Sunetra Choudhury, National Political Editor, picks her favourite reads of 2020
Antidote to an era of anti-“love jihad” legislation
Like many across the world, I read more during the pandemic; my reading pace becoming a bit more frantic whenever I was stressed and couldn’t sleep. It was as if I felt the need for control and craved one positive outcome at the end of this dreadful, despair-filled year - that I would be better informed and better read by the time it ended. And that’s how I finally finished all the award-winning books I’d meant to but never got around to reading like Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other and Sally Rooney’s Normal People. They were both stunning and Rooney’s adaptation into a TV series is one of those rare cases were the BBC drama is almost as good as the book. I would urge everyone to quickly read these books because they are guaranteed to transport you away from any other anxieties that you may have, to take you on an amazing emotional journey.
But the larger point which I take away from this year is my discovery of more women writers. For instance, I read Kamala Das’ collection of short stories called The Kept Woman and wondered why I hadn’t read her autobiography. I remember reading about her in my mother’s magazines when I was growing up but why have people stopped talking about her? Her fiercely feminist writing is just the kind of antidote we need in this era of so-called love jihad legislation. Speaking of feminist, reading Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus made me realize just how similar patriarchy can be across the world, how a little girl can feel deep love and concern for a controlling, abusive father.
I sign off with one last recommendation, Isher Judge Ahluwalia’s Breaking Through that was published this year, shortly before she died after her battle with cancer. Ahluwalia’s memoir of a childhood and education that was completely vernacular and reaching Ivy League institutions by hard work, is an amazing and inspiring story. At one point, she writes how she wouldn’t understand the words used by her Presidency College classmates and would note them down and look them up at night. It all paid off because she went on to become a renowned economist. What’s really fun about the book is that she describes the sexism she encountered along the way. The pandemic has been a threat to the women workforce so if you feel the need to be inspired by a woman who made it to the top while bringing up two boys, this is the one to read.