Jaipur 6 January: UNESCO’s recent report on the number and type of books published per country per year shows India alone brought over 90,000 titles in 2013. The number could only have increased since then! Even for the most eager reader, this poses the quandary what to read and where to begin. If only there were a definitive list of titles spanning different genres and writing styles…
But then there is ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival (ZEE JLF)!
Since it’s that time of the year when people are getting ready to attend literary fests in the winter sun, ZEE JLF shares the shortlist of all the amazing books and authors discovered and loved over the 10 years of the Festival for you to play catch-up. While it’s no easy feat to choose a few from a repertoire that spells excellence, ZEE JLF has chosen a mixed list ranging from translated regional writings to epic memoirs.
Starting with an homage to women writers world over, ZEE JLF choice of ‘badass women writing for/about badass women’ includes: Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary by Anita Anand, which looks at the life of an Indian princess and goddaughter of Queen Victoria who went on to become a leading figure in the British suffragette movement; The Essential Gloria Steinem Reader: As If Women Matter, a compilation of the feminist icon’s writing; two books discussing sexuality and gender in the Middle East, Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middles East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy and Sex and the Citadel by Shereen El Feki, which offer a provocative and revealing look into this touchy issue; postmodern feminist classic The Handmaid’s Tale by the brilliant Margaret Atwood; and ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adhichie, which was featured in Beyonce’s ‘Flawless’ and is required reading in Swedish schools.
Memoirs are known to inspire the most latent of dreams, learning from the experiences and challenges of others. Since 2006, ZEE JLF has brought forth some of the greatest tales of revelation: Jung Chang’s family saga Wild Swans; Molly Crabapple’s stunning memoir-manifesto Drawing Blood; In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri, a nuanced look into learning and writing in Italian; Jerry Pinto’s Em and the Big Hoom, an autobiographical work of fiction of a boy’s account of life with his mentally ill mother; and Helen Macdonald’s Samuel Johnson Prize-winning H is for Hawk.
ZEE JLF also celebrates Hindi and Urdu writers who have been instrumental in shaping the outlook of the regional literature. Some of the Festival team’s favourite books include: Saadat Hasan Manto, an Urdu writer seen by many as a master of the short story; The Mirror of Beauty, originally published in Urdu, is an epic novel set in the last days of the Mughal empire; Krishna Sobti’s Zindaginama, a classic of Hindi literature; and Abdullah Hussein’s The Weary Generations, an instant bestseller in Urdu, now in its 40th edition and one that’s never been out of print.
Moving across seas to the literary genius of Africa, ZEE JLF explored the continent to bring out choicest writers: Ben Okri’s Man Booker Prize-winning The Famished Road; Taiye Selasi’s debut Ghana Must Go chronicles the lives of a Ghanaian-Nigerian family across generations and continents; the brilliant Half of a Yellow Sun by the equally brilliant Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; the first instalment of Zimbabwean-born Alexander McCall Smith’s beloved No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series; African Psycho by Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou, described by The Economist as the ‘prince of absurd’; and Open City, the bestselling debut by Teju Cole who’s been hailed as ‘the WG Sebald of the 21st century’.
Chronicling real events and places, often more bizarre and unique than imagination itself, is a talent not bestowed to all. From history to reportage, ZEE JLF recommends the top nonfiction books coming out of the Festival: Maximum City by Suketu Mehta offers a revealing portrait of Bombay; Raghu Karnad’s spectacular debut Farthest Field explores the often overlooked role of Indian soldiers in WW2 through the lives of his grandfather and grand-uncles; the award-winning Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo is another searingly honest look into Mumbai: Jerusalem: The Biography by bestselling writer and historian Simon Sebag Montefiore; Peter Frankopan’s fascinating The Silk Roads: A New History of the World; and ZEE JLF Co-director William Dalrymple’s Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, winner of the Hemingway Prize and Kapuściński Prize in 2015.
Finally, a fitting conclusion to exemplary recommendations is a list of outstanding reads from some of the great female Indian writers that have appeared at ZEE JLF: Anjum Hasan’s Cosmopolitans set amidst the Bangalore art scene; Man Booker Prize nominated Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy; Walking Toward Ourselves, a fabulous collection of stories by some of the country’s foremost female authors; Kiran Desai’s 2006 Booker Prize-winning Inheritance of Loss and ZEE JLF Co-director Namita Gokhale’s Paro which has been described as the ‘sexiest debut novel in Delhi history’.
By no means a small task, this list is only a tip of the enormous iceberg of talent that gathers at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival each year. The Festival, which opens from January 19 to 23, 2017, has its speaker’s table going full force with participation from noteworthy names, such as Man Booker Prize winners Paul Beatty, Richard Flanagan and Alan Hollinghurst, prolific Indian-American writer Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, famed Kannada writer S.L. Bhyrappa, poets Anne Waldman, Gulzar, Javed Akhtar and Kate Tempest and politician and polymath Shashi Tharoor. ZEE JLF 2017 will witness it all – legends, the first timers and the regulars!