8 Novels to Read Before Travelling to India (Part 1)
At Ampersand, we believe that reading fiction is, perhaps ironically, one of the most informative ways of learning about the culture, history and traditions of the country you’re travelling to. Below we’ve shared our recommendations for the eight best novels to read before your luxury holiday to India.
1. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
The best-selling story of twins, Rahel and Estha, and their lonely mother Ammu living in Kerala during the 1960s. With compelling characters, colourful description - that often feels like it’s bursting at the seams like a ripe mango - and offering sophisticated insight into the Syrian Christians of the region, this Booker Prize-winning novel is an ideal holiday read, especially for those travelling on luxury South India holidays.
2. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
Already a modern classic, Seth’s novel is a love story that follows the lives of four families in post-independent India during the early 1950s. The tale centres around 19-year-old Lata and her mother’s attempts to find her a husband, or a ‘suitable boy’. Coming in at over 1,300 pages, this will keep you occupied throughout even the longest holiday to India.
3. Life of Pi, Yann Martel
In this wonderful adventure story, Pi Patel, the son of a zookeeper from Pondicherry, survives 227 days at sea after a cargo ship taking him and his family from India to North America sinks. His only companions are a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Although most of the book doesn’t take place in India, the novel’s unforgettable narrator - Pi - offers a great feel for the country of his birth.
4. The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
Winner of the 2008 Booker Prize, ‘The White Tiger’ is a darkly humorous tale of the class divide in modern India, written from the perspective of the novel’s protagonist, Balram Halwai. Balram, the son of a poor rickshaw-puller, stumbles across an opportunity to become the chauffeur of a rich businessman. However, he soon discovers that climbing the social ladder comes at a steep price. An entertaining and harrowing tale of the enormous divide found in India’s metro cities.
5. A Passage to India, E M Forster
A striking exploration of colonialism and prejudice, this iconic 1924 novel reflects on the British Raj and the Indian independence movement in the 1920s. The story revolves around four characters and an outing to explore ancient scenic caves which ends in English tourist, Adela accusing Indian doctor, Aziz of rape.
6. The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
A reimagining of the world-famous Indian epic, The Mahabharata - this time told from the point of view of the principal female character, Panchaali, the wife of the legendary Pandavas brothers. For the first time, this best-selling novel gives us a new feminist interpretation of this ancient tale that traces Princess Panchaali's life, following her spirited balancing act as a woman with five husbands who have been cheated out of their father’s kingdom. Panchaali is swept into their quest to reclaim their birthright, remaining at their side through years of exile and a terrible civil war involving all the important kings of India.
7. The Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Following The Palace of Illusions, The Forest of Enchantments is a feminist retelling of The Ramayana - the second great Sanskript epic. Narrated by the Hindu Goddess Sita, (rather than Rama), this version gives us ears and eyes into the scenes often left out of previous retellings – Sita’s childhood, her great suffering at the hands of the demon Ravan, her conflict and anguish at her husband’s decisions, and, finally, her great act of strength and defiance. This is really a story of love in its many complicated forms; between lovers and spouses, rulers and subjects, parents and children, siblings and friends.
8. Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts
A novel loosely based on real-life events, Shantaram takes you right into the underbelly of 1980s Mumbai. Roberts, a convicted bank robber and heroin addict escapes from prison in Australia and flees to Mumbai with a false passport in the name of Lindsay Ford. Whilst running a health clinic in the city’s poorest slums, he also joined the mafia working as a money launderer, forger and street soldier. Few books better communicate the lived reality of India’s bustling megacities. A new TV series, based on the book, was released in 2023
We’ll be sharing the next instalment - the best non-fiction books to read before a holiday to India - in due course. Should you wish to receive our official Luxury India reading list, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org