BOOK MATTERS for August
Smoke and Ashes (Pegasus Books) – by Abir Mukherjee. For those who crave another mystery novel with a historical angle, Mukherjee is back with the third novel in his award-winning Wyndham & Banerjee series. Like the author Sujata Massey, Mukherjee takes the reader to the 1920s. But Captain Sam Wyndham and Surrender-not Banerjee are not in western India, the setting for Massey’s latest novel. They are in eastern India—Calcutta’s Chinatown, to be precise. The novel, which opens in 1921, involves two murders that have links to opium. Wyndham, a First World War veteran, is grappling with his own addiction, which he must hide as he tries to solve the murder cases with his Indian sergeant’s help. As for Banerjee’s first name, Wyndham explains, “His real name wasn’t Surrender-not, but Surendranath. It meant king of the gods apparently, and like the names of many of the kings I remembered from my history classes, its proper pronunciation was beyond me and most of the other British officers at Lal Bazar.”
Unbecoming: A Memoir of Disobedience (Atria Books) – by Anuradha Bhagwati. What does the only child of two renowned economists—Jagdish Bhagwati and Padma Desai, both at Columbia—become? Not an economist. A born rebel, she shocked her parents by dropping out of an Ivy League graduate program to join the Marines. But her toughest battles were not in any war zone, as she reveals in this searing memoir. Rather, the author, whose uncle was a notable Chief Justice of India, fiercely tussled with an entrenched U.S. military male hierarchy that opposed combat roles for women. Just as harrowing was her entanglement with a brilliant, demanding father who thought her life had taken a wrong turn. “My new thing is to keep my distance and assert boundaries I was never allowed to have,” she notes. “Not as his daughter. Not as a girl. Not as an Indian woman.” Now an activist and a yoga and meditation teacher, she founded the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN). The book is dedicated to her parents.
Shubh Raatri Dost/Good Night Friend (Bharat Babies) – by Nidhi Chanani. Following the success of Pashmina, an elegant graphic novel that’s being made into a movie, Chanani has come out with a board book for younger kids (4 to 8 years). Set on an animal farm in India, it’s a bilingual tale—in Hindi and English—and seems perfect for bedtime reading. Bhai and Behan (or brother and sister) use both languages as they bid good night to their family’s menagerie. In 2013, Sailaja Joshi launched Bharat Babies, having seen a need to help “families diversify their bookshelves.” The U.S.-based publishing house has four categories for its multicultural works aimed at children: Illustrated Books, Board Books, Easy Readers, and Art Series. Always Anjali, by actress Sheetal Sheth, and Super Satya Saves the Day, by journalist Raakhee Mirchandani, are in the first category—and both books won the Purple Dragonfly Book Award for Picture Books 6 & Up. The Bharat Babies team also includes cofounders SriVani Ganti and Megan Boshuyzen.
The Tiger at Midnight (HarperCollins) – by Swati Teerdhala. Here’s another YA author who, in the manner of Roshani Chokshi and Sabaa Tahir, turns to ancient history and mythology for inspiration. Published as the first volume in a trilogy, the Indian-influenced fantasy involving two protagonists explores the limits of loyalty in a high-stakes game. Following a coup, Esha becomes a rebel assassin dubbed Viper. Kunal, a soldier, retains his allegiance to King Vadaar because of Kunal’s uncle. Both characters embark on what’s been called a cat-and-mouse game. As the turmoil in their land increases, and they realize that they’re pawns in a larger game, Esha and Kunal have to make hard choices. Teerdhala has degrees in finance and history, but it’s fantasy that’s close to her heart. Roshani Chokshi’s second book in her Pandava series is titled Aru Shah and the Song of Death (Rick Riordan Presents). “Chokshi seamlessly weaves Indian cosmology and pop culture into a refreshingly feminist plot laced with witty dialogue,” notes Kirkus in a starred review.