Frontlist | Five writers name books they enjoyed reading in 2020…
What did ‘writers’ read this year and what are the books they would recommend? Ashlin Mathew caught up with Annie Zaidi, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, Krupa Ge, Nisha Susan and Omair Ahmed
What did ‘writers’ read this year and what are the books they would recommend? Ashlin Mathew caught up with some of the Indian writers in English to find out. They have recommended 18 books in all, 13 of them written by women. Even the two men among the five young writers we reached out to are impressed by women writers writing in different languages. Also remarkable is the high number of translated works they recommend. Check how many of them you have read.
ANNIE ZAIDI is a freelance writer and the winner of the Nine Dots Prize 2019-20. She began as a journalist and has written both fiction and non-fiction. Her books include Known Turf: a book of essays Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales, a novella Gulab and a collection of short stories Love Stories # 1 to 14. She also writes poetry and plays.
The Silence of the Hyena
By Syed Muhammad Ashraf
This is an unusual set of Urdu stories in a fresh translation by M. Asaduddin and Musharraf Ali Farooqi. It includes ‘The Beast’, a wonderful, allegorical novella that ought to be read widely in the Indian subcontinent. All the stories here describe power, abuse and betrayal through describing the world of animals, both in the wild and separate from human intervention, as well as the tricky ways in which the animal experience is embedded in our lives.
By Samit Basu
This is a fast-paced novel with a multilayered political context. The author himself does not claim that it is especially dystopic, because much of what has been is a process underway. However, it is immensely readable and full of characters that you feel like you’ve met in real life, and at least some of them bring hope.
I had read and endorsed these Tamil stories, translated by N Kalyan Raman. Salma’s voice is unflinching and reflective as she tells stories about women, and Tamilspeaking Muslim women in particular. Few writers have described their inner lives and circumstances and the complex ways in which their identity is asserted, as Salma has done.
And Then One Day
By Nasiruddin Shah
I started it in English a couple of years ago and while I did enjoy it, I hadn’t had the time to continue then. This year, I discovered that it was also available in Hindi and Urdu, translated by the author himself, and so I ‘heard’ it read aloud. I had heard that the book was remarkable for both its honesty and the quality of its storytelling, and this turned out to be correct. People who are interested in film history, Indian theatre, or just stories about growing up in smaller cities in north India, will love it.
Dil ki Duniya
By Ismat Chughtai
This one is several decades old and I ‘heard’ it read aloud in the Urdu original (on the Katha Kathan YouTube channel) rather than having read it myself, but I would like to recommend it because it was one of the stories I’ve enjoyed the most in 2020. It is available in English translation as ‘The Heart Breaks Free’, one of four novelettes published as ‘A Chughtai Quartet’ and translated by Tahira Naqvi. This particular story is about the grief and constraints of being a sequestered and respectable woman in north India in the last century, yet it is told with such a deft, light touch, that you can’t help but laugh out loud every few pages.