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26 Books Set in India That Will Transport You There

India, officially the Republic of India is the second most populous and seventh-largest country in the world.  Located in South Asia, India is bounded by the Great Himalayas in the north, and it stretches southwards to the Tropic of Cancer where it tapers off into the Indian Ocean between the Bay of Bengal on the east and the Arabian Sea on the west.

India is one of the oldest civilizations in the world with a kaleidoscopic and rich cultural heritage.  As you travel from one state to another you will discover a diversity not only in the land and nature, but also the people, tribes, cuisine, faiths, dance forms, music, arts, crafts, adventure, sport, spirituality, and history.  If you’ve never visited or you’re simply longing to go back, these books set in India are sure to transport you there and inspire a future adventure!

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil (2012)

Written in poetic and affecting prose, Jeet Thayil’s luminous debut novel charts the evolution of a great and broken metropolis across three decades. A rich, hallucinatory dream that captures Bombay in all its compelling squalor, Narcopolis completely subverts and challenges the literary traditions for which the Indian novel is celebrated. It is a book about drugs, sex, death, perversion, addiction, love, and God and has more in common in its subject matter with the work of William S. Burroughs or Baudelaire than with that of the subcontinent’s familiar literary lights. Above all, it is a fantastical portrait of a beautiful and damned generation in a nation about to sell its soul.

The Elephanta Suite by Paul Theroux (2017)

A master of the travel narrative weaves three intertwined novellas of Westerners transformed by their sojourns in India.

This startling, far-reaching book captures the tumult, ambition, hardship, and serenity that mark today’s India. Theroux’s Westerners risk venturing far beyond the subcontinent’s well-worn paths to discover woe or truth or peace. A middle-aged couple on vacation veers heedlessly from idyll to chaos. A buttoned-up Boston lawyer finds succor in Mumbai’s reeking slums. And a young woman befriends an elephant in Bangalore.

The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian by Nirad C. Chaudhuri (1951)

The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian is an astonishing work of self-discovery and the revelation of a peerless and provocative sensibility. Describing his childhood in the Bengali countryside and his youth in Calcutta–and telling the story of modern India from his own fiercely independent viewpoint–Chaudhuri fashions a book of deep conviction, charm, and intimacy that is also a masterpiece of the writer’s art.

Ticket to India by N. H. Senzai (2015)

A map, two train tickets, and a mission. These are things twelve-year-old Maya and her big sister Zara have when they set off on their own from Delhi to their grandmother’s childhood home of Aminpur, a small town in Northern India. Their goal is to find a chest of family treasures that their grandmother’s family left behind when they fled from India to Pakistan during the Great Partition. But soon the sisters become separated, and Maya is alone. Determined to find her grandmother’s lost chest, she continues her trip, enlisting help on the way from an orphan boy named Jai.

Holy Cow by Sarah Macdonald (2005)

In her twenties, journalist Sarah Macdonald backpacked around India and came away with a lasting impression of heat, pollution and poverty. So when an airport beggar read her palm and told her she would return to India–and for love–she screamed, “Never!” and gave the country, and him, the finger. But eleven years later, the prophecy comes true.

Small Days and Nights by Tishani Doshi (2019)

Doshi presents an unflinching portrait of contemporary India, exploring the tensions between urban and rural life, modernity and tradition, duty and freedom. Luminous, funny, surprising, and heartbreaking, Small Days and Nights is a story of the ties that bind, the secrets we bury, and the sacrifices we make to forge lives that have meaning.

The White Tiger By Aravind Adiga (2008)

The white tiger of this novel is Balram Halwai, a poor Indian villager whose great ambition leads him to the zenith of Indian business culture, the world of the Bangalore entrepreneur. On the occasion of the president of China’s impending trip to Bangalore, Balram writes a letter to him describing his transformation and his experience as driver and servant to a wealthy Indian family, which he thinks exemplifies the contradictions and complications of Indian society.

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay (2019)

Gorgeously tactile and sweeping in historical and socio-political scope, Pushcart Prize-winner Madhuri Vijay’s The Far Field follows a complicated flaneuse across the Indian subcontinent as she reckons with her past, her desires, and the tumultuous present.

The Far Field Madhuri Vijay masterfully examines Indian politics, class prejudice, and sexuality through the lens of an outsider, offering a profound meditation on grief, guilt, and the limits of compassion.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997)

The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, a sky blue Plymouth with chrome tailfins is stranded on the highway amid a Marxist workers’ demonstration. Inside the car sit two-egg twins Rahel and Esthappen, and so begins their tale…. Armed only with the invincible innocence of children, they fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family.

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee (2014)

The aging patriarch and matriarch of the Ghosh family preside over their large household, made up of their five adult children and their respective children, unaware that beneath the barely ruffled surface of their lives the sands are shifting. Each set of family members occupies a floor of the home, in accordance to their standing within the family. Poisonous rivalries between sisters-in-law, destructive secrets, and the implosion of the family business threaten to unravel bonds of kinship as social unrest brews in greater Indian society.

The Inheritance of Loss By Kiran Desai (2006)

In a crumbling, isolated house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas lives an embittered judge who wants only to retire in peace, when his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, arrives on his doorstep. The judge s cook watches over her distractedly, for his thoughts are often on his son, Biju, who is hopscotching from one gritty New York restaurant to another.

A Suitable Boy By Vikram Seth (1993)

Vikram Seth’s novel is, at its core, a love story: Lata and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, are both trying to find — through love or through exacting maternal appraisal — a suitable boy for Lata to marry. Set in the early 1950s, in an India newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis, A Suitable Boy takes us into the richly imagined world of four large extended families and spins a compulsively readable tale of their lives and loves.

The Alchemy of Desire By Tarun Tejpal (2006)

In turn-of-the-millennium India, a penniless would-be writer halts work on his novel only to feed his ceaseless desire for his beautiful wife. Then a chance occurrence moves the lovers to a sprawling old house in a mist-shrouded spur of the lower Himalayas, where a set of diaries written by a glamorous American adventuress is uncovered during renovations. Her words irresistibly draw the writer away from his beloved, thrusting him through the hole of history into another world and time, revealing dark secrets and overturning all certainties.

Shantaram By Gregory David Roberts (2004)

Set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay, Shantaram is narrated by Lin, an escaped convict with a false passport who flees maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear.

Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend, Prabaker, the two enter Bombay’s hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere.

Midnight’s Children By Salman Rushdie (1981)

Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the very moment of India’s independence. Greeted by fireworks displays, cheering crowds, and Prime Minister Nehru himself, Saleem grows up to learn the ominous consequences of this coincidence. His every act is mirrored and magnified in events that sway the course of national affairs; his health and well-being are inextricably bound to those of his nation; his life is inseparable, at times indistinguishable, from the history of his country. Perhaps most remarkable are the telepathic powers linking him with India’s 1,000 other “midnight’s children,” all born in that initial hour and endowed with magical gifts.

The Lowland By Jhumpa Lahiri (2013)

The Lowland is an engrossing family saga steeped in history: the story of two very different brothers bound by tragedy, a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past, a country torn apart by revolution, and a love that endures long past death. Moving from the 1960s to the present, and from India to America and across generations, this dazzling novel is Jhumpa Lahiri at the height of her considerable powers.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara (2020)

In a sprawling Indian city, three friends venture into the most dangerous corners to find their missing classmate. Drawing on real incidents and a spate of disappearances in metropolitan India, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is extraordinarily moving, flawlessly imagined, and a triumph of suspense. It captures the fierce warmth, resilience, and bravery that can emerge in times of trouble and carries the reader headlong into a community that, once encountered, is impossible to forget.

Interpreter of Maladies By Jhumpa Lahiri (1999)

This stunning debut collection unerring charts the emotional journeys of characters seeking love beyond the barriers of nations and generations. In stories that travel from India to America and back again, Lahiri speaks with universal eloquence to everyone who has ever felt like a foreigner.

A Fine Balance By Rohinton Mistry (1995)

The time is 1975. The place is an unnamed city by the sea. The government has just declared a State of Emergency, in whose upheavals four strangers–a spirited widow, a young student uprooted from his idyllic hill station, and two tailors who have fled the cast violence of their native village–will be thrust together, forced to share one cramped apartment and an uncertain future.

City of Djinns By William Dalrymple (1993)

Sparkling with irrepressible wit, City of Djinns peels back the layers of Delhi’s centuries-old history, revealing an extraordinary array of characters along the way-from eunuchs to descendants of great Moguls. With refreshingly open-minded curiosity, William Dalrymple explores the seven “dead” cities of Delhi as well as the eighth city–today’s Delhi. Underlying his quest is the legend of the djinns, fire-formed spirits that are said to assure the city’s Phoenix-like regeneration no matter how many times it is destroyed.

Sea of Poppies By Amitav Ghosh (2008)

At the heart of this vibrant saga is a vast ship, the Ibis. Her destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean shortly before the outbreak of the Opium Wars in China. In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a diverse cast of Indians and Westerners on board, from a bankrupt raja to a widowed tribeswoman, from a mulatto American freedman to a free-spirited French orphan. As their old family ties are washed away, they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais, or ship-brothers. The vast sweep of this historical adventure spans the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, and the exotic backstreets of Canton.

The Palace of Illusions By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (2008)

Taking us back to a time that is half history, half myth and wholly magical, bestselling author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni gives voice to Panchaali, the fire-born heroine of the Mahabharata, as she weaves a vibrant retelling of an ancient epic saga.

Married to five royal husbands who have been cheated out of their father’s kingdom, Panchaali aids their quest to reclaim their birthright, remaining at their side through years of exile and a terrible civil war. But she cannot deny her complicated friendship with the enigmatic Krishna–or her secret attraction to the mysterious man who is her husbands’ most dangerous enemy–as she is caught up in the ever-manipulating hands of fate.

Behind The Beautiful Forevers By Katherine Boo (2012)

In this breathtaking book by Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport.

Nine Lives By William Dalrymple (2009)

An enlightening book that explores with remarkable compassion and expansive insight nine varieties of religious devotion in India today.

In portraits of people we might otherwise never know William Dalrymple distills his twenty-five years of travel in India to explore the challenges faced by practitioners of traditional forms of faith in contemporary India.

The Far Pavilions By M. M. Kaye (1978)

This sweeping epic set in 19th-century India begins in the foothills of the towering Himalayas and follows a young Indian-born orphan as he’s raised in England and later returns to India where he falls in love with an Indian princess and struggles with cultural divides.

Cracking India By Bapsi Sidhwa (1988)

The 1947 Partition of India is the backdrop for this powerful novel, narrated by a precocious child who describes the brutal transition with chilling veracity. Young Lenny Sethi is kept out of school because she suffers from polio. She spends her days with Ayah, her beautiful nanny, visiting with the large group of admirers that Ayah draws. It is in the company of these working-class characters that Lenny learns about religious differences, religious intolerance, and the blossoming genocidal strife on the eve of Partition. As she matures, Lenny begins to identify the differences between the Hindus, Moslems, and Sikhs engaging in political arguments all around her. Lenny enjoys a happy, privileged life in Lahore, but the kidnapping of her beloved Ayah signals a dramatic change.

What do you think of these books set in India?

Have you been to India before or is it on your bucket list?  Have you read any of these books set in India?  Do you know any books set in India that I may have missed?  Let me know your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions about India and books set there in the comments below!

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