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Nilanjana S Roy  |  New Delhi 

Nilanjana S Roy lists the top 50 of 2009.


A GATE AT THE STAIRS Lorrie Moore (Knopf) Moore’s novel of a woman growing up in the American Midwest is funny and heartbreaking in turn, and deserves all the praise it’s got.

TOO MUCH HAPPINESS Alice Munro (Chatto & Windus) One of Munro’s best collections yet, this is all the evidence you need that the short story is a thriving form.

THE MUSEUM OF INNOCENCE Orhan Pamuk (Knopf) Love and obsession in Istanbul; and Pamuk collects the objects in his story in a real-life museum.

BROOKLYN Colm Toibin (Viking) An Irish immigrant travels to 1950s America in this novel of the discovery of a country, and the making of heartwrenching but necessary choices. One of Toibin’s masterworks.

JEFF IN VENICE,DEATH IN VARANASI Geoff Dyer (Random House) A jaded journalist in Venice, a pilgrim in Varanasi: Dyer romps through this delightful novel with considerable verve.

HOME Marilynne Robinson,(Farrar, Straus and Giroux) Few writers understand the human heart as well as Robinson. The sequel to Gilead pits faith against despair, shelter against experience, in this wise, resonant novel.

YEAR OF THE FLOOD Margaret Atwood,(Doubleday) Atwood sticks with SF territory in this clever, apocalyptic follow-up to Oryx and Crake.

LOVE AND SUMMER William Trevor (Viking) A woman brought up as a foundling, a man about to leave home forever; Trevor makes magic of these simple ingredients.

THE STORYTELLER’S TALE Omair Ahmad (Penguin) Ahmad brings back the fable in this delicate and curiously modern tale, despite its medieval setting.

THE LITTLE STRANGER Sarah Waters (Hachette) This evocative ghost story set in a Victorian house is a classic tale of deception and quietly climactic horror.

THE CHILDREN’S BOOK A S Byatt (Chatto & Windus) Byatt is a cerebral novelist, and one reads her novels (her great hit was Possession in 1990) for their intellectual daring and scope. In her latest, the heroine is a writer whose children suffer for her craft. The story follows the fortunes of four families between 1895 and the aftermath of World War I. There is a host of characters, some of whom, like Oscar Wilde, are historical.

The book was a Booker contender this year.

IF IT IS SWEET Mridula Koshy (Tranquebar) The Shakti Bhatt award-winning collection of debut short stories that map the secret worlds hidden in cities as disparate as Delhi and Los Angeles.

SUMMERTIME J M Coetzee (Harvill Secker) Coetzee fictionalises Coetzee, in this tale of a South African writer seen through the eyes of the women he’s tried and failed to love.

ELECTRIC FEATHER The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Short Stories, edited by Ruchir Joshi India’s first contemporary collection of erotica brings in mofussil lust, Chugtai’s infamous quilt, and a very unusual wedding celebration.

CUTTING FOR STONE Abraham Verghese, (Random House) Verghese’s first excursion into is a sweeping, ambitious historical novel.

SOLO Rana Dasgupta (HarperCollins) Skill and craft fuel this view of Europe from one of its more neglected literary corners.

ARZEE THE DWARF Chandrahas Choudhury (HarperCollins) A new perspective on Bombay, from the point of view of a dwarf obsessed with a crumbling cinema hall.

THE STORY OF A WIDOW Musharraf Ali Farooqi, (Picador) Farooqi proves that he’s as good a novelist as a translator with this quiet, satisfying tale of a woman in transit.

THE IMMORTALS Amit Chaudhuri (Picador) Music forms the backbone of this intensely literary work, which showcases all of Chaudhuri’s lyrical skills.

THE CITY & THE CITY China Mieville (Del Rey) Mieville explodes through dark and rich territory in his latest futuristic sojourn.

THE STORY OF MY ASSASSINS Tarun Tejpal (HarperCollins) Tejpal’s journalistic skills flesh out this ambitious novel of darkness and violence in present-day India.

EUNUCH PARK Palash Krishna Mehrotra, (Penguin) A brilliant first collection of short stories steeped in black humour explores masculinity and the changing face of urban India.


A PACK OF LIES Urmilla Deshpande,(Tranquebar) A young woman discovers freedom, sensuality and identity as she struggles with a troubled family history.

THE IDEA OF JUSTICE Amartya Sen, (Viking/ Penguin) One of the most widely discussed of the year seeks to redefine justice as an active goal rather than a passive abstraction, via the Indian concept of “neeti”. The Nobel laureate’s arguments are succinct, thought-provoking — and always entertaining.

THE CASE FOR GOD Karen Armstrong, (Bodley Head) In a decade where faith has come under attack from the Dawkinites, the former nun makes a plausible and persuasive case for the continued existence of religion, if not the Almighty.

NINE LIVES William Dalrymple,(Viking/ Penguin) The popular historian plays tour guide through India’s vast array of religions in this relaxed, casual romp from Jain monks to beleaguered Sufi shrines to modern-day Tantrics.

RETHINKING HINDU IDENTITY D N Jha (Equinox) An outspoken scholar presents his view of the shaping of an often rigid, often troubled view of Hinduism.

AYN RAND AND THE WORLD SHE MADE Anne C Heller (Doubleday) The power and influence of Ayn Rand has outlasted her death, despite the frequent literary dismissals of her work. Anne Heller offers a fascinating look at the ways in which Ayn Rand was shaped and, in turn, shaped the world around her.

THE LAST EMPRESS Hannah Pakula,(Simon & Schuster) The Dragon Lady of China, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, is an ambiguous figure. This exhaustive and well-written biography explores the workings of the world of the last empress of China in illuminating detail.

BAULSPHERE Mimlu Sen (Random House) Travels with the faith-intoxicated singers of Bengal, written by an insider to the world of the Bauls.

CURFEWED NIGHT Basharat Peer, (Random House) This memoir of growing up in Kashmir provides a personal view of its troubled history. Peer’s background as a journalist allows him to blend the personal and the political with consummate ease.

FEAR AND FORGIVENESS Harsh Mander (Penguin) The Gujarat riots and their aftermath, examined by one of the most conscientious voices among India’s citizens.

STRANGER TO HISTORY Aatish Taseer (Picador India) Taseer explores the faith of his fathers through the prickly terrain of family history via the faultlines of today, as Islam reveals its multiple faces.

A PLACE WITHIN M G Vassanji (Penguin/Viking) The Canadian writer’s explorations of India become a quest to understand the roots of his work, as he meets some of his most revered fellow practitioners and thinkers.

DREAMING IN HINDI Katherine Russell Rich (Houghton Mifflin) This unusual memoir explores what it means to find a new language — and a country — in midlife.

THE DIFFICULTY OF BEING GOOD Gurcharan Das, (Viking/ Penguin) Lessons in contemporary dharma, via the Mahabharata, take us through the squabbles of the Ambanis, lessons from Arjuna on the battlefield, and the importance of living well versus the need to win.

THE PROFESSIONAL Subroto Bagchi (Penguin) The management guru explores ways of bringing values into a workplace that might often seem to place ethics below profits.

AN INDIAN FOR ALL SEASONS: THE MANY LIVES OF R C DUTT Meenakshi Mukherjee, (Penguin) A classic biography of an Indian pioneer from the late and respected critic.

THE HINDUS Wendy Doniger, (Viking/Penguin) The eminent Sanskrit scholar goes back to the Vedas and the few clues from the Indus Valley civilisation, among other sources, to trace the development of the multiple ideas of Hinduism. Enjoy the splendid digression into the role of dogs, cows and other animals in the scriptures.

RAYMOND CARVER: A WRITER’S LIFE Carol Slenicka (Scribner) This stunning work offers deep insight into the life and relationships of one of the greatest writers of the 21st century, with special emphasis on Carver’s often controversial relationship with his editor, Gordon Lish.

First Published: Sat, December 19 2009. 00:01 IST