In recent posts we have recommended two books for listening:
- Rocket Men – The Epic Story of the First Men on The Moon
- The Billionaire’s Vinegar – The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine
So if you are wondering whether we actually read books, the answer is yes. And to prove it, here are two recommendations for your reading pleasure. Actually I read both of these on my Kindle, but that still counts as a read.
Both books are set in India, and you will discover things you never would as a tourist.
The first is “The White Tiger“ by Aravind Adiga. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2008.
The plot centers around Balram Halwai, a laborer born and raised in a small village utterly controlled by crooked and feudally powerful landlords. The village is located in ‘the Darkness,’ a particularly backward region of India. Balram is eventually taken to Delhi as a driver for one of the landlord’s westernized sons, Ashok. It’s in Delhi that Balram comes to the realization that there’s a new caste system at work in both India and the world, and it has only two groups: those who are eaten, and those who eat, prey and predators. Balram decides he wants to be an eater, someone with a big belly, and the novel tracks the way in which this ambition plays out.
By coincidence I was reading this book when the Mumbai attacks took place. Although The White Tiger is set in New Delhi it still provided a multi-layered backdrop for current events.
The next book, on the other hand, does take place in Mumbai. “Shantaram“ by Gregory Roberts is a monster of a book at 944 pages.
From the Amazon.com and Publisher’s Weekly reviews:
Crime and punishment, passion and loyalty, betrayal and redemption are only a few of the ingredients in Shantaram, a massive, over-the-top, mostly autobiographical novel. Shantaram is the name given Mr. Lindsay, or Linbaba, the larger-than-life hero. It means “man of God’s peace,” which is what the Indian people know of Lin. What they do not know is that prior to his arrival in Bombay he escaped from an Australian prison where he had begun serving a 19-year sentence … he arrives in Bombay with little money, an assumed name, false papers, an untellable past, and no plans for the future. Fortunately, he meets Prabaker right away, a sweet, smiling man who is a street guide. He takes to Lin immediately, eventually introducing him to his home village, where they end up living for six months. When they return to Bombay, they take up residence in a sprawling illegal slum of 25,000 people and Linbaba becomes the resident “doctor … Linbaba’s life in the slum abruptly ends when he is arrested without charge and thrown into the hell of Arthur Road Prison. Upon his release, he moves from the slum and begins laundering money and forging passports for one of the heads of the Bombay mafia, guru/sage Abdel Khader Khan. Eventually, he follows Khader as an improbable guerrilla in the war against the Russians in Afghanistan.
But more than all that, this will give you a feel for India that I don’t believe is available elsewhere. Everything from the side streets of Mumbai, to village life, to prison life, to mafia life, to Bollywood life. And as an additional attraction, Afganistan. To be honest, parts of the ‘autobiographical’ story might or might not be true, but there seems no doubt that the tapestry into which it’s woven is the real thing.
A friend who spends time in Mumbai every year said he will never be able to walk past the Arther Road Jail again without thinking about what is happening inside.