1. Cutting For Stone (2009) by Abraham Verghese
This bestselling novel (with more than one million copies sold) is written by an author who is also a physician and a professor. It is about twins, Marion and Shiva, born to an Indian nun and British surgeon, who are orphaned with their mom’s death and dad’s disappearance in Addis Ababa. Set in Ethiopia and New York, it is about family, betrayal, and medicine.
2. Twilight In Delhi (1940) by Ahmed Ali
Ali’s most important book was published when EM Forster convinced the publishers that it was not seditious. It is the story of an upper-class Muslim family in Delhi. Mir Nahal, a nationalist, vividly remembers the British cruelty during the Revolt of 1857. But now, in 1911, “firangi” elements have begun to appear: his sons’ government jobs, English boots… Old Delhi making way for the new.
3. An Obedient Father (2000) by Akhil Sharma
US-based writer Akhil Sharma’s book is about Ram Karan, a corrupt official, who sexually abused his daughter when she was younger. Now, his recently widowed daughter and eight-year-old granddaughter are forced to move in with him. This is a book about the consequences.
4. The Immortals (2009) by Amit Chaudhuri
Set in the Bombay of the 1970s and ’80s, Amit Chaudhuri’s book looks at two families whose fortunes are connected by music (he himself is a talented musician). Shyam Lal, the son of a singer, teaches music to support his family. His student Mallika Sengupta’s musical ambitions are dulled by luxury. Her son, Nirmalya, is captivated by philosophy and incredulous of Shyamji’s material pursuits. This is about music in a modern world, a debate on Shyam’s comment that “you cannot practice art on an empty stomach.”
5. The Hungry Tide (2005) by Amitav Ghosh
Piyali Roy is a young marine biologist from Seattle in search of an endangered river dolphin. She is aided by Kanai Dutt, a businessman and translator from Delhi, and Fokir, a young fisherman. This is their journey through the Sunderbans.
6. The Shadow Lines (1988) by Amitav Ghosh
Two families – one English and one Bengali – and their lives through three generations. Set in Calcutta, London and Dhaka, this book is shadowed by the freedom movement, the Second World War and the Calcutta riots of 1964.
7. Fire On The Mountain (1977) by Anita Desai
Desai is one of only two authors to appear three times on this list (the other is RK Narayan). The part-German writer has written 16 novels, been shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times and has changed 23 addresses in 75 years. This Sahitya Akademi Award-winning novel is about Nanda Kaul, who renounces city life and leaves her family behind, to live in the hills. Until one day, her great-granddaughter comes to live with her.
8. In Custody (1984) by Anita Desai
Deven is a small-town Hindi lecturer with a broken dream of becoming a poet. He lives an insignificant, unhappy life. But then, he is asked to interview one of the country’s greatest Urdu poets. Deven takes great pains to put together the logistics. Yet, this project ends in misery.
9. Baumgartner’s Bombay (1988) by Anita Desai
Hugo Baumgartner, a German Jew, flees the Holocaust by coming to India. This is the story of the wandering Jew in Bombay after World War II.
10. The White Tiger (2008) by Aravind Adiga
Adiga’s debut novel won the Man Booker Prize for fiction. In the book, the protagonist, Balram Halwai, narrates his life to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao: how the son of a rickshaw puller works as a chauffeur in Delhi and then flees to Bangalore after killing his employer, stealing his money and becoming a successful businessman.