Behind every book which becomes incredibly famous on Instagram, Twitter and basically the Internet, is a massive marketing campaign which make these books “best books to read in 2020”. While they are not without literary merit, a lot of incredible books are lost in the noise, especially books translated from other languages.
India has always had a thriving literary scene especially in the state of West Bengal which produced some of the most important writers of the 20th century.
Here is a list of Indian translated fiction which you can add to your TBR.
1. GHACHAR GHOCHAR by Vivek Shanbhag
Translated from Kannada by Srinath Perur
Ghachar Ghochar means nothing. Its a phrase meant to express haphazard disorganization where nothing makes sense.
The story follows a large Indian family which make its fortune in the spice industry and move to the city of Bangalore. What follows is Ghachar Ghochar as success and careers take centre stage and the generational divide, alliances and conflicts create humorous situations.
The book is essentially about the economic shift in the country which V. S. Naipaul often talked about and gives a good insight into the changing tides.
2. HANGWOMAN by K.R. Meera
Translated from Malayalam by J. Devika
You have not read a novel like this.
At the core, the book is about Chetna, who comes from a family of executioners. After her father takes ill, Chetna is appointed as India’s first female executioner.
The book is not all about punishment but rather strikes a balance between fun narratives as Chetna stars in a show and also the problems of patriarchy in India and the unstable imbalance of power that it creates.
Chetna is an insightful character in this thought provoking novel.
3. ONE PART WOMAN by Perumal Murugan
Translated from Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan
No list of Indian translated fiction is complete without Perumal Murugan’s works. One of the most prolific and literary writers of India, Murugan’s works are surrounded by controversy as he breaks from the social conventions and comments upon the blatant caste divide in the country.
A couple have been trying to have children for a long time but nothing works. On the festival worshipping Aradhanareeswara, a half female goddess, they decide to have children in an unconventional manner – with others.
This book is an incredible look into what makes social dictates and conventions, their meanings and why they are allowed to be broken in certain situations. One Part Woman had its fair share of controversy but it remains a must read work by the author.
4. MOUSTACHE by S. Hareesh
Translated from Malayalam by Jayasree Kalathil
Prepared to be blown away by this masterpiece which invokes folklore from all over India.
Vavachan is a Pulayan, a member of the historically untouchable class of India. When he gets a small role in a theater production, the entire focus shifts to his massive moustache.
It seems like a funny and ridiculous plot but as the story progresses, the reality of prejudice and caste system come around and myths and stories go whereever Vavachan goes.
Vavachan refuses to shave his moustache and it becomes a matter of much controversy among the elites of the town.
The book is especially important if you want to understand the dichotomy of ‘progressive’ upper class families and their ‘conservative’ views.
5. CHEMMEEN by T. S. Pillai
Translated from Malayalam by Anita Nair
An absolute gem from Malayalam literature, Chemmeen is a heartbreaking story of love, which would be an interesting read for fans of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
A Hindu woman falls in love with a Muslim boy, but bowed down by society and expectations, marries a man more ‘suitable’ to her status. Her husband has a deep trust towards her but things begin to change when Karuthamma meets her childhood sweetheart while Palani, her husband is away at sea.
To call Chemmeen a masterpiece, would be an understatement. The book touches upon patriarchy and the Hindu-Muslim divide and also provides a lyrical look into the lives of fishermen in the coastal state of Kerala.
6. THE MIRROR OF BEAUTY by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi
Translated from Urdu by the author
Running almost a 1000 pages, you might want to take your time with this book.
Its simply a love letter to India.
Part literary fiction and part biographical fiction, the book follows Wazir Khanam, a young woman, who refuses to live life the way others expect her to.
The people she meets and the places she goes, as the narration moves from the Himalayas to the desert and talks about the unending art and crafts of India, all make for the most amazing tome from the country.
7. BHARATIPURA by U. R. Ananthamurthy
Translated from Kannada by Susheda Punitha
Published in 1973, Bharatipura, named after a town, quickly became a classic. Working on a similar theme as Moustache but with more seriousness and literary prowess, the book is a frustrating look into the caste system and the practice of untouchability.
Jagannatha, a young man, who is applauded for his education and proud of his modern view, quickly learn that bringing change can be almost impossible where prejudices have reigned for hundreds of years.
The story becomes more and more serious as people begin to get violent towards the protagonist and completely shun his ideas.
8. RAAG DARBARI by Shrilal Shukla
Translated from Hindi by Gillian Wright
A master of satire, Shrilal Shukla’s classic follows a young Ranganath, who has his opinion of the political system change, when he goes to live with his Uncle, a corrupt leader.
51 years after its publication, the book is still as relevant, if not more. The book focuses on the cycle of destitution corruption creates especially in smaller towns and villages where facilities and resources are already scarce.
Told from the perspective of a young man, the book is relatable and a must read to understand the frustration with the Indian political system.
There are many more translated works from India which are important and provide rare insights into the functioning of the vast country. Drop a comment down below if you have any recommendations.