47 Incredible Books Set in India (Fiction & Non-fiction)


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47 books set in India

As an Indian, it gives me immense pleasure to recommend books that are set in my home country.

Fictional representation of real-life people, events and culture that can influence millions of readers.

Although, I haven’t been a voracious reader in my childhood days, growing up in India have introduced me to classic Indian English writers such as Ruskin Bond, R.K Narayan and Arundhati Roy.

In this curated list of 47 books set in India, you get to experience the historical, cultural and political views of writers. Through both fiction and non-fiction books.

The list comprises books set in India from historical fiction, contemporary fiction and non-fiction genres.

Historical fiction that set in India

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

Vikram Seth’s novel is one of the longest novels published in a single volume. Set in post-independence India, the story follows 4 large extended families over a course of 18 months. Essentially, it’s the story of Mrs Rupa Mehra’s search for a suitable boy for her daughter, Lata. But it dives deep into the lives of ordinary people trapped among love, ambition, sadness and prejudice. 

“A magnificent display of artistic control. . . . A Suitable Boy is a page-turner…that pays the reader back and richly.” — Los Angeles Times

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie’s Booker prize-winning novel depicts India’s transition from a colonial country to an Independent nation and the partition. The story is told by Saleem Sinai who is born at midnight of India’s independence. Later, he discovers that all 1001 children born at the midnight hour, including him, possess special powers.  A compelling novel with a blend of reality, history and magical realism. 

“The literary map of India is about to be redrawn. . . . Midnight’s Children sounds like a continent finding its voice.”–The New York Times

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The Palace of Illusions is historical fiction with the element of magical realism. It makes you reimagine the world-famous Indian epic the Mahabharata. Unlike the original version, this time it’s told by Panchali, the wife of the legendary Pandavas brothers. From her birth in fire and marriage to her involvement in the epic war. A daring take to retell the Indian epic from a woman’s point of view.

“Divakaruni offers a quasi-feminist retelling of the great Hindu text known as the Mahabharat…an intimate, feminine portrait that is both contemporary and timeless. An ambitious project effectively executed.” —Kirkus Reviews

Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa

This heartbreaking novel follows a devastating time in history. The 1947 partition of India. It’s told through the perspective of a young girl, Lenny, who witnessed the most horrible outcomes of partitioning. From politics to religious intolerance, the novel touches on so many complex subjects. 

“Pakistan’s finest English-language novelist.” —New York Times Book Review

The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan

This captivating novel tells the story of one of India’s most controversial empresses- Mehrunissa, a daughter of Persian refugees. And her love for Prince Salim, later to become his wife. The story also covers the history of the Mughal Empire, Akbar to Jahangir. The Twentieth Wife is a masterful blend of history and imagination. 

Good old-fashioned historical fiction…Full of jewelled beauties and crumbling ruins, [The Twentieth Wife] satisfies every craving for the pomp and mystery of India’s past.- Chicago Tribune

The Jasmin Wife by Jane Coverdale

An enthralling historical romance set in British India. Young Sarah is raised by her relatives in England. Soon she moves to India with her husband to be a dutiful wife. But what awaits her is the scorching heat and prejudiced rich British high society. A beautifully written atmospheric novel that takes you to the lush and beautiful lives of royals in India. 


‘As historical fiction goes, this is the best I’ve read in a long time’ -Naomi Greenway, Librarian

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

Alka Joshi’s debut novel is set in the Pink city of India, Jaipur.  The story follows Lakshmi, a young woman who is a well-known henna artist in a wealthy neighbourhood. After running away from an abusive marriage, Lakshmi is now a self-sufficient and confident young woman.  However, when her husband visits her unexpectedly, he brings a stranger with him, a sister that Lakshmi never knew existed.  A compelling novel of love, society, class, and relationships. 

​​Fantastic, so evocative and beautiful and full of life and light… The Henna Artist is detailed and sumptuous, vivid in its characters and deeply satisfying in its storytelling.–Leah Franqui, author of America for Beginners

Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer by Cyrus Mistry

Set in the pre-Independence era of India, Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer tells the story of the subdued community of India- corpse bearers of the Parsi community. The story follows Phiroze who falls in love with Sepideh – the daughter of the corpse bearer. However, as Phiroze belongs to the higher class, the couple’s relationship is not accepted among the Parsi community. 

“Cyrus Mistry’s new novel shines a light on a little-known segment of the Parsi community. It is brilliant and unsettling.” —Khushwant Singh

The Secrets of Jaipur by Alka Joshi

New York Times bestselling author Alka Joshi’ new novel is the second book in “The Henna Artist” trilogy. The story takes place 12 years after the first book. The former henna artist, Lakshmi is a director of ‘the healing garden in Shimla’ along with her husband Dr Jay Kumar. Malik is now a young man and joins the Facilities Office of the Jaipur Royal Palace.  The sequel narrates the tragedy of the Royal Jewel Cinema along with themes of gold smuggling, corruption and bribery. 


“Alka Joshi returns with a triumphant follow-up to her New York Times bestselling debut… [Her] magnificent writing gives voice to the too-often silenced while telling an engaging and powerful story.”–Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Girls of Paris

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

The Man Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy’s debut novel ‘The God of Small Things’ is all about family and social obligations. Set in Ayemenem, in Kerala, India, the story centres upon the childhood incidents of the twins Estha and Rahel. A remarkable take on the struggle between haves and haves not. 

“[The God of Small Things] offers such magic, mystery, and sadness that, literally, this reader turned the last page and decided to reread it. Immediately. It’s that haunting.”—USA Today

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

The Widows of Malabar Hill is a historical mystery series set in 1920s Bombay. The story follows Perveen Mistry, a daughter of a Zoroastrian family. She is working with her father’s law firm. Even though she is not allowed to be in the court, she interviews witnesses and does paperwork. In a new case of a wealthy Muslim man, something unusual gets her attention. However, the involvement with the case leads to murder. 

The Widows of Malabar Hill, with its deft prose and well-wrought characters, is a splendid first instalment in what promises to be a memorable series.”Tom Nolan, The Wall Street Journal

The Color of Our Sky by Amita Trasi 

This sweeping debut novel follows Tara and Mukta whose friendship stands the test of time. As a child of a prostitute, Mukta is destined to follow in her mother’s footsteps.  But Mukta is rescued by Tara’s father and taken in to live with them. Tara and Mukta become close friends.  However, when tragedy strikes, both find themselves on separate paths.  Years later, Tara embarks on an emotional journey to find the long lost friend. 

“A haunting debut…that brings the brutal realities of modern India into focus.”

More historical fictions that are set in India

Contemporary books set in India

Mother Land by Leah Franqui

From the renowned author of ‘America for beginners’ comes a witty and insightful family novel. Rachel Meyer moved to hot and crowded Mumbai with her Indian husband, Dhruv. As she is trying to settle in her new home, her mother-in-law arrives at her apartment unannounced. To her shock, Rachel learns that her mother-in-law has permanently moved in with them, leaving the husband of forty years. An engrossing novel that describes the distant lives of two women. 

“Franqui has written a beautiful novel featuring nuanced characters struggling to find their way through the landmines of the inevitable culture clashes with surprising, didn’t-see-that-coming moments that carry through to the last page.”-Library Journal

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

This compelling novel tells the story of two women- Sera Dubash and Bhima.  Both living through their individual loss and struggle. Having worked for the Dubash household for more than twenty years, Bhima is able to find a new friend in her employer.  A heart-wrenching novel that captures the bonds between two women, despite the class divisions. 

“Sadness suffuses this eloquent tale, whose heart-stopping plot twists reveal the ferocity of fate.” — Booklist 

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

This modern saga is set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay. The story is about Lin, a fugitive who flees from Australia to Bombay’s hidden society of gangsters. He is accompanied by his friend, Prabhakar. Lin creates his own world amidst one of the city’s poorest slums. But what is about to witness is going to change his life forever. Absolutely audacious tale of torture, murder and betrayal. 

“Shantaram had me hooked from the first sentence. [It] is thrilling, touching, frightening…a glorious wallow of a novel.” —Detroit Free Press

The Rules of Arrangement by Anisha Bhatia

Anisha Bhatia’s charming novel follows Zoya Sahni who works at an ad agency. However, her family thinks she doesn’t meet the criteria of the perfect Indian girl.  She is overweight, dark-skinned and too ambitious according to her aunties. However, when Zoya is offered a dream job in New York, it’s up to her to design her destiny. 

“With writing that is witty and accessible, Bhatia tells an entertaining and delightful story about breaking tradition, creating your own path, and standing your ground.”—Jane Igharo, author of Ties That Tether

The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota

This engrossing story follows three youtube men and one woman who set out on a journey from Indian to England with a new hope. Along the way, there are more immigrants who migrated to England with the same hope as for them, including a former rickshaw driver. Although the novel is set mostly abroad, it does tell the unpleasant detail of Indian society. 

“A unique reading experience…get lost in this sprawling, stunning novel.”—Malcolm Forbes, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

Vivek Shanbhag’s riveting novel shows how a family’s rise to wealth alters the family dynamics. The first person narrative tells the story of his family in Bangalore and how an unexpected wealth demands them to create a new life. An utterly compelling novel that shows contemporary Indian family life. 

“A simple story, well told…Its gently comic tone belies a stunning satire, the full power of which is only apparent as the horror of the ending becomes clear.”—Louise Doughty, The Guardian, “Best Books of 2017”

A Hundred Little Flames by Preeti Shenoy

Preeti Shenoy’s poignant novel takes you to a tiny village in the beautiful South Indian state of India, Kerala. 26-year old Ayan is devastated to learn that he is going to live with his grumpy grandfather in a sleepy village in Kerala. But soon both men experience something unusual that may leave a huge change in both men. A mesmerizing story about, relationships, family and human values.

Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup 

This astonishing debut novel is a series of interconnected stories. The novel spreads across India, from an island to a valley and a city to narrate extraordinary stories from. There is a scientist, a mother, a yeti and a turtle. With the cultural and magical elements, Swarup has written a spellbinding tale.

More contemporary fictions that are set in India

Indian non fiction books

Nine Lives by William Dalrymple 

Nine Lives is an insightful book that portrays the astonishing ways in which India’s diverse religious traditions have transformed in the 21st century. Dalrymple chronicles the lives of fascinating people such as a Buddhist monk, a Jain nun, a prison warden from Kerala, a temple prostitute and describes what belief and faith mean to them. A fascinating account of Indian religion and spirituality. 

  “The body is the true temple, the true mosque, the true church.”

William Dalrymple 

City of Djinns by William Dalrymple

 

In his travelogue, William Dalrymple captures the essence of Indian’s historical capital, Delhi. From eunuchs to descendants of great Moguls, he takes the reader to the lives of distinct individuals whom he met in his travel adventures. There is also a detailed depiction of the seven “dead” cities of Delhi and the legend of the djinns. 

“On the road, as in many other aspects of Indian life, Might is Right.”

William Dalrymple

A Search in Secret India by Paul Brunton

Paul Brunton was a British photographer and adventurer. In A Search in Secret India, Brunton recounts his journey across the numerous states in India. From living among the yogis and spiritual gurus to conversations he had with the wise men in India, including Sri Ramana Maharshi.

“He is beginning to master wisdom when he tries to learn how not to try.”

Paul Brunton

An Era of Darkness by Shashi Tharoor

An Era of Darkness is a brilliantly written book about the British Empire in India. It encapsulates the British rule in India. How thirty-five million Indians died because of acts of commission and omission by the British. This book is rather an extended version of Tharoor’s speech in Oxford Union

“The sun never set on the British empire, an Indian nationalist later sardonically commented, because even God couldn’t trust the Englishman in the dark”

Shashi Tharoor

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo’s describes the lives of thousands of people in the slum of Mumbai. An incredibly realistic account of families who strive toward a better tomorrow. Boo has done extensive research to write this book. 

“Much of what was said did not matter, and that much of what mattered could not be said.”

Katherine Boo

FoodSutra by Shalabh Prasad

A delightful memoir that features a sumptuous history of Indian food.  How Indian food involves many other regional cuisines. The book features the author’s exploration of regional meals and experiences. FoodSutra also features more than 400 dishes, including the ingredients and cooking methods along with fascinating facts. 

There you have 47 epic books that are set in India

Have you read any of these already? What are your thoughts?

Let me know in the comments!

Always curious to hear from you,

Stephy

More books set in India

Best Indian Novels to Read

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