included in the 1001 Books list, is an excellent example of Tagore’s lyricism and progressive storytelling. But it is in Chokher Bali – written in 1903 – that we truly see how ahead of his time he was. In the novel, Tagore tells the story of several entangled relationships, centred around a young widow. Through these, he doesn’t just explore a whole complexity of human emotions, but also openly critiques social conventions, particularly when it comes to the treatment of women.


Hullabaloo by Kiran Desai

I have a soft spot for authors’ first books – often, I find that these works display the fresh and untamed versions of ideas that are shaped later into other works. That’s how I feel about Desai, whose The Inheritance Of Loss is by far her best known novel. The Inheritance Of Loss is grand and serious in scope, dealing with migration, globalisation, and otherness. In contrast, Hullabaloo is slight and satirical – it’s about a young man in a village who styles himself as a holy man by sitting in a guava tree and pretending to be able to tell the future. But there is so much to love in her characters, setting, and the wryly unfolding tale, that I could re-read it many more times than I would The Inheritance Of Loss.

Sharmilla Ganesan is a radio presenter/producer and culture writer. She is currently reading her way through the titles in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Join the conversation at or Tweet @SharmillaG.

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