It looms large in the Western imagination and has since colonial times. Now a modernizing nation of more than one billion people, India also has its own impressive cannon of literature. But although authors like VS Naipaul and Salman Rushdie garner a lot of (deserved) attention, some of the best literature from or about India comes from a female perspective.
Writer and activist Arundhati Roy made international headlines when she became the first Indian woman to win the Man Booker Prize for her debut novel, The God of Small Things. The novel follows with perfect, excruciating precision, the events of just a few days that change one family forever. The novel is heart breakingly beautiful and the language will blow you away.
Nikita Lalwani’s second novel follows a BBC film crew working on a documentary about an unusual Indian prison where prisoners are allowed to live with their families and even work outside the prison itself. Soon the different motivations of the filmmakers begin to tear the project apart as the divide between East and West grows seemingly insurmountable.
One of India’s most beloved novelists, Anita Desai has written numerous works and been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize three times. Her 1999 novel Fasting, Feasting shows the vast difference between how girls and boys are raised and educated (or not educated) by traditional Indian parents. The book deftly deals with family dysfunction on two continents.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was born in Germany and became a naturalized British citizen before marrying an Indian man and moving to the subcontinent. Her novel Heat and Dust follows a young woman who travels to India to learn more about her ancestor, Olivia, a British woman who created a scandal by falling in love with an Indian nobleman. The only person to ever win both an Oscar and the Man Booker Prize, Jhabvala died this year at age 85, but her work remains just as relevant today as when she wrote it.