Literature holds up the mirror to our world. Stories are a gateway into deeper understanding. But Indian literature is still dominated by men, from mythology to fiction, few have broken the glass ceiling and created space for South Asian women. We’ve curated a list of books by Indian women who have gone beyond the trope, and complicated India’s story, capturing the voices of the marginalized. From mythology, to fiction and essays, these books will leave you with a richer understanding of India and our people.
The Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Devakurni
From the author of The Palace of Illusions comes her much awaited retelling of the Ramayana from Sita’s perspective. She digs through the many different versions of the Ramayana and pieces together Sita’s narrative, telling the story of one of the most powerful women in our history, deconstructing the trope of Sita as the chaste but passive woman. Her dynamic storytelling and poetic prowess does more than enough to move the reader.
White Dancing Elephants by Chaya Bhuvaneswar
Chaya Bhuvaneswar’s debut short story collection won the Dzanc Short Story Collection Prize. The 17 stories are set in India, England, Imperial Portugal and the U.S. and are most often centred around middle-aged Indian women (an overlooked age). Chaya’s women are grappling with uncertainty and oscillate between grounding tradition and the Western ideas of freedom and choice. Her protagonists, like us, are exhausted by the weight of pursuing a ‘certain’ identity. Beautifully written, her characters push us to make peace with our own inconsistencies.
When I Hit You: Or, The Portrait of a Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandaswamy
Meena Kandaswamy is a poet, activist and translator who has written about her own abusive relationship with her ex-husband. But this book, is a work of fiction, of an unnamed character traversing the trials of a crumbling marriage. It speaks to domestic abuse, dismantling the notions that financial or educational privilege, are enough to protect a young women from harm. Over 30% of Indian women have experienced emotional or physical abuse in a relationship. In this book, she speaks to those woman and has the last word. Poignant and powerful, this book gives voice to a bubbling phenomenon that we as a collective society have trouble speaking on.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri has been a leading voice in the world of Indian literature for a while and The Interpreter of Maladies is the award-winning collection that brought her fame. A postcolonial classic, this short story collection tells the stories of the Indian immigrant. In a growing, changing India, it is important to pause and reconcile with our own history as we look forward into the future. Revisit Jhumpa’s timeless prose, if you’re looking for something to read.
Capitalism: A Ghost Story by Arundhati Roy
The outspoken author and activist, Arundhati Roy is most well known for her fiction but this book is one of her most provocative work. Capitalism: A Ghost Story, is a work of essays that break down India’s journey after independence from British rule. She argues that this journey as been one into the trappings of U.S. Imperialism. A harsh critique of the current systems that imprison our people and erase our roots, it provides an alternative perspective that is extremely pertinent during this strange time. What do we need to change? What do we need to reconcile with in our past to build a stronger, more cohesive society? This book can help us answer those questions.
Happy Reading! Tell us what you enjoyed!