Much like in science, global literature has been annotated by success stories of men. Women authors have been far and few in between, which is a travesty because women weave narratives unbridled. Stories written by women offer the subtle intensity and rawness that are a delight to devour. These are some of the books that every one of us must read to realise that women needn’t always be associated with flowery and soft narratives but also with those of grit, resilience, fierceness, and ambition.
1. Jhumpa Lahiri: Interpreter of Maladies
Lahiri may be known around the world for The Namesake, but her Pulitzer Prize winning book Interpreter of Maladies is a brilliant account of the diaspora and the meddling of conventions with their contemporary life. The combination of tragedy and love is so beautifully portrayed, it can be summed up with this quote from the book itself.
“It was only then, raising my water glass in his name, that I knew what it meant to miss someone who was so many miles and hours away, just as he had missed his wife and daughters for so many months.”
2. Anita Desai: The Zigzag Way
Stories of immigration, regardless with however much detachment we may read, have an ability to draw us in a way we can’t shrug off. The reminiscence of a past legacy, and it’s imprint on the present is narrated seamlessly. If anyone could tug at our heartstrings this way, it had to be Desai. The story can be summed up by this quote: “Memories and nostalgia had to be abandoned, like excess baggage”
3. Ismat Chughtai: Lifting the Veil
Chughtai is a treasure; her writings on feminism a benchmark for writings till today. Chughtai brought sexual awakening in a way South Asia had never experienced. It was freeing, and it was empowering.
4. Amrita Pritam: Pinjar
Pinjar is a tale of partition told without the over-arching political complexities but still keeping intact the challenges both the Muslim and Hindu communities suffered through during the partition of the country pre- Independence. This book is a hallmark by Pritam, whose narrative is gut-wrenching and revelatory.
5. Kiran Desai: Inheritance of Loss
Indian countryside, when written about is a marvellous read. The landscapes mentioned are specks of beauty, and the stories around it are compounded by the writer’s creative genius. Kiran Desai is exactly the writer who can do justice to narratives borne out of climatic circumstances. Kalimpong in Inheritance of Loss is a character in itself. One of the most telling quotes from this book is: “Should humans conquer the mountain or should they wish for the mountain to possess them?”
6. Tanuja Desai Hidier: Born Confused
Ah, love in the time of mixed signals. Your lineage confuses you, your legacy and parentage confuse you, your crush confuses you, and your feeling confuse you. But you forge ahead because that is what you do! You deal with the conventions doled out to you, but you don’t easily compromise on your sense of self either. Desai-Hidier’s tongue-in-cheek writing that is written with intellectual aplomb is truly a reader’s dream! We mean, just check out this quote: “Life viewed from nine different camera angles; life played at nine tempos. Mixed, montaged; multiple. In the course of one lifetime. Maybe that’s what reincarnation was all about. Reinvention.”
7. Anuja Chauhan: Those Pricey Thakur Girls
Well aside from Dylan Singh Shekhawat, the book talks about a woman’s sense of belief and values juxtaposed with her ambition. This positive trope is a signature of Chauhan’s woman characters. This book is a light-read but the message is hard hitting!
8. Chitra Divakurni: The Palace of Illusions
The re-imagining of Mahabharat, as told by Draupadi is a take on the scripture’s overt masculinity. The magical re-telling is a beautiful read that opens up a bevy of new narratives that deserved to be read and interpreted especially by those of us who like to mix mythology with contemporary contexts.
9. Balli Kaur Jaswal: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
The plot is quite contrary to the explosive title of the book; it isn’t as sexually explicit and it is unexpectedly quite rib-tickling. The plot talks about Punjabi widows, enrolled in a creative writing class, realising their carnal needs are very natural, and very important to be addressed.
10. Ruth Prawer Jhabavala: Heat and Dust
The book takes the relationship between the British and Indians onto territories that are both explosive and controversial. The relationship between a rural Indian man and a colonial woman is tested in the Jhabavala book that was also adapted into a cult classic Indian movie as well! The powerful narrative of this book can be gauged by this: “It is strange how, once graves are broken and overgrown in this way, then the people in them are truly dead. The Indian Christian graves at the front of the cemetery, which are still kept up by relatives, seem by contrast strangely alive, contemporary.”