Talking about best literary figures from the south Asian continent, the names which we all usually take out are Roy, Rushdie, Mistry and Seth who still manage to dominate the literary world, even though they were the best of 1990’s. Over the past few years there has been renaissance in writing from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. The internationalization of literature, has allowed for new tales of global experience. Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies won a Pulitzer Prize, Kiran Desai and Aravind Adiga have won the Booker, and Moshin Hamid, Amitav Ghosh and Jeet Thayil have all been short-listed.
I would like to share my top 10 favourite authors from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh who tell a hugely diverse range of stories and have written startlingly potent novels, and hold great promise.
The Wandering Falcon is his first book, and it’s pretty wonderful. Ahmad started off writing poetry, but switched to fiction only when his wife told him to do so. It was in the ’70s, that he wrote first draft of the book, he only recently returned to the manuscript at his family’s urging, and now three decades later, it is being published. I really hope to read more from him.
His debut book A Case of Exploding Mangos has been evaluated to the greats of Joseph Heller and Philip Roth. It is about the 1988 plane crash killing Pakistani President Zia, which is from the eyes of an Air Force officer who was persuaded that the president murdered his father. The book received Commonwealth Book Prize win and Booker Prize nominations; which announced the author as a distant new voice with populist ambitions. Hanif’s next book – Our Lady of Alice Bhatti was similarly renowned.
Bangladeshi writer Tahmima Anam comes from a bookish family. Her father is the editor and publisher of The Daily Star and her grandfather was a known satirist. She published her first novel, A Golden Age, in 2007, for which she won the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. In 2013, Tahmima was named as one of the best in Granta’s Best Young British Novelists. She is currently Contributing Opinion Writer for The New York Times and a judge for the 2016 Man Booker Prize.
Amitav Ghosh, is an Indian writer whose novels have complex descriptive strategies that search to the nature of national and personal individuality of residents of India and Southeast Asia. His debut novel, The Circle of Reason is about an Indian protagonist who, alleged to be a terrorist, leaves India for Africa and Middle East. His next book The Shadow Lines is history of 2 families (Indian and English) that are affected by the events at the departure of the British from India in 1947. Sea of Poppies described individuals on the Ibis, carrying labourers and opium, was the first book in the Ibis trilogy, which takes place before and during the first Opium War. The historical series also included River of Smoke and Flood of Fire.
Pakistani-American author Daniyal came out in 2009 with his debut collection In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, which appeared on several top ten lists and was also a finalist at National Book Awards, the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, the 2010 Los Angeles Times First Fiction Award, and the 2010 Ondaatje Prize. His story “Nawabuddin Electrician” was included in the Salman Rushdie-edited Best American Short Stories 2008 and “A Spoiled Man”, appeared in the 2010 edition of the O Henry Prize Stories.
Sunjeev Sahota while visiting relatives in India, read Midnight’s Children which opened everything up. He soon devoured Roy, Seth and others. He started to write in the evening, while working in marketing by day. His debut, Ours is the Streets, was published in 2011. It follows a Punjabi man in Sheffield who, despite a settled marriage and a young child, determines to become a suicide bomber after a trip to Afghanistan. Reviewers were smitten, praising Sahota’s lyrical tone, psychological depth and exploration of identity.
If you haven’t heard of Jhumpa Lahiri yet, I will be shocked. Her debut short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2000, her first novel, The Namesake, was released to wide acclaim in 2003 and subsequently adapted into a film starring and her second short story collection, Unaccustomed Earth, was an instant best seller. Needless to say, she is one of the best writers of Indian origin.
He is one of that very few writers to win the Booker Prize with the first novel, Aravind Adiga has grown into an important voice on India’s contemporary social change and the injustices it has caused. The White Tiger (2008) follows a village boy as he tries to climb the caste system in Delhi and Bangalore. Adiga’s works have seen him compared to Dickens, while his luminous prose has been likened to Naipaul’s.
Not just a wonderful author, but an accomplished Indian classical musician as well. He contributed and still contributes fiction, poetry and review pieces to The Guardian, the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, the New Yorker and Granta magazine. His debut book, A Strange and Sublime Address won the Betty Trask Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and was nominated for the Guardian Fiction Prize. His most modern novel – The Immortals got shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers Prize and the 2011 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, and Odysseus Abroad. In 2013 is non-fiction book Calcutta: Two Years in the City was printed as a personal description of his time spent in the city.
Kamila Shamsie is a well known Pakistani writer. Her debut novel, In the City by the Sea, was shortlisted for John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, and her second book, Salt and Saffron, won her Orange’s list of ’21 Writers for the 21st Century’. In 1999 the Prime Minister’s Award for Literature in Pakistan was awarded to Kamila. She writes for The Guardian and The New Statesman. Her book Burnt Shadows is about a Nagasaki survivor and her friends through countries of India, Pakistan, New York and Afghanistan, , this book got selected for Granta’s best young British novelists last year and Shamsie’s mastery of magnanimous narratives and delicious words grows with each novel.