HT Picks: The most interesting books of the week
A literary thriller that spans Punjab and New York, a satire set in an Indian university, and a book that tries to make sense of the Chennai floods – all that on HT Picks this weekUpdated: Jun 29, 2019 08:48 IST
THE RADIANCE OF A THOUSAND SUNS BY MANREET SODHI SOMESHWAR
Niki’s determination to complete her dead father’s unfinished book, his life’s work, takes her from India to New York City. There, her pursuit of a mysterious immigrant woman turns into an obsession that begins to imperil her daughter, her marriage, and eventually Niki herself. When a blizzard blankets NYC, Niki finds herself on a path where the present and past collide violently.
Propulsive and poetic, this elegant literary thriller melds the fervor of Punjab with the frenzy of New York. Spanning the cataclysms of Partition and 9/11, via the brutality of the Emergency and the pogrom of 1984, it explores the impossible choices women are forced to make in the face of violence, the ties that connect them across ages, and the secrets they store.
Interwoven with the epic Mahabharata, the poetry of Bulleh Shah, and the legend of Heer, The Radiance of a Thousand Suns is a novel about the mythic and the intimate, about stories on tapestry and mobs that recur, about home and love and history, and those heartbreaking moments when they all come crashing together.*
MADAM, GIVE ME MY SEX BY R RAJA RAO
In a University known as the Oxford of the East, situated in India’s cultural capital, Poona, all is not well in the English Department. The department is headed by Professor Tiwari, who has ambitions to make it one of the best departments in the country. But factors beyond his control thwart him. Principal among these is the State’s reservation policy which ties his hands. Open Category faculty cannot be given tenure; although they have foreign PhDs, they are shunted to contractual posts. On the other hand, Reserved Category faculty have to be compulsorily appointed to permanent positions, even if they are academically unsound. The department faces gender and sexuality issues, with the Director of the Women’s Studies Centre accusing Professor Tiwari of patriarchy and misogyny, and a gay professor becoming a victim of homophobia. Foreign students cry foul, complaining of monetary and sexual exploitation. There are faction fights between student unions affiliated to rival political parties, and newspaper reporters hover around the department for sensational news. A hunger strike by students soon after Professor Tiwari’s retirement perplexes the Vice Chancellor, who issues an administrative order that is unprecedented in University history. Political events such as the demolition of the Babri Masjid, 9/11, Godhra, the Bombay attacks, and the reading down and subsequent re-criminalization of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code form the backdrop of the novel.*
RIVERS REMEMBER BY KRUPA GE
Floodwaters, sewage and the remains of humankind’s greed swallowed a city whole in December 2015. In the face of gross mismanagement by those in power, Chennai lost lives, homes and livelihoods.
Waters from the city’s many lakes, canals and rivers, which humans had usurped and eaten into with tar roads and concrete jungles, retraced their old routes and ate anything that came in their way. Like they did in Mumbai in 2005, Surat in 2006, Srinagar in 2014 and Kerala in 2018. As they might in Bangalore someday, or in Kolkata.
Watch: More great reads of the week
To make sense of the horror of those days, Krupa Ge spent over three years filing RTIs , reading government documents and archival material, and interviewing stakeholders, journalists and the people of Chennai. What she arrives at is the shocking truth of how masterly inactivity drowned the city, and how it could happen again. And again.
But the heart of the book is in the stories of the people, including Krupa’s own parents, who were caught up in the nightmare of the floods – of their resilience and the kindness, and the fault lines of caste and class that the crisis exposed.*
*All copy from book flap.
First Published: Jun 28, 2019 17:51 IST