Upamanyu Chatterjee — English August (1988)
Setting: Newly-independent India
What it’s about: An optimistic, naive Indian civil servant arrives in a backwater town with grand plans to bring the fruits of independence, only to get bogged down in corruption, tribalism and bureaucracy.
Why you should read it: For the loneliness of the young civil servant trying to do good and identify with his country, whose disappointment by becoming a slacker, watching porn and smoking pot.
Read it if you liked: This is Evelyn Waugh meets Hanif Kureishi, with a bit of the spirit dissolute spirit of Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis or The Graduate.
The best books from India? My list:
Untouchable — Mulk Raj Anand, for a bottom-up view of the politics of Satyagraha.
The Inheritance of Loss — Kiran Desai, for a cross-generational exploration of what is lost, and gained, across generations of migration between societies, lands and cultures.
A Train to Pakistan — Khushwant Singh, for the “google street map” view of communities breaking apart under the pressure of partition. It is almost sociological in the way it explores how cynical politics can drive wedges and create bitter conflict between groups where previously none existed, making it a universal warning about the ever present dangers of identity politics.
The Golden Gate — Vikram Seth, for its charming rhyming verse.