'The Sense of an Ending' by Jules Barnes
This year's of the Man Booker Prize, 'The Sense of an Ending' is truly a work for grown-ups. This is the story of a man in his 60s whose past forces him to look for the answers to several unresolved question. The plot might appear simplistic but a few pages in and you come across the complexities of English life and its various undertones. Breezing through Barnes' graceful prose punctuated with his now famous wit, it becomes difficult to believe that this novel was subject to one of the most bitter and vicious debates in the history of Man Booker Prize. The allegation that judges preferred mass-consumption as a criterion over quality literary stuff is a subjective discussion. Nobody can question its readability.
'1Q84' by Haruki Murakami
Murakami's works usually are not for the fainthearted. It is not for the restless as well. But with 1Q84, Murakami even outdid himself. It is a story of a young woman, Aomame, who, following a discussion with a cab-driver starts noticing mind-boggling puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. On the other hand, in the same city, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on an alleged ghostwriting assignment. 1Q84 is the story of how their life unravels. In short, it is a romance, secrecy, a fantasy, a saga of self-discovery rolled into one, but not as seamless or simplistic as you'll like it to be. Murakami has never relied on the tools of conventional storytelling and 1Q84 is no exception.
'The Wandering Falcon' by Jameel Ahmad
A retired Pakistani civil servant in his 80s decides to pen down the life in the land at the tri-junction of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran and leaves established writers for dead. Jameel's mesmerizing but painful saga of tribal ethos, broken promises, betrayal and home-coming leaves readers stunned. Written in a very detached and unemotional tone, the narrative does not offer a chance to its readers to get comfortable. Such riveting style of prose writing makes it hard to believe that it is Jameel's debut book. Read this and 'Kite Runner' and 'A Thousand Splendid Sun' will appear as fairy tales
'The Stranger's Child' by Alan Hollinghurst
Sometime in late June of 1913, George Sawle drags his Cambridge mate—a fetching, well-bred young poet Cecil Valance—to his unassuming home just outside London for a short vacation. Something written by Cecil in the autograph album of Geroge's daughter, Daphne, who was as much spellbind by him as her father, changes their lives forever. With his equilibrium of exterior glisten and sturdy exactitude, incongruity and gravity, Alan Hollinghurst is considered by many as the rightful heir to Henry James. Typically, most of his characters in almost all the previous novels demonstrate an inveterate obsession with mammoth, beautiful houses and their enchanting, sexy residents. In all other ways too, this novel has all the qualities that is typical of Alan. It is graceful, seductive and particularly pleasing to read, and punctuated with incisive, actually informal noticing.
'Our Lady of Alice Bhatti' by Mohammad Hanif
After he mesmerised the sub-continent with his debut novel 'A Case of Exploding Mangoes', expectations from Mohammed Hanif were pretty high. And unlike many others, he did deliver. The novel revolves around the life of a carefree Christian nurse in Pakistan—a kind, who when asked to give fellatio, actually gives a cut on the organ—and takes the life of the whole community in locus. Alice lives life on her own terms but sadly does not possess same control over her fate. But through her, Hanif manages to portray the anguish and pain of a community that has to take a few more pains than others in Pakistan to survive. Hanif's no-nonsense writing has a appeal that sets this book apart from the plethora of books produced by the writers from the subcontinent.
'The 9/11 Wars' by Jason Burke
What sets Jason Burke's 'The 9/11 Wars' from other books on the subject is the fact that unlike plethora of embedded American journalists, and a few of their trans-Atlantic friends, the man offers us something fresh to chew on. At least a perspective that does not reek of drawing room journalism. Unlike several academicians, diplomats and high-brow think-tank guys, Burke has remained close to the theatre of war for close to a decade now and has seen the events unfolding from close quarters. Burke's primary narrative in the book is different from well defined leftist and rightist approaches concerning terrorism and its blood and iron. The rightist approach of "who" as against leftist approach of "why" have both been abandoned by Burke to embark on a third narrative that deals with the question "how"? And that quest has delivered some wonderful results.
'The Opium War' by Julia Lovell
About a period and an incident that is often termed as a watershed in Chinese history the Opium War—the book deals with the circumstances and factors that led to it. It is not for nothing that the Opium War and its aftermaths hang like an albatross today. It has so deeply affected the psyche of the ruling class that it becomes singularly difficult for them to conduct their policy towards the west without referring to it. What sets Lovell's book apart is that she has got a kind of access to both British and Chinese sources on the issue that has not been seen previously. Lovell's grasp on the flow is superb and she has successfully used both comedy and tragedy in the forms of different wacky and eccentric characters, central and peripheral.
'Invitation' by Shehryar Fazli
Noir is genre that has seldom been attempted in the subcontinent English writing. Shehryar Fazli's arrival on the scene, thus, was more an inevitability than accident. 'Invitation' is the story of protagonist, Shahbaz, a young Pakistani returning to Karachi from Paris after 19 years, to settle a property dispute. Set in the Karachi of 1970's, the story takes you to a world of political mechanization, racial tension, sordid tales and what not. In many ways, the novel also offers a window to the Indian readers to peep into an era in Pakistan regarding which we have no insight or information whatsoever. Pakistan of 70s is a chimera for us. For example, who would believe that before the advent of Bhutto and General Zia, Karachi's underbelly had its own share of flesh-pots, drugs and liquour?
'Burial for a King' by Rebecca Poynter Burns
In the upshot of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, unrest erupted in close to 120 cities across the United States. For close to a week, Atlanta awaited for a near certain bedlam while preparing to host King's funeral. An improbable union of student radicals, patrician mayor, a plain-speaking police chief, black pastors, whites, business magnets, King's inconsolable family, and his staggered SCLC colleagues strived to keep Atlanta normal. Their honest effort to honour their hero and to secure the life of hundreds of thousands who came to offer tribute makes this book an essential read. Burns' racy style keeps the readers on tenterhooks while delving into the blow by blow account of what really happened in those 5 restive days.
'No Higher Honour' by Condoleezza Rice
No Higher Honour is Rice's last attempt towards redemption before she is judged by history. And as luck would have it, she has presented a rather bleak case for herself. Rice tries rather desperately to appear kind and mild and leaves us with little insight from those tumultuous Bush years. In fact, the problem with this kind of narrative is that you bring very little to the reader about the personalities you are talking about. But she still manages to offer a few anecdotes worth reading. This book makes into this list only because it is a memoir by US's ex-Secretary of State. Don't look for anything more.