Oral historian and author Aanchal Malhotra offers you a list of 15 books to pick up on your next Kunzum visit. By Paridhi Badgotri
Aanchal Malhotra is now a household name in India after her two books, Remnants of a Separation and In the Language of Remembering, drew a remarkably profound and moving portrait of the Partition. Going beyond the numbers and the violence of the event, she documented the memories of the survivors through the objects they carried with them, and the inheritance of the separation in their descendants.
“But this silence, though they attempt to conceal it, is at times accompanied by unexpected, intangible mementos married to the memories of Partition.”
― Aanchal Malhotra, Remnants of a Separation
As Malhotra gets ready to launch her third book—and her first fiction novel—The Book of Everlasting Things, we asked her for her reading recommendations. Here are 15 books that the Delhi-based author put on her reading list for Kunzum.
The Aanchal Malhotra Reading List
The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam
Shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize, A Passage North is an unsparing story of the legacy of Sri Lanka’s 30-year-long civil war. The protagonist, Krishan, takes a long journey from Colombo into the war-torn Northern Province for his grandmother’s caretaker’s funeral. What follows is an astonishing revelation of the island’s history.
Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag
This is the story of a family coming to terms with a change in their class status. As the family moves from their ant-infested lodgings to a bungalow on the other side of Bangalore, conflicts start to brew and become ‘Ghachar Ghochar’ — a phrase that is used to describe something irreversibly tangled.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie’s fascinating saga of India’s independence is a classic that will remain relevant for decades to come. The book suffused with magical realism opens with a bang: Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight, the moment of India’s Independence, and his life is inextricably linked to the newly free nation’s. Later, it comes to light that all the other 1,000 “midnight’s children” are also born with special powers.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and soon to be a Netflix limited series, All the Light We Cannot See explores two stories that eventually intersect: one follows a blind girl and her father who flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo when Nazis occupy Paris—with a coveted jewel in their possession, and the other of an orphan who fights for the other side in the war.
Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
This beautiful autobiographical book tells the story of a young Foer, who goes to Ukraine in the search of the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis 50 years ago. His journey unravels several truths about his ancestors. The debut novel garnered a lot of critical acclaim and was made into a film of the same name in 2005.
City of Djinns by William Dalrymple
City of Djinns is a travelogue that delves into the history of Delhi. Historian and travel writer Dalrymple deftly unveils different acts in the story of the city, from the age of the Mahabharata to the Partition, the 1984 riots, and other significant events that have left a mark on the city he visits in 1993.
An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy
Anuradha Roy tells the story of two lovers separated by the Partition. Set on the outskirts of a small town in Bengal, a motherless girl and an orphan from an unknown caste form an intense connection before one is banished to Calcutta. In the turbulent years after the Partition, he decides to come back home.
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Reading Lolita in Tehran is a biography that chronicles the life of Azar Nafisi, a professor of English in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Discussing several themes like personal freedom, love, commitment, democracy, and social obligations, the book is a cultural revelation for young readers.
Chernobyl Prayer by Svetlana Alexievich
From the winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, Chernobyl Prayer is a startling account of the worst nuclear disaster in history. While the Soviets downplayed the catastrophe, Svetlana Alexievich recorded hundreds of interviews from workers, scientists, refugees, bureaucrats, and resettlers — crafting a stunning oral history of the disaster.
The Beauty of the Husband by Anne Carson
In The Beauty of the Husband, the story of a marriage is explored in 29 “tangos”, an accessible narrative verse formulated by Anne Carson. This moving and dark comedy takes the reader through erotic, painful, and heartbreaking scenes from a long marriage that slowly falls apart.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita is a timeless story of obsession, lust, and delusion. The protagonist, Humbert Humbert, falls in love with his landlady’s 12-year-old daughter, Lolita. He marries the landlady just to be close to his true object of affection, but when Lolita starts seeking attention somewhere else, their story takes an even darker turn. An unspeakable desire narrated in delicious prose, this erotic book is one of the most challenged books in history and yet remains one of the most widely read. Arguably Nabokov’s most famous and finest.
In Freedom’s Shade by Anis Kidwai
Anis Kidwai examines the stories of the thousands who were driven away from their homes in Delhi and its neighbouring areas during the Partition by eviction or abduction or forced religious conversion. Partly about the ills in the roots of Indian society and partly about the plagues that were yet to come, Kidwai’s book affirms the significance of memory in the present day.
This Is Not That Dawn by Yashpal
This Is Not That Dawn is an outstanding novel that portrays life in Lahore before the Partition while telling a memorable tale of human suffering. Everything changes as the Partition is declared—the beauty and peace of the land is shattered, and thousands are killed or displaced by the tragedy.
The Indian Empire At War by George Morton-Jack
With this excellently researched book, George Morton-Jack uncovers the lost stories of over 1.5 million Indians who served the Indian Army in the First World War under British command. The book offers a critical understanding of India’s oft-forgotten contribution to the Allies’ history in WWI.