HT Picks: The most interesting books of the week

A novel set in Basque country, another that looks at the trajectory of two boys from Dongri, Mumbai, and a multi-generational chronicle of a family of tawaifs on the reading list this week
HT Picks this week includes two novels set in Basque country and Mumbai, and a chronicle of a family of tawaifs.(HT Team)
HT Picks this week includes two novels set in Basque country and Mumbai, and a chronicle of a family of tawaifs.(HT Team)
Updated on Aug 03, 2019 09:10 AM IST
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ByHT Team

HOMELAND BY FERNANDO ARAMBURU

592pp, ₹799; Picador
592pp, ₹799; Picador

Homeland is the gripping story of two families, and two best friends – Miren and Bittori – who have lived side by side in a small Basque town all of their lives. Their husbands play cards together, their children play and eventually go out drinking together. The terrorist threat posed by ETA seems to affect them little.

When Bittori’s husband starts receiving threatening letters – demanding money, accusing him of being a police informant – she turns to her friend for help. But Miren’s loyalties are torn: her son has just been recruited as a terrorist and to denounce them would be to condemn her own flesh and blood. Tensions arise, relationships fracture, and events move towards tragic conclusions.*

TAWAIFNAMA BY SABA DEWAN

606pp, ₹899; Westland
606pp, ₹899; Westland

This is a history, a muilti-generational chronicle of one family of well-known tawaifs with roots in Banaras and Bhabua. Though their stories and self-histories, Saba Dewan explores the nuances that conventional narratives have erased, papered over or willfully rewritten.

In a not-so distant past, tawaifs played a crucial role in the social and cultural life of northern India. They were skilled singers and dancers, and also companions and lovers to men from the local elite. It is from the art practice of tawaifs that kathak evolved and the purab and thumri singing of Banaras was born. At a time when women were denied access to letters, tawaifs had a grounding in literature and politics, and their kothas were centres of cultural refinement.

Yet, as affluent and powerful as they were, tawaifs were marked by the stigma of being women in the public gaze, accessible to all. In the colonial and nationalist discourse of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this stigma deepened into criminalisation and the violent dismantling of a community. Tawaifnama is the story of that process of change, a nuanced and powerful microhistory set against the sweep of Indian history.*

SUFI BY AABID SURTI

494pp, ₹399; Penguin
494pp, ₹399; Penguin

Sufi is the story of two boys who grew up in Dongri, Mumbai. One of them, Iqbal Rupani, aided and abetted by a corrupt policeman, is drawn towards the world of crime in his teens. As he becomes powerful and influential as a racketeer and smuggler, he creates a puritan code of conduct for himself: no drinking, no smoking and no murders. He comes to be known as ‘Sufi’ because of his principles and philosophical manner of speaking.

The other, Aabid Surti, grows up to become a celebrated painter, cartoonist and author who wins the Presidents’ gold medal in literature.

How did the lives of these two boys, which began on such a similar note, diverge so drastically? His book presents an astonishing real-life story, with the sweep and scale of a grand epic, told by one of India’s most beloved storytellers.*

*All copy from book flap.

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Friday, May 20, 2022