Shiva’s Drum

July 4, 2017

‘…It looks like the rhythm of Shivapura life is upset. Even the seasons don’t keep time. The river looks wasted. The waves no longer run with a youthful vigour. The rocks under water are like bones jutting out of an old face.’

In Shivapura, the villagers worship their gods and nature, and cultivate the crops that their forebears have been growing since time immemorial. Sweet water flows in the Chalimele river, the trees bear delicious fruit, and the cattle and other animals are part of the household.

But Baramegowda, the landowner and headman, replaces traditional crops with sugarcane, a cash crop, and encourages the excessive use of chemical pesticides, amassing great wealth. He also enlists the aid of a foreign institution to build a private English-medium school and college on land where the village pond, Mallimadu, is. And life in Shivapura changes inexplicably—its waters turn to poison and its fruits and vegetables become tasteless. Deformed births among cattle and humans are reported and farmers, unable to repay their loans, commit suicide. When Chambasa, Baramegowda’s estranged nephew, and Namahshivaya, the village priest, discover that the foreign institution has been dumping chemical waste into Mallimadu, they inform Baramegowda, and faced with the destruction his greed has wrought, he appeals to them to save the village. But events take a different course after Chambasa’s wife is raped by men connected to the institution, and he is arrested for killing the rapists. And it will be years before Shivapura can heal itself.

In his new novel, Jnanpith-award winner Chandrasekhar Kambar weaves a mesmerizing tapestry of myth, history and legend to reveal the plight of farmers in the age of industry and capital. An epic narrative by one of the biggest names in Kannada literature, originally published in Kannada as Shivana Dangura, Shiva’s Drum is a memorable fable of our times.

The Diary of a Nobody

July 4, 2017

‘Why should I not publish my diary? I have often seen reminiscences of people I have never even heard of, and I fail to see—because I do not happen to be a “Somebody”—why my diary should not be interesting.’

The spoof diary of a lower-middle-class London clerk, The Diary of a Nobody was first serialized in the legendary magazine of humour and satire, Punch, in 1888-89. It was published as a book in 1892, and has never been out of print since. This comic masterpiece—which details the doings of the ridiculously pompous and accident-prone Charles Pooter, his wife Carrie and their troublesome son Lupin—has been a source of delight to generations of readers and inspired many celebrated writers, from J.B. Priestley and Evelyn Waugh to Helen Fielding and Sue Townsend.

The Shah of Chicago

June 1, 2017

‘He would need two months, three at the most, to tie everything together. Peshawar, up on the Afghan border, was thick with smugglers and heroin factories […] Three or four shipments of the best smack in the world and Jack would really be King. The King of Chicago.’

When he gets out of jail for the seventh time, Yaqub Shah aka Jack King—from Chicago—vows never to go back again. Fed up of running small-time scams for other people, he convinces his law-abiding guardian, Uncle Jalal, that he wants to sort out his life and return to Pakistan. What he really has in mind is a blockbuster heroin deal—sourcing product from the motherland, and supplying to the Midwest in America—which will let him retire as the ‘King of Chicago.’

Heading back to the place of a painful past—his dear mother long gone and an estranged father only interested in his business empire—Jack is determined to stay no longer than necessary. Pakistan, however, finds a way of getting under his skin—he falls in love with the beautiful Afroz, who reminds him of the futility of running away from home; he gets into a drunken scuffle with Mushtaq Gill, who happens to be the head of the National Intelligence Agency; and when things really start heating up, he must confront himself and the life he truly desires.

A thrilling caper, a hedonistic romp and a poignant homecoming story, The Shah of Chicago is a high-octane, swashbuckling adventure.

The White Umbrella

May 1, 2017

 ‘Mr B, a wiry little man of fifty with white hair, was sitting in the back of a big white Land Rover when he saw the donkey. It was early evening and the dense rush-hour traffic in Peshawar was moving at a snail’s pace—which was just as well, for Mr B suddenly opened the door, leaped down onto the road and, without a word, sprinted away between the carts and lorries, the buses and the motorcycles…’

Brian Sewell strays from the art world to tell the enchanting story of a man and his pet donkey, Pavlova, as they make their way together from Peshawar to London in the company of monks, book collectors, rugmakers and smugglers. Beautifully illustrated by the celebrated cartoonist Sally Ann Lasson, The White Umbrella is an allegorical tale about taking personal responsibility for our environment and the importance of both compassion and empathy. It is the perfect book for children and adults alike—a classic in the making to keep and to cherish.

Mishti, the Mirzapuri Labrador

May 1, 2017

 As soon as the door opened a crack, Mishti’s nose appeared and then Mishti, pushing her way in, small and gold, straining on her lead with all her might. Behind her came a team of Mirzapuris. Mishti walked right past Gilly and right past Mark and across their flat straight to the water bowl, as if she already knew where it would be. Having lapped up a great deal of water, she pricked up her ears and looked around. The men who came with her were handing over her blanket, and a bottle of massage oil for her legs. Then they said goodbye and left.

Now there was just Gilly, Mark and Mishti…

Mishti, a little golden labrador born in Mirzapur, on the banks of the Ganga, is adopted by two people from Delhi, called Gilly and Mark. It is the beginning of many adventures they will have as they learn to live together, and become a family.

Full of love, mischief and great charm, told in gloriously readable prose and complemented with charming illustrations, this is a book for all ages.

Unforeseen Desires

March 31, 2017

 ‘If ever there was a courtyard in paradise, it was here.… At some distance from the bungalow was a banyan tree, with its brooding branches touching the ground. On one side was a grove of litchi trees that led to the unpaved driveway. Surrounding the other side was a forest of sal and eucalyptus trees…’

It is the 1970s, and the Emergency is at its peak. Arun, an idealistic young man, is a medical intern in Dehradun whose life takes an unexpected turn when he is accused of losing a senior doctor’s wedding rings. As he begins his search for the rings, he meets Victoria, an older English missionary, who has made India her home. Arun persuades her to rent him a room in her compound, and, slowly, over shared meals and games of Scrabble, the two form an unlikely bond. In Victoria, Arun finds a patient listener and a spiritual anchor, while he reminds her of a long-lost love.

Amidst the increasing tension regarding the lost wedding rings and his ambiguous relationship with Victoria, Arun is forced to choose between Sujata, his fellow intern who is engaged to be married, and Trishna, a nurse who loves him in spite of his indifference towards her.

Seeing Arun struggle, Victoria offers to help him compensate for the rings and find a job, and it seems like Arun’s troubles have come to an end. But when the government changes with the end of Emergency, both Victoria and Arun must decide whether they can continue living in the country.

A charming, often poignant, novel that captures the lush beauty of Dehradun, Unforeseen Desires is a bittersweet coming-of-age story.

Vampire in Love

March 31, 2017

Enrique Vila-Matas is widely hailed by his peers and readers as one of the greatest writers of fiction in contemporary Spanish literature. Gathered for the first time in English, and spanning the author’s entire career, Vampire in Love offers a selection of Vila Matas’s finest short stories.

A father summons his son to his deathbed to tell him that he arranged for his wife’s death. An effeminate, hunchbacked barber—known to everyone as Nosferatu—decides to see, one last time, the choirboy he has fallen in love with. A fledgling writer on amphetamines visits the French writer Marguerite Duras’s Paris apartment and watches his dinner companion slip into the abyss. An unsuspecting man receives a mysterious phone call from a lonely ophthalmologist, visits his abandoned villa, and is privy to a secret. And a writer on vacation decides—as a way of paying tribute to the pioneering composer Erik Satie—to reply to nineteen emails without reading them.

The stories in Vampire in Love, brilliantly translated by renowned translator Margaret Jull Costa, are all told with Vila-Matas’s signature erudition and wit and his provocative, relentless questioning of the interrelation of art and life.

Half-Open Windows

March 31, 2017

 ‘On one side, the sea. On the other, the city. A city that seemed to believe that the Queen’s Necklace was enough past for it, a city sacrificing its beauty at the dirty altars of money.’

An acclaimed contemporary Marathi novel, Half-Open Windows (Khidkya Ardhya Ughadya) is a striking portrait of India’s urban upper middle class on an obsessive quest for riches and prestige. Set in the enticing yet treacherous city of Mumbai, it closely follows the lives of people connected to SNA Architects, an up-and-coming firm, basking in the glory of their recent success—a high-rise in the premium area of Colaba.

As events unfold, we encounter the corrupt and ruthless Niranjan, founder of SNA, and his associate, Nita, who think bribery is a small price to pay to get to the top; another founder of SNA, the honest but naïve Sanika, and Shushrut, an aspiring writer who is no longer content to play her stay-at-home partner; an NGO worker, Swarupa, torn between her loyalty to an old friend and her duty as a whistle-blower; a lonely widow, Joshi Kaku, who wonders if moving to the US to live with her son and his family—with whom she can forge no connections—is a wise idea; and Ramakant, a young student of architecture, who is contemplating suicide in a desperate bid for attention.

Even as this diverse cast of characters chases happiness and success, Mumbai emerges as the central character—the driving force behind their aspirations and dreams, and their ethical compromises.

Combining sharp observation with dry humour, Ganesh Matkari provides rich insights into the human psyche. His compelling prose and Jerry Pinto’s pitch-perfect translation make Half-Open Windows an unputdownable read.

Star of India

March 31, 2017

Stella Carrington, young and beautiful, feels that life is passing her by in the repressed Victorian household of her grandmother and spinster aunts. A casual flirtation shocks and horrifies the elderly ladies, and they summon Robert Crayfield, her godfather, who is an officer in the Indian Civil Service, to make suitable arrangements for her to be a missionary or governess. But, tantalized by her beauty and disregarding the difference in their ages, he offers to marry her instead, scandalizing the village.

Stella, indifferent to romance, is most excited by the prospect of going to India that her marriage offers. Once there, she is enthralled at the beauty and mystery of the subcontinent, but increasingly disenchanted by her husband, who is only interested in her as a whet to his sensual appetites. When the young, handsome Philip Flint is posted as a junior officer in the same town, for the first time, she is forced to consider her own desires and duties.

Alice Perrin writes of Anglo-Indian life during the Raj era with great detail and sympathy, drawing compelling characters who love and despair, feel jealousy and doubt. Once a popular writer with many bestsellers to her credit, she is now being rediscovered for her memorable romances and ghost stories set in India at the turn of the twentieth century.

The Flame of the Forest

March 31, 2017

 ‘[Myna] … moved as though sustained by invisible wings attached to her feet. Her whole frame glowed like an incandescent bronze figure. And I recalled that Myna’s name before she became a kirtani was the Flame-of-the-Forest …’

A young scholar in post-Independence Calcutta finds that his life is in the doldrums. He cannot secure a job despite having completed his education with flying colours. Unwilling to steady his drifting, his lover has abandoned him. And, increasingly put off by the clamour for ‘progress’ among the newly liberated city-folk around him, all of whom are quick to dismiss tradition, he finds himself drawn to Myna, a kirtani who believes she is a handmaiden to Radha, Lord Krishna’s consort.

In his attempts to make a living, he writes frivolous articles for an American magazine and acts as a part-time secretary to his mentor, the Diwan, a political moderate with waning influence. But when Ek Nambur, a demagogue and Diwan’s political rival, puts the latter under house arrest and comes after the young man, he is forced to make a choice. He can stay on to fight a losing battle or take up Myna’s invitation to join her and become a fellow pilgrim.

A sumptuous tapestry of myth, history and legend, The Flame of the Forest is the story of a young adult forced to choose between tradition and modernity, and take up the responsibility of moulding his own life. The concluding novel in Sudhin N. Ghose’s classic quartet, The Flame of the Forest was published in 1955 and is being reissued for the first time in more than half a century.

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