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Book Wrapped 2023: 30 Unputdownable, Must-Reads of the Year

No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

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It takes a village for an idea to become a book. Month-on-month, year-on-year, we in the Indian publishing landscape publish hundreds of stories. Some do well, some not so much. And yet, the commitment, rigour, and labour it takes to brew these books, slow cook them with love, and midwife their births remain our take-home rewards at the end of the year.

This is by no means a scientifically objective, data-tested, and empirically sound list if you went scratching underneath the words 'absolute’ or ‘best’ or 'must-reads'. It is, but a deeply personal and honest curation. A sort of 2023 Wrapped for bookworms this festive season, a reminder for you to add more to your TBR pile, minus the guilt.

Behind the scenes of your cozy reads for the holidays and through the year is the tireless passion of cover designers, editors, publishers, production folks, marketers and publicists, sales teams, agents, demand planners and stockists, warehousers and customer aid, bookstore workers, reviewers, delivery agents and countless more.
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Here’s to celebrating them all.

Dive in and order some of these books if you have access to a big city, and therefore, a well-stocked bookstore near you, or order them online. I promise you won’t regret it. And no spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

The Gorakhpur Hospital Tragedy: A Doctor’s Memoir of a Deadly Medical Crisis by Dr Kafeel Khan.

Credit: Pan Macmillan India

1. The Gorakhpur Hospital Tragedy: A Doctor’s Memoir of a Deadly Medical Crisis by Dr Kafeel Khan.

Nonfiction

Dr Khan’s first-hand account of the widely reported story of 63 infants and 18 adults dying in a public hospital in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 due to the state’s alleged failure in maintaining liquid oxygen supply is the spine-chilling story of those two nights and what followed after. This two-fold tragedy – medical and political – is an essential read to make sense of the India we live, love, and die in.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

Everything the Light Touches by Janice Pariat

Credit: HarperCollins India

2. Everything the Light Touches by Janice Pariat

Fiction

A brilliant novel featuring four travellers and discoverers from across continents and centuries, Everything the Light Touches is about people whose paths do not and sort of do cross, but whose lives are connected like the neural network of an ancient forest. This is the most important ecological fiction you’ll read this year. Fortunate is the reader who has ever read a Pariat.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

My Life as a Comrade: The Story of an Extraordinary Politician and the World That Shaped Her by KK Shailaja

Credit: Juggernaut

3. My Life as a Comrade: The Story of an Extraordinary Politician and the World That Shaped Her by KK Shailaja

Nonfiction

A candid tell-all by one of India’s powerful stateswomen and Vogue cover star, KK Shailaja’s stellar work during the pandemic brought her global recognition and accolades. She bares it quite brilliantly – talking of her childhood, her career as a teacher, life in politics, and the influence of communism on her selfhood.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

Sandalwood Soap and Other Stories by Perumal Murugan; translated by Kavitha Muralidharan

Credit: Juggernaut

4. Sandalwood Soap and Other Stories by Perumal Murugan; translated from the Tamil by Kavitha Muralidharan

Fiction

If there isn’t a new Murugan that drops in a particular year, the chasm it leaves behind is too melancholic to bear. Bingo, 2023 brought two of his new books! While much fanfare surrounded his JCB-Prize-winning novel Fire Bird, wonderfully translated by Janani Kannan, it is his short story collection I enjoyed greatly this year. The prolific writer’s ability transforms the quotidian and mundane into universal yet peculiarly Muruganian life-worlds remains unmatched.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

Water in a Broken Pot: A Memoir by Yogesh Maitreya

Credit: Penguin Random House India

5. Water in a Broken Pot: A Memoir by Yogesh Maitreya

Nonfiction

A book I had the privilege to publish this year was Yogesh Maitreya’s incredibly moving and hauntingly honest memoir about the poet, publisher, and translator’s experiences of loneliness, alienation, and his Dalit identity. In his sharing his story, Maitreya who started Panther’s Paw to platform Dalit-Bahujan writers, gives us readers permission to be vulnerable and tell our tales.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

Sakina’s Kiss by Vivek Shanbhag; translated by Srinath Perur

Credit: Penguin Random House India

6. Sakina’s Kiss by Vivek Shanbhag; translated from the Kannada by Srinath Perur

Fiction

Nobody centres the middle-class experience in his literary landscape better than Shanbhag. The celebrated writer-translator duo of record-breaking Ghachar Gochar fame published their much-awaited novel after a prolonged interlude and audiences, critics and readers lapped it up, and how. The novel is occupied by the seedy underworld, compromised journalism, the world of shattered masculinities, a disappearance from long ago, and a family at the heart of it.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

A Rebellious Cobbler by Dwarka Bharti; translated by Dr Amritpal Kaur

Credit: Panther's Paw

7. A Rebellious Cobbler by Dwarka Bharti; translated from the Hindi by Dr Amritpal Kaur

Nonfiction

Told with joyful and brutal honesty, Bharti’s memoir is filled with love and hope. As a person from the Mochi (cobbler) community, he writes on his childhood marked by routine and everyday cruelty meted out to a Dalit person in India. He reflects on his work on the dam projects of Himachal Pradesh where he unsuccessfully hid his caste, subsequently as a university curriculum designer, and as a poet. This is as much the story of friendship and solidarity in the legacy left behind by Ambedkar.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

I Named My Sister Silence by Manoj Rupda; translated by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

Credit: Westland Books

8. I Named My Sister Silence by Manoj Rupda; translated from the Hindi by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

Fiction

This brilliant translation by Shekhar is the bildungsroman of the year! It foregrounds a young Adivasi boy and his life told parallelly with his half-sister’s. The writing isn’t draped with unnecessary grandeur, but laced instead with pleasures that lie between the said and the unsaid. The novella’s resistance to a formulaic narrative structure is its greatest achievement.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

The Indian Cat: Stories, Paintings, Poetry, and Proverbs by BN Goswamy

Credit: Aleph Book Company

9. The Indian Cat: Stories, Paintings, Poetry, and Proverbs by BN Goswamy

Nonfiction

The legendary art historian late BN Goswamy left us with a heartfelt gift before he unfortunately passed away – a biography of the Indian cat. It’s the story of this feline creature and its endearing place in our hearts, our syncretic culture, folklore, literature, poetry, and other arts. The cat was as much a muse to Ghalib as to the Prophet, as well as a frequent character in Jataka tales. A perfect year-end gift.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

Victory City by Salman Rushdie

Credit: Penguin Random House India

10. Victory City by Salman Rushdie

Fiction

A tour de force, Rushdie’s (pre-finished) fiction installment published after surviving a horrific attack on his personhood and freedoms, this magical realist saga set in a 15th-century Indian kingdom is indeed a victory over hate. The prequel of his much-awaited nonfiction memoir Knife (out in March 2024), this is a story about the history of power, of movement, and a world where fiction and fact go to bed together.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

The Keepers of Knowledge: Writings from Mizoram, co-edited by Hmingthanzuali and Mary Vanlalthanpuii

Credit : Zubaan Books

11. The Keepers of Knowledge: Writings from Mizoram, co-edited by Hmingthanzuali and Mary Vanlalthanpuii

Genre-inclusive anthology

A genre-defying, inclusive, and syndicated magnum opus that is widely representative of Mizo women’s lived histories, life-work, and stories, this book is an ingenious achievement. The book offers literary resistance against the erasure of women’s role and place in society as knowledge keepers told alongside the everyday experiences of women in Mizoram. The first-of-a-kind contributors include writers, citizens, community folk, and academics, among others.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

The Herbal Sutra: Indian Wisdom & Wellness Through 100 Herbs by Madhulika Banerjee

Credit: Roli Books 

12. The Herbal Sutra: Indian Wisdom & Wellness Through 100 Herbs by Madhulika Banerjee

Nonfiction

Stunningly illustrated with block prints, this a must for anybody who’s invested in wellness, self-care, and the pursuit of learning about our India’s ecological diversity. It’s a biography of 100 Indian herbs, their medicinal, social, and cultural stories as well as a guide on how to live better, eat better, and make holistic choices in one’s everyday life.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

History’s Angel by Anjum Hasan

Credit: Bloomsbury India

13. History’s Angel by Anjum Hasan

Fiction

This quietly dizzying novel follows Alif, a middle-aged history teacher living in Delhi trying to make sense of his present and the past he’s inherited. Told in a darkly funny tone, the novel is about making sense of being Muslim in an alienating and hauntingly cruel India. Having marked a permanent place for itself in a universe of novels set in Delhi, it recreates a Dilli one is all too familiar with.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

How Prime Ministers Decide by Neerja Chowdhury

Credit: Aleph Book Company

14. How Prime Ministers Decide by Neerja Chowdhury

Nonfiction

Likely the definitive explosive book of the year in how it unearthed a goldmine of untold histories of India’s Prime Ministers’ Offices, this is a chronicle of how the country’s most crucial and life-altering decisions are taken at the very peak of the political establishment. Covering a vast period between the terms of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh, PV Narasimha Rao, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, this book will change the way you look at politics in India.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

Burning Roses in My Garden by Taslima Nasrin, edited and translated by Jesse Waters.

Credit: Penguin Random House India

15. Burning Roses in My Garden by Taslima Nasrin, edited and translated from the Bengali by Jesse Waters.

Poetry

If there is one book of poetry you were to read this year, it is this. Read these poems once, twice, thrice and chew them, let them fill you up, go to sleep with them and wake up with them, and see how they change you. Writer-in-exile, feminist, and activist Taslima manages to rupture through our hearts with this book, that I had the good fortune of editing and publishing.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

Homeless: Growing up Lesbian and Dyslexic in India by K Vaishali

Credit: Yoda and Simon & Schuster India

16. Homeless: Growing up Lesbian and Dyslexic in India by K Vaishali

Nonfiction

One of the most startlingly bare, self-aware, and radically fresh voices of the year is K Vaishali’s. This memoir about growing up queer and neurodivergent reminded me a lot of the feverishly runny writing in Antor Hur’s translation of Baek Se-hee’s I Want to Die But I Want to Eat Tteokbokki.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

The Greatest Indian Stories Ever Told, edited by Arunava Sinha

Credit: Aleph Books

17. The Greatest Indian Stories Ever Told, edited by Arunava Sinha

Fiction

This brilliant anthology of 50 of the greatest Indian short stories, 43 of which are translations, and by design, from the many Indian languages is yet another collectible from Aleph that’s truly triumphed with its 'Greatest Stories' series. The selection is star-studded with writers who’ve gone on to win Nobel Prizes for Literature, the Jnanpith Award, the Sahitya Akademi Award, and numerous state, national, and international honours.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

Varavara Rao: A Life in Poetry by Varavara Rao; edited by N Venugopal and Meena Kandaswamy

Credit: Penguin Random House India 

18. Varavara Rao: A Life in Poetry by Varavara Rao; edited by N Venugopal and Meena Kandaswamy

Poetry

This breath-taking collection of poems by one of India’s political giants and the light of our times covers a selection from 16 of his books of poetry in Telugu from his teens up to his thriving eighties. His poetry, much like Faiz’s, has the ability to stir you up, powerful and charged with a resolve to not be snuffed out.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

Caste Pride: Battles for Equality in Hindu India by Manoj Mitta

Credit: Westland Books.

19. Caste Pride: Battles for Equality in Hindu India by Manoj Mitta

Nonfiction

A prolific addition to the literature on the systemic caste violence factory is that India, this is a history of the legal life of the caste discourse. So enormous is Mitta’s achievement that this doorstopper of a book should ideally shake anyone out of their anti-affirmative-action beliefs held so closely to their chests. Indeed, this book is at once moving, enlightening and transformative.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese

Credit: Atlantic Books 

20. The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese

Fiction

Set between 1900 and 1977, this novel follows a Malayali Christian family in Kerala that is cursed with losing a family member by drowning in every generation. Very reminiscent of Anuk Arudpragasam’s slow and meditative writing in A Passage North that is also centred around an ageing woman, Verghese has created a masterpiece that will go down as one of the best novels ever written by a person of South Asian origin.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

The Day I Became a Runner by Sohini Chattopadhyay

Credit: HarperCollins india 

21. The Day I Became a Runner by Sohini Chattopadhyay

Nonfiction

This is the India story told through that of its women runners. She follows eight sportswomen whose careers also paved the way for women’s empowerment in India. Arguing that by choosing running over other sports, particularly at a time when domestic life was the given choice for India’s women, they normalised women’s access to public spaces. In doing so, Chattopadhyay also tells the story of the cost of freedoms in an India from not so long ago.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

Roman Stories by Jhumpa Lahiri, translated by the author and Todd Portnowitz

Credit: Penguin Random House India

22. Roman Stories by Jhumpa Lahiri, translated by the author and Todd Portnowitz

Fiction

These short stories by the Bengali-American writer who has adopted Italian as one of the languages to think and create creative work in are absolutely stellar, to say the least. A recurring theme of the stories is a melancholic homesickness and exile. It is as much a love letter to Rome, her chosen home. For fans of Lahiri’s canon, I also recommend a little-known gem of a booklet by her called The Clothing of Books.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

The Yellow Sparrow: Memoir of a Transgender by Santa Khurai

Credit: Speaking Tiger Books

23. The Yellow Sparrow: Memoir of a Transgender by Santa Khurai

Nonfiction

This powerful memoir by Khurai, a Manipuri trans icon, activist, and writer is a very compelling read. She writes of the abuse and humiliation meted out to her by her natal family that disowned her, her gender-affirming journey, queer activism, an abusive marriage with a heterosexual cis man, the joys of adoption and parenthood, and her determination to stay unbroken against all odds. The tenderness of her writing is like a balm.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

The White Shirts of Summer by Mamang Dai

Credit: Speaking Tiger Books

24. The White Shirts of Summer by Mamang Dai

Poetry

This new collection of poems by one of India’s finest writers has poems that echo her love for her biosphere in Arunachal Pradesh. She describes with poetic genius great landscapes, powerful rivers, and dense forests. Deceptively simple, they carry in them a stubborn dignity and fierce refusal against the erasure of memory.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

Vajpayee: The Ascent of the Hindu Right by Abhishek Choudhary

Credit: Pan Macmillan India

25. Vajpayee: The Ascent of the Hindu Right by Abhishek Choudhary

Nonfiction

Arguably one of the finest biographies of an Indian ever written, Choudhary is a master storyteller who resurrects the life and times of one of the tallest leaders the BJP has ever seen, albeit permanently eclipsed since 2014. What could have been a dangerously revivalist and historically glossy project, Choudhary’s tome strikes an enviable kind of balance an editor-publisher can only dream to find and platform.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

Taxi by Manjula Padmanabhan

Credit: Hachette India

26. Taxi by Manjula Padmanabhan

Fiction

Another unputdownable delight in Padmanabhan’s oeuvre, Taxi’s plot is a rollercoaster ride. Her effervescence, and the darkly funny, whacky, and hilarious stories she’s consistently been able to cook up together are remarkable. This is a story of gender trouble, and social class tensions, with a dash of a wild romance.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

From Phansi Yard: My Year with the Women of Yerawada by Sudha Bhardwaj

Credit: Juggernaut

27. From Phansi Yard: My Year with the Women of Yerawada by Sudha Bhardwaj

Nonfiction

Written with warmth, love, and mischievous doses of humour, Sudha Bhardwaj’s prison memoir is a tell-all is about the world of women in the Yerawada Jail in Pune, where she was incarcerated between 2018 and 2020. A powerful must-read, it is a gift for many to continue to live, love, and fight for justice, even when behind bars.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

Quaterlife: A Novel by Devika Rege

Credit: HarperCollins India

28. Quaterlife: A Novel by Devika Rege

Fiction

A wonderful literary debut, Quaterlife is every bit worth your time. It’s the story of what ideas can achieve and how far they can go, the story of a nation, of yearning for a broken home, the limits of idealism, and an exploration of the self in a mosaic country. A refreshing political bildungsroman, what it achieves with the very form of a novel is exceptional.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

The Grammar of My Body: A Memoir by Abhishek Anicca

Credit: Penguin Random House India

29. The Grammar of My Body: A Memoir by Abhishek Anicca

Nonfiction

Another voice I had the great honour of platforming this year is Anicca’s who writes about everyday stories of living with disability and chronic illness while rejecting ableist society’s expectations to be an unpaid actor in Inspiration porn. These sparse, simple, and compelling essays are about his queerness, pain, shame, self-hatred, dating as a disabled person, and the chilling lack of representation in popular culture.

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No spoilers ahead, just heartfelt takes, without giving away too much.

Behold! The Word is God: Hymns of Tukaram; translated by Shanta Gokhale and Jerry Pinto

Credit: Speaking Tiger Books

30. Behold! The Word is God: Hymns of Tukaram; translated from the Marathi by Shanta Gokhale and Jerry Pinto

Poetry

Gokhale and Pinto, Bombay’s beloved storytellers and chronicles bring to life 51 abhangas (devotional poems) by the Bhakti poet-saint. Adding to previous iterations by Dilip Chitre and Arun Kolatkar, this collection captures the mystical and playful, aphoristic and cataclysmic prowess of Tukoba.

(Chirag Thakkar is a writer, editor and publisher based in Delhi. He tweets @chiraghthakkar. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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