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Picks of November

Non-fiction dominates our selection for next month

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JOURNALISM
Author: Joe Sacco
Publisher: Random House
It is possible to make the claim that Joe Sacco, best known for his graphic novels on Palestine, is the world’s most astute foreign correspondent. All Sacco needs is paper and ink to make his travels — and quiet but pointed commentary — over the last ten years come to indelible life, from the time he spends with untouchables in India to his interviews with Chechen women, the refugee crisis in Malta, and the war crimes trials at the Hague. Don’t miss this.

THERE WAS A COUNTRY

Publisher: Penguin US
This “personal history of Biafra” from one of Africa’s greatest writers has drawn sharp reactions for Achebe’s unsparing recollections of the genocidal civil war of the 1970s. “Crossroads possess a certain dangerous potency,” Achebe writes, in a memoir that will be essential reading for anyone who knows his fiction and other writings.

INDIA’S TRYST WITH DESTINY: DEBUNKING MYTHS THAT UNDERMINE PROGRESS AND ADDRESSING NEW CHALLENGES
Author: Jagdish Bhagwati & Arvind Panagariya
Publisher: HarperCollins
When two of the sharpest minds in economics decide to write about India’s growth story, expect their analyses to provoke some debate. In an early interview about the book, Panagariya talks about the need to debunk myths about growth, to pay more attention to the engineering of programmes that target social sector development and the urgent need for labour law reform.

CHURNING THE EARTH
Author: Aseem Shrivastava & Ashish Kothari
Publisher: Penguin India
Economist Aseem Shrivastava and environmentalist Ashish Kothari approach the Indian development and growth story from a very different angle. “It is crucial to note the parasitic nature of most of the capital that flows into India,” they write, attempting to understand why the benefits of the economic boom of previous years hasn’t reached more than a thin sliver of rich and middle-class citizens. Their argument for a radical ecological democracy is based on several studies of local, community initiatives across India.

MACAULAY: PIONEER OF INDIAN MODERNISATION
Author: Zareer Masani
Publisher: Random House
In 2006, Zareer Masani attends a birthday party for Thomas Babington Macaulay, whose Minute allowed English to become the fastest growing of contemporary Indian languages, thrown by Dalit intellectual Chandra Bhan Prasad. “Hereafter, the first sounds all newborn Dalit babies will hear from their parents is abcd,” says Prasad, only half-joking. Over the course of this vivid, intelligent biography, Masani brings to life Macaulay’s love for “razor-sharp argument” and sweeping condemnations as well as the political and social background to his infamous Minute.

FAIRY TALES FROM THE BROTHERS GRIMM: A NEW VERSION
Author: Philip Pullman
Publisher: Viking
Pullman’s hope, when he undertook to retell 50 of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, is not as modest as it seems: “I just wanted to produce a version that was as clear as water.” His understanding of fantasy, as you would expect from the author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, is acute, and these tales are an excellent modern rendering. As Ursula K Le Guin observes in her review of another great writer’s retelling of an ancient tale — A S Byatt’s Ragnarok —“retelling a great myth is like performing a famous piece of music… the scope for risks and choices is immense”.

WOES OF THE TRUE POLICEMAN
Author: Roberto Bolano
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Bolano’s library of posthumously published works is large and capacious — Woes of The True Policeman, the novel he had worked on for 20 years and that was still in progress when he died in 2003 might be the last from beyond the grave, though. A widower with a teenaged daughter leaves Barcelona for a border town in Mexico, where he meets a magician and a writer. Bolano had several other books in various stages of progress and publication, but this, he wrote, “is MY NOVEL”. It remains, appropriately, unfinished.

LONDON COMPANY
Author: Farrukh Dhondy
Publisher: Hachette
The title carries a faint echo of one of Farrukh Dhondy’s early successes, Poona Company. Dhondy would shift between fiction, memoir, journalism, screenplays and theatre for the next few decades. If Poona Company was fiction loosely based on his own life as a young, middle-class man in India, London Company is a memoir of coming-of-age at a time when immigrants and the politics of race changed the UK. “No, no, no room,” he and his companion Natasha were told over and over again by landlords; from demonstrations and earnest arguments to his fledgling writing years, it’s all here, in precise, sometimes exhausting detail. As an account of his activist years, it captures that time and place, but London Company’s greatest strength is Dhondy’s skill as a polished raconteur.

DURBAR
Author: Tavleen Singh
Publisher: Hachette
In Lollipop Street, Singh profiled some of India’s rising celebrities, chiefly from the political class. In Durbar, this well-known newspaper columnist attempts a political memoir that starts with her memories of the Nehru era and the Emergency, and continues to the Rajiv Gandhi years.

SETHJI
Author: Shobhaa De
Publisher: Penguin India
De might be the Mick Jagger of Indian writing; as each year’s quota of bestselling writers move through the arrival and departure lounge, her reputation and her ability to draw massive audiences remains intact. “Popular fiction at its most brazen,” she said about her first few books. “I knew that when I decided to write them… I had my fun, my little thrills and I moved on.” Now she’s back with Sethji, her first novel in a long while, politicians standing in for the businessmen who furnished her earlier blockbusters, but expect the gossip and the impact to be the same.

WAGING HEAVY PEACE
Author: Neil Young
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
The rock n’roll memoir is a strange beast; it has the impersonality of sleeve notes at its worst, and even the best of the genre smashes prose the way The Who used to smash their guitars. Neil Young’s direct, conversational autobiography is different, shot through with the contemplative engagement that marked the best of the CSNY years. From his obsession with model railroads and cars to his family life, with a son who was born quadriplegic, to straight-up stories about Joni Mitchell, Woodstock and recording with the band, this is the real thing. His writing voice may be untrained, but it has the raw honesty of his music, earned after a decade of clean time. Come a little bit closer if you want to hear what he has to say.


(“Picks of...” provides a selection of books to look out for in the coming month and appears on the last week of each month)

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