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Ten Great Books set in SOUTH INDIA

23rd December 2020

South India is the latest destination for us to visit in our ‘Great books set in…’ series. Ten great books set in the South India. Visit the Kapaleeswarar Temple in Chennai, the Chinese fishing nets in Cochin, and the fabulous lit up palace in Mysore – or relax on the backwaters of Kerala and the nearby beaches. There is masses to see and do.

‘Don’t Stand in Front of a Palace or Behind a Horse’ – Indian proverb

Ten Great Books set in SOUTH INDIAThe God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy – KERALA

This is the story of Rahel and Estha, twins growing up among the banana vats and peppercorns of their blind grandmother’s factory, and amid scenes of political turbulence in Kerala. Armed only with the innocence of youth, they fashion a childhood in the shade of the wreck that is their family: their lonely, lovely mother, their beloved Uncle Chacko (pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher) and their sworn enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun, incumbent grand-aunt).

A Madras Miasma by Brian Stoddart – CHENNAI (MADRAS)

Madras in the 1920s. The British are slowly losing the grip on the subcontinent. The end of the colonial enterprise is in sight and the city on India’s east coast is teeming with intrigue. A grisly murder takes place against the backdrop of political tension and Superintendent Le Fanu, a man of impeccable investigative methods, is called in to find out who killed a respectable young British girl and dumped her in a canal, her veins clogged with morphine.
As Le Fanu, a man forced to keep his own personal relationship a secret for fear of scandal in the face British moral standards, begins to investigate, he quickly slips into a quagmire of Raj politics, rebellion and nefarious criminal activities that threaten not just to bury his case but the fearless detective himself.
The first Detective Le Fanu Adventure, A Madras Miasma, tells a classic tale of murder, corruption and intrigue with a sharp eye on British colonial politics and race relations. It is a story that, like its main protagonist, has its heart firmly in the right place.

The Forgotten Daughter by Renita D’Silva – UDUPI & LONDON

‘You were adopted’. Three simple words, in a letter accompanying her parent’s will, tear Nisha’s carefully ordered world apart. Raised in England, by her caring but emotionally reserved parents, Nisha has never been one to take risks. Now, with the scrawled address of an Indian convent begins a search for the mother and family she never knew and the awakening of childhood memories long forgotten. The secrets, culture and people that Nisha discover will change her life forever. And, as her eyes are opened to a side of herself she didn’t know existed, Nisha realizes that she must also seek answers to the hardest question of all – why? Weaving together the stories of Nisha, Shilpa and Devi, The Forgotten Daughter explores powerfully and poignantly the emotional themes of motherhood, loss and identity – ultimately asking the question of what you would do out of love for your children

Ten Great Books set in SOUTH INDIAThe Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Jospeh – CHENNAI (MADRAS)

Seventeen-year-old Unni has done something terrible. The only clue to his actions lies in a comic strip he has drawn, which has fallen into the hands of his father Ousep – a nocturnal anarchist with a wife who is fantasizing about his early death. Ousep begins investigating the extraordinary life of his son, but as he circles closer and closer to the truth, he unravels a secret that shakes his family to the core.

Set in Madras in the 1990s, where every adolescent male is preparing for the toughest exam in the world, this is a powerful and darkly comic story involving an alcoholic’s probe into the minds of the sober, an adolescent cartoonist’s dangerous interpretation of absolute truth, an inner circle of talented schizophrenics and the pure love of a 12-year-old boy for a beautiful girl.

Om Shanti, Babe by Helen Limon – KERALA

Cassia can’t wait for her first visit to India – Bollywood glamour, new friends to admire her uber-cool street-dance moves…. But as she steps into real Indian life, NOTHING is as she expected…
Cass is with her mum in Kerala, on a buying trip for their Fair Trade craft shop, and everything seems to be going wrong. There’s Mum’s new romance with “call-me-V” Mr Chaudury for a start, her own prickly stand-off with pretty, fashion-mad Priyanka, and the devastating news that her mum’s business may be on the rocks. But then pop idol Jonny Gold arrives at the beach to promote his new song, Om Shanti Babe, sparking a mystery, new friendships and a race to save the mangrove swamps…
Fizzing with energy, and laugh-out-loud funny, this is a roller-coaster journey of discovery, which also has an exciting environmental twist – all against the backdrop of beautiful Kerala.

Ten Great Books set in SOUTH INDIAA Preface to Man by Subash Chandran – KERALA

After years of squandering his creativity, working for a toy company that makes drum-playing monkeys, Jithendran dies rather abruptly, leaving behind some notes on a novel that he had dreamt of writing in his youth. As his wife Ann Marie begins to read the fragments of his unfinished book and the many love letters he had sent her during their courtship, the sweeping saga of a village called Thachanakkara unfolds. Set against the changing socio-cultural fabric of Kerala since the early twentieth century and moving into the first decade of the twenty-first century, it traces the history of mankind through three generations of a feudal Nair family and the people that surround it. With a hundred-odd characters and reminiscent of epic novels like Marquez’s A Hundred Years of Solitude and Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Those Days, A Preface to Man remains a grand tribute to Kerala and also an artistic meditation on human existence itself

A Village in South India by Adam Clapham – SOUTH INDIA

A wonderful portrait of life led in a small rural village in India. An easy read travel book for tourists and first-time visitors to the country. A documentary maker’s eye for detail and an insider’s knowledge of this vibrant and colourful world. Illustrated with drawings by acclaimed local artist and environmentalist, Dinesh Holla. The cacophony of noise, the smells and the colours decribed in A Village in South India are brought vividly to life by TV producer, and long time Indian village resident, Adam Clapham. There are over six hundred thousand villages in India and a quarter of a million of them are home to fewer than five hundred people. Mostly it is an existence of back-breaking drudgery for pitiful financial reward. And yet it is a world full of vitality and joy, filled with the excitement of festivals such as Navaratri and Dasara, weddings, fireworks and fun. The everyday life in the village is far from easy, where the prices of life’s essentials rise far more quickly than the wages of most of the people who live there. Yet these villagers are out-going and cheerful, stoic about the few bad times and bursting with joy and laughter when all is well with the world. This is also a world which survives on the money sent back from those of the community who have left it for the big cities or to jet across the seas to seek their fortunes in the Gulf. They will return to their villages for marriage and for the birth of their children, to mourn the deaths of their relatives and eventually, maybe, to die there themselves. Without these salaried young exiles sending money home the village communities would be in a far worse position. And it is this village community that is explored and detailed to bring alive the joys and sorrows of this extraordinary life.

Kurinji Flowers by Clare Flynn – KERALA

An emotional love story set in the last days of colonial India
After an abusive relationship with a predatory older man, debutante Ginny Dunbar is publicly disgraced when her artist lover exhibits a nude painting of her in a smart London gallery. All her mother’s hopes for a society wedding are dashed until she lowers her sights and pushes Ginny into a hasty marriage with a tea planter from South India.

Colonial life doesn’t sit well with Ginny. She finds the world of the expatriate community shallow and empty. Caught between fear of and fascination for India and its people, her world is shaken when she meets Jag Mistry, who opens her eyes and her heart. But just as she thinks she has found happiness, World War 2 intervenes.

A poignant story of love, loss, betrayal and redemption set against the dying days of colonial India.

Song of the Cuckoo Bird by Amulya Malladi – SOUTH INDIA

A sweeping epic set in southern India, where a group of outcasts create a family while holding tight to their dreams.
Barely a month after she is promised in marriage, eleven-year-old orphan Kokila comes to Tella Meda, an ashram by the Bay of Bengal. Once there, she makes a courageous yet foolish choice that alters the fabric of her life: Instead of becoming a wife and mother, youthful passion drives Kokila to remain at the ashram.
Through the years, Kokila revisits her decision as she struggles to make her mark in a country where untethered souls like hers merely slip through the cracks. But standing by her conviction, she makes a home in Tella Meda alongside other strong yet deeply flawed women. Sometimes they are her friends, sometimes they are her enemies, but always they are her family.
Like Isabel Allende, Amulya Malladi crafts complex characters in deeply atmospheric settings that transport readers through different eras, locales, and sensibilities. Careening from the 1940s to the present day, Song of the Cuckoo Bird chronicles India s tumultuous history as generations of a makeshift family seek comfort and joy in unlikely places and from unlikely hearts.”

Surpanakha by Hariharan Iyer – TAMIL NADU

“Educated, young, no-nonsense bearing, able administrator-these are the equalities that won Sesha the loyalties of the people after three years of rule as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. An allegation that he was the mastermind behind the murder of 73 Kannadigas threatens to bring him down but he is miraculously saved at the 11th hour.

Even before he can relish his victory, Sesha is slapped with the charge of sexually offending a young nurse. This time around, the case is strong and his supporters are uncertain. Worse, his teenage daughter calls him ‘vile’ and walks out of the house. While Mythili, his wife promises her full support, her secretive activities-undertaken with the help of a retired cop-is cause of concern for Sesha.

Will Zarina, the human-rights activist, succeed in bringing him down? What about the insinuations of a celebrity lawyer that he is casteist and anti-minorities? When the young nurse is found dead, the case becomes even more complex. Who is innocent? Who is guilty? And who is the mastermind?”

Tony for the TripFiction team

To see our full listing of books set in South India, please click here

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