These Are a Few of My Favorite Books (2011)

India Currents Magazine-December 2011/January 2012 | Ed. Aarti Sequeira

While Indian writers did not win any coveted literary awards in 2011, several award-winning and best-selling authors did come out with new books, such as Aravind Adiga’s Last Man in Tower and Chetan Bhagat’s Revolution 2020. What is remarkable, though, is the many works that referenced either the Indian or the Indian American experience, highlighting the emergence of India as an important player in the global literary landscape. American writer Jonathan Franzen, best known for his 2001 epic The Corrections, introduced Lalitha, an Indian American character in his 2011 work, Freedom. Another award-winning American author, Ann Patchett, decided to make the central character of her most recent novel, State of Wonder, an Indian American doctor. For desis and those intrigued by desi culture, 2011 has been a deliciously gourmand experience.

So how does a bibliophile pick from the many offerings of this productive year? India Currents’ intrepid book reviewers are here to help! Here they each pick their favorite book. Whether literary or plain entertaining, each book struck a chord with our reviewers, and we hope these little samplings will encourage you to dive into the marvelously diverse world of desi literature. Happy reading!

What Price Genius?

SERIOUS MEN by Manu Joseph. W. W. Norton & Company: New York. Paperback. 310 pages. $14.95.

Serious Men

Looking for something thoughtful and funny for your reading pleasure? I prescribe Manu Joseph’s Serious Men. This novel by “India’s most stylish writer” is both a laugh-out-loud and an I-know-something-you-don’t tale. The seriousness with which the novel’s characters take their lives and petty personal crusades is what ultimately makes this novel so comical.

Serious Men is peopled with scientists whose heads are in the clouds more literally than figuratively, but the principal character is a revenge-hungry Dalit who stands up to his superiors at an agency where space is contemplated like babies contemplating their new-found belly buttons.

Boldly pitting the Dalit assistant against the entire Brahmin scientific community results in a well-rounded satire on Indian social conventions, and how both ends of the collective spectrum pull and tug at each other. Tackling the caste-class-religion issues of the day in a novel that pokes fun, examines, and questions them all is serious stuff and seriously funny.

Serious Men points out that it is our ability to think, plot, connive, plan, demand, coerce, blackmail, and have epiphanies that make humans so tolerably absurd and absurdly tolerable. Joseph proves that it is only in this world that there can be debates over the speed and velocity at which news travels in the same environment where people argue whether a once-Hindu-now-Buddhist is a good Christian. Seriously. — Jeanne E. Fredriksen


To see other book reviewers’ choices, go here. These Are a Few of My Favorite Books