INDIAN READERS HAVE PLENTY TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN 2017
Much of the fun of reading is in the anticipation. Before its spine is cracked open, every book is perfect, unsullied by boredom or disappointment or, worst of all, abandonment. These are some of the year’s most eagerly awaited titles. And don’t worry about the books you won’t finish or won’t even crack open. Regrets and recriminations are for endings not beginnings.
FEW SECOND NOVELS CAN HAVE BEEN MORE freighted with expectation than The Ministry of Utmost
Happiness. Arundhati Roy’s Booker-winning debut, The God of Small Things, turned her into a literary superstar and a symbol for India’s growing self-confidence.
But instead of rushing another novel into print, Roy abandoned fiction-writing to become an activist and a dogged critic of untrammelled state power. Now, though, Roy has finally written the second novel she’s put off for two decades, and her publishers have been ratcheting up the hype. “Language of the utmost freshness, joyfully reminding us that words are alive too,” fawned one acolyte. “Utterly original... well worth the wait,” gushed another. Expected out in June, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness will be the literary spectacle of the year.
If no novelist will want to be competing with Roy for column inches in June, there is much to look forward to in the first half of the new year. Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid, best known for The Reluctant Fundamentalist, revisits familiar territory with Exit
West—a love story set in a country on the cusp of civil war. An advance notice has described the novel, due out in March, as “one of the most bittersweet love stories in modern memory”. Presumably modern memories are not as short as modern attention spans. Balli Kaur Jaswal’s Erotic Stories for Punjabi
Widows, also out in March, sparked a bidding war among British publishers. Deborah Moggach, who wrote The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, has provided a blurb. But there is reason to hope that the novel will not just be nostalgic, sentimental kitsch for British audiences, as Jaswal won prizes in Australia for her debut Inheritance, set among the Sikh diaspora in Singapore.
Hari Kunzru, a British novelist with Kashmiri Pandit antecedents, won several awards for his 2003 debut, The Impressionist. He has since moved to New York and written three more novels and hundreds of pages of incisive journalism. His fifth novel, White Tears, spills America’s dirty secrets via early blues music. In 2012, Kunzru joined a small group of writers who responded to Salman Rushdie being prevented from attending the Jaipur Literature Festival by reading from The Satanic Verses, still banned in India. Jeet Thayil was among their number. A poet whose debut novel, Narcopolis, was shortlisted for the Booker that year, Thayil’s second novel, The Book of
Chocolate Saints, is expected in the summer. Another poet publishing her second novel in 2017 is Meena Kandasamy, whose When I Hit You, or A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife, is slated for May. The