Sunday, 25 December 2011



Five novelists, veteran and young, tell Biswadip Mitra about their top reading choices in the year 2011

Bestselling author Amish has three books on the top of his favourites. “Arun Shourie’s book Does He know a Mother’s Heart? has touched my heart. It is a poignant book that deals with the suffering of his son who’s afflicted with cerebral palsy. Shourie questions why his son has been suffering and then explains ‘suffering’ through different religions. It is a deeply analytical book. It forced me to think,” says Amish.

Second on his list is the book Tinderbox by M J Akbar. “We all have a morbid fascination about Pakistan. I liked the historical sweep in the book, and got to know lot of things that I didn’t know about Pakistan. It is an engaging book.”

Finally, on his list is the River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh. “He shows how literary English can be fascinating. He has been writing about the infamous opium trade that the British, along with many Indian traders, conducted in Asia in the 1830s,” Amish says. “Ghosh brings in this part of history wonderfully. The characters, like that of trader Bahram, are really strong.”

On top of American novelist Jabeen Akhtar’s list is the book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. “This book has a unique combination of old-fashioned whodunit storytelling and an edgy, enigmatic protagonist,” says Akhtar.

Coming second on her list is The Passage by Justin Cronin. Akhtar says that she likes “any book on post-apocalyptic crises.” But what is “so interesting is that Cronin breaks down vampire/human struggles to the familiar trappings of daily life.” And there’s “tons of gore and violence.”

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis has been another of her favourites. She enjoyed the “insightful, frightening and sometimes hilarious account of what led to the current economic crisis in the US that is actually entertaining.”

Finally, Akhtar adds Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. “I’m a vegan, and this book changed my life in 2011,” she divulges.

Novelist Susmita Bagchi mentions The Help by Kathryn Stockett as her most favourite book in 2011. “This is a compelling book about the post-slavery days of the USA when the black women with no money and not much education, had to become household helps in white families. The racial divide, the indignity and the distrust would make a reader’s blood boil.”

Pulitzer-winning book — The Emperor of all Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee comes next on the list. “Frankly, I picked up the book because it got the Pulitzer Prize. But once I started reading it, I was hooked,” Bagchi admits. “Cancer is a scary word, but the author actually examines it with a cellular biologist’s precision, a historian’s prospective and a biographer’s passion. By the end of it you are not only aware, but also prepared for any eventuality. This is an extremely well-written book,” she says.

Novelist and popular children’s writer Ruskin Bond loves crime fiction and thrillers. Not surprisingly, he mentions author Peter Robinson as his favourite this year as well. “I am fascinated by the character of Inspector Banks that Robinson has created. What I like about Banks is that he is not some super hero. He is fallible, a bit lazy and is forced to work” Bond says. “I love characters with which one can relate.” And this year Bond loved the thriller, Piece of My Heart.

Another favourite of Bond has been author Ann Cleaves. “I like her style. The ones that I enjoyed this year are the Hidden Depth and the Silent Voices,” he says.

Bestselling thriller writer Wilbur Smith votes for historical novels. “This year my favourite has been English author Bernard Cornwell. His recent novel, Death of Kings, is fascinating. It tells about the Saxon warlord Uhtred of Bebbanburg who deals with the Danish invasion of parts of England. The way he writes is engaging,” Smith says.

Besides this, the historical thrillers by Conn Iggulden have remained Smith’s favourites. “I liked the way he has written about the Roman Empire. So, I read it all over again this year,” Smith adds.