HT Picks; New Reads - Hindustan Times
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HT Picks; New Reads

ByHT Team
Jul 21, 2023 05:21 PM IST

On the reading list this week is a novel about love and betrayal under the shadow of Empire, another that tells us more about Partition than any historical study, and a volume that provides a remarkable insight into Indian history and society

Of public morality and private truth

This week’s pick of interesting reads includes a Booker nominee’s new novel about love and betrayal, a formidable volume on Indian history and society, and a reissued Partition novel originally written in the 1970s. (HT Team)
This week’s pick of interesting reads includes a Booker nominee’s new novel about love and betrayal, a formidable volume on Indian history and society, and a reissued Partition novel originally written in the 1970s. (HT Team)

330pp, ₹899; Canongate Books (A drama of love and betrayal under the shadow of Empire)
330pp, ₹899; Canongate Books (A drama of love and betrayal under the shadow of Empire)

It is 1921 and at Cassowary House in the Straits Settlements of Penang, Robert Hamlyn is a well-to-do lawyer and his steely wife Lesley a society hostess. Their lives are invigorated when Willie, an old friend of Robert’s, comes to stay.

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Willie Somerset Maugham is one of the greatest writers of his day. But he is beleaguered by an unhappy marriage, ill-health and business interests that have gone badly awry. He is also struggling to write. The more Lesley’s friendship with Willie grows, the more clearly she see him as he is – a man who has no choice but to mask his true self.

As Willie prepares to leave and face his demons, Lesley confides secrets of her own, including how she came to know the charismatic Dr Sun Yat Sen, a revolutionary fighting to overthrow the imperial dynasty of China. And more scandalous still, she reveals her connection to the case of an Englishwoman charged with murder in the Kuala Lumpur courts – a tragedy drawn from fact, and worthy of fiction.

From Man Booker Prize-shortlisted Tan Twan Eng, The House of Doors is a masterful novel of public morality and private truth a century ago. Based on real events it is a drama of love and betrayal under the shadow of Empire.*

Histories of a civilization

648pp, ₹1299; Aleph (Providing remarkable insights into Indian history and society)
648pp, ₹1299; Aleph (Providing remarkable insights into Indian history and society)

The Indians is one of the most ambitious projects yet undertaken to map the origins, evolution, and present-day reality of India’s civilization and people. Written by over one hundred of South Asia’s foremost scholars and domain experts, the essays in the book cover a period of some 12,000 years — from the last Ice Age to the twenty-first century.The book is divided into seven sections. The first part looks at the evolution of humans in South Asia through the lens of the early “Indian” population, their migrations, and the climate. The second part focuses on the emergence of different civilizations in the region through the domestication of plants and animals and other factors and how these civilizations eventually begin to decline. The third part discusses the languages and philosophies that defined ancient India — Buddhism, Jainism, Sanskrit, Indo-Iranian languages, and Pali literature, among others. The fourth part is a detailed study of society and culture in various geographical regions – the North, South, Northeast, the Deccan, East, and West India. The fifth part looks at the advent of colonialism and its impact on the country’s economy, social fabric, and knowledge systems. The sixth part looks at Adivasi movements, Ambedkarite politics, Gandhian resistance, and other events that would come to form the bedrock of the independent republic. And, finally, the seventh part looks at contemporary India – the workings of the Constitution and urbanism, liberalization, and other aspects of the modern Indian experience.Taken together, the essays in the book provide remarkable insights into Indian history and society.*

The full force of a great tragedy

342pp, ₹599; Hachette (A novel that tells us more about Partition than any historical study)
342pp, ₹599; Hachette (A novel that tells us more about Partition than any historical study)

Life in Sialkot goes on with a hum, until the fateful news arrives, like smoke it lingers and begins to settle into homes that have sheltered generations. Within days reality dawns, terrible passions are unleashed, and lives are rent asunder. In Chaman Nahal’s intense novel, the reader encounters the full force of the great tragedy of Partition. Chaman Nahal, formerly Professor of English at Delhi University and Fellow, Churchill College, Cambridge University, was the author of nine novels, four of which constitute The Gandhi Quartet. For Azadi, which has been translated into 10 languages, he received the Sahitya Akademi Award as well as the Federation of Indian Publishers Award. His other publications include a collection of short stories, three children’s novels and several other literary books. He was a Fulbright visiting scholar at Princeton University from 1967 to 1970 and was a visiting professor at various universities in the US, Europe, Asia and Australia. He ran a column, Talking about Books in the Indian Express from 1966 to 1973. He died in 2013. When it was first published in 1975, The Observer, London, pronounced that Azadi was “told with a confident realism lost to English fiction” while The Times, London, called it “impressive and elegantly written” and added that it “tells more of the truth about Partition than any historical study”.*

*All copy from book flap.

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