India is a country rich in language and literature. In a land of such vast proportions as ours, translation plays an important role in bringing literature to a wider audience. The variety of themes, ideas, writing styles and narratives found in stories across languages means that reading fiction translated from multiple Indian languages helps us gain an insight into different cultures as well. Here are seven books translated from Indian languages to English that will help a reader understand the literary landscape of our country. The list is by no means definitive, it aims to help a reader begin reading translated fiction and create a library of their own.
Tamas by Bhisham Sahni
Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas is one of the novels that has captured the hearts of generations of readers. Originally written in Hindi, Tamas brilliantly portrays the sombre mood of the country during partition and its aftermath. The novel has been translated thrice into English, once by Sahni himself, and more recently by the prolific Daisy Rockwell.
Chemmeen by Thakazi Sivasankara Pillai
Set among the fishermen community in Kerala, Chemmeen is a classic. A love story and a tragedy, Chemmeen is considered by many to be one of the greatest Malayalam novels ever written. It was the first Malayalam novel to receive the Sahitya Academy Award and has been translated into English by Anita Nair.
Mother of 1084 by Mahashweta Devi
Very few novels can bring together the personal and the political like Devi’s Mother of 1084 manages to. It is as much a study of a mother’s grief on losing her son as it is of a movement that was the driving force behind an entire generation’s actions. A slim book which can be read in a few sittings, Mother of 1084 is a novel not to be missed.
Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar
Translated from the Marathi by Jerry Pinto, Cobalt Blue is a story of love, loss, and longing. Told through the perspectives of a brother-sister duo who both fall in love with same man, Cobalt Blue is a book to be savoured and read slowly.
Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag
From domestic drama to domestic noir, Shanbhag’s slim novel has it all. Taut and suspenseful, the novel is akin to a small powerhouse. Ghachar Ghochar is the kind of book you might finish in a single setting, but will remember for days to come.
Chokher Bali by Rabindranath Tagore
We all know Tagore through his Nobel winning Gitanjali, but Tagore was as accomplished a novelist as a poet. His Chokher Bali is a novel that has stood the test of time. His characterisation and understanding of the psyche of his women characters is unsurpassed by any other male writer. A story of friendship, love, social pressures on women and its consequences, Chokher Bali deserves a place on your TBR list.
Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree
Winner of the International Booker Prize in 2022, Tomb of Sand is a contemporary novel that focuses on the life of its eighty-year old protagonist after her husband’s death. Translated by Daisy Rockwell, Tomb of Sand gives its readers a glimpse into the styles and themes of one of Hindi’s leading contemporary writers.
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About the Author
Sneha Pathak has a PhD in English Literature and has taught at college and university level. She currently works as a freelance writer/translator. Her writings have appeared in various publications such as Muse India, Purple Pencil Project, The Wise Owl Magazine, The Curious Reader, Mystery and Suspense Magazine etc. She recently published her first book of translation, an anthology of stories translated from Hindi. Follow her here: Instagram