Pools, Planes and the Perfect Book

Tormented by those sadistic back-to-school ads? Don’t be. There are three and a half weeks left until Labor Day, and, eternal optimists that we are at Republic of Brown, we prefer to see the summer as half full. Okay, technically, one quarter full, but that still leaves plenty of time for one last blow-out vacation. Or an extra-long, leisurely weekend. Or, at the least, a day lounging pool-side, your choice of cocktail in hand.

So without further ado, and in honor of the last few glorious weeks of summer, we bring you an end-of-summer reading list of our personal favorites – for whatever kind of last-minute vacation you can squeeze in.

Jetsetting across the ocean – we recommend:

1.  Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
Using the framework of street-smart city cop versus equally shrewd Hindu don, this 928-page thriller is an eye-opening romp through Mumbai’s underworld. Bonus: You’ll learn all the Hindi profanity you’ll ever need to know should you wish to embark on your own Mumbai adventure.
2. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
“You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair,” says one of the characters midway through the book, pretty much summing up the theme. It’s not a light read, but the prose is gorgeous, and we’ve never cared so deeply for people we’ll never meet.
3. The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru
This Zelig-esque tale follows an early 20th-century British-Indian boy named Pran as he travels everywhere from a brothel to a Presbyterian mission in Mumbai to boarding school in Britain to the African bush… you get the idea. As Pran’s adventures unfold, he encounters a smorgasbord of hilarious side characters who make this book an extremely fun read.

Long weekend getaway – we recommend:
4.  Home Boy by H. M. Naqvi
This darkly funny coming-of-age tale is garnering rave reviews for its spot-on depiction of the Pakistani immigrant experience in post-9/11 New York, while first-time novelist Naqvi’s masterful use of language and detail to capture a zeitgeist is gaining him comparisons to the likes of Rushdie and Nabokov.
5. Q&A by Vikas Swarup
Chances are, you already know the plot of this one; it’s the book Slumdog Millionaire was based on. Incredible score notwithstanding, we prefer the book. Though the structure of the narrative requires a certain suspension of belief, the struggles faced by a penniless orphan in contemporary India are only too real.
6.  The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
This feminist take on the Mahabharata has all of the mythological drama of the latter – encompassing gods, sorcerers, epic battles, and tragic turns of fate – but told from a personal, modern perspective. The results are enchanting, thanks in large part to Divakaruni’s own magical gift for creating beautiful images out of words.

Lounging poolside – we recommend:
7.  Serving Crazy with Curry by Amulya Malladi
Like Tita in Like Water for Chocolate, the despondent heroine of Malladi’s darkly comedic third novel deals with life’s injustices by channeling all of her emotions into her cooking – resulting in mind-blowing culinary creations that affect every person and relationship in the household (ultimately, of course, for the better). And yes, recipes are included.
8.  Imaginary Men by Anjali Banerjee
A modern-day fairy tale in the Bridget Jones mold. The protagonist, a San Francisco-based NRI, is a professional matchmaker without a match of her own, who invents one out of thin air to appease her marriage-minded relatives in India… and then has to figure out a way to supply the goods. This is a perfect summertime read: quick, entertaining, feel-good chick lit.
9.  In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
A finalist for the 2009 National Book Award in Fiction, this book of eight interlinked short stories, all revolving around a wealthy landowner in Lahore and the characters (from the very rich to the desperately poor) who people his universe, gives a sweeping view of a country most of us know too little about.

Story by Republic of Brown contributor Laura Silverman

Literature loves company. Forward to your friends so they can get book-smart too.

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