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Books of the year 2012: TSI's picks


TSI | Issue Dated: January 13, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Best books of 2012 | Em And The Big Hoom | The Man Within My Head | Behind the Beautiful Forevers | The Meadow | The Wildings |

Em And The Big Hoom
Jerry Pinto

Writer, columnist and journalist Jerry Pinto’s first novel paints a vivid, poignant portrait of a Roman Catholic Goan family with a hole in its heart. Em and the Big Hoom isn’t a ‘big picture’ Mumbai novel. It isn’t Maximum City or Love and Longing in Bombay. It is a son’s intimate and moving account of growing up in a middle class home in Mahim with a loving and irrepressible mother (Em to her children) susceptible to “terrifying manic rages”. The novel is refreshingly unsentimental yet emotionally gripping. Its reality-cloaked-in-fiction device lends both immediacy and vitality to the tale.

The Man Within My Head
Pico Iyer

The Man Within My Head explores the “shadowy place” that travel writer Pico Iyer draws his inspiration from. This wonderfully well written and passionate book is significant for many reasons. Of all the riches that it contains, none is as precious as Iyer’s extended meditation on the relationship that he has as a writer and a man with Graham Greene, who he never met in person. Not only does it tell us a great deal more about the Englishman than we already know, it also gives us an insight into where the author has come from and where he wants to go.


Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Katherine Boo

Joseph Lelyveld, Mahatma Gandhi biographer and old India hand, described the book as “the best piece of reporting to come out of India in a half century at least”. There might be a bit of exaggeration in that opinion, but Katherine Boo’s empathetic and engrossing probe into the grimy yet dynamic lives of the denizens of a Mumbai slum near the Sahar International Airport is certainly the finest narrative non-fiction book published during the year. Although the writer spent three years in Annawadi slum, she keeps herself out of the narrative and relates a dramatic tale that is neither romantized nor exoticized. 


The Meadow
Adrian Levy & Cathy Scott-Clark

In 1995 during a trekking expedition at Pahalgam, four foreigners were abducted by the then unknown militant group Al-Faran. The Meadow includes blow-by-blow account of the negotiations for the hostages’ release between an inspector and the militants. It is also revealed that instead of working to secure the foreigners’ release, the Indian intelligence agencies protracted its detainment and sabotaged parleys with the militants as part of a bigger, well laid out plan to present Pakistan, and the Pakistan-supported insurgency in Kashmir, in a callous and ruthless light.


The Wildings
Nilanjana Roy

A dazzlingly original debut novel, The Wildings zeroes in on mystifying adventure-filled lives of cats in a bustling Delhi locality, where danger lurks at every bend. The tale is in a league of its own. The Wildings is a lively story that makes for compelling reading all the way through. Journalist and columnist Nilanjana Roy draws the reader quickly and effortlessly into the world of the feline creatures that live and wage a daily fight for survival in and around the alleyways and ruins of Nizamuddin. Prabha Mallya’s evocative black and white illustrations provide visual spine to the vivid scenarios of the secret ways of cats.


From The Ruins Of Empire
Pankaj Mishra

From The Ruins of Empire is a clinical study of early 20th century and its various personas. As Western powers go into decline, it sounds surreal to even imagine an era when its overall dominance, including those in intellectual realms, was not merely meekly accepted but lapped up. In popular history, there were merely two kinds of responses: either you accept the domination or you try to defeat it with traditional means and be ready to be mauled. But there indeed was a third stream, a cluster of movements led by names that are not fancy, and Mishra’s work goes right inside it. But this is not a work of triumphalism. It does not operate in the realms of total victory. It delivers its message clinically. That is Mishra’s real triumph.

Joseph Anton
Salman Rushdie
Random House

It runs into over 600 pages. So wading through this tome in which Salman Rushdie writes in third person about the difficult years he spent in hiding after Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against him for authoring The Satanic Verses is a bit of a challenge. But the effort is rewarding. A deeply felt and often humorous account of his struggle to stay afloat as a writer and a highly sociable man in the face of the constant threat of death, Joseph Anton (titled after the pseudonym Rushdie adopted by combining the first names of Conrad and Chekhov) is a remarkable testimony to a man’s fight for freedom of speech.


Time To Start Thinking
Edward Luce

Edward Luce, formerly the Financial Times’ south Asia bureau chief and now its chief Washington correspondent, traces how much the spectre of decline has affected the Americans and what efforts they are putting in to reconcile with the truth. The book mixes reportage from across the US – including interactions with corporate big-shots, innovators, senior military and Pentagon officials, academics, scientists and working class Americans – with a brutal, precise and take-no-prisoner style of analysis of the US approach towards ideas in learning, innovation, military-industrial complex, immigration, political accommodation and governance. Luce concludes that while the nation has taken the path of terminal decline, its ruling class is merely “holding an intellectual ostrich position”.

Pax Indica
Shashi Tharoor

W e might have to wait for another book on foreign policy from Union minister Shashi Tharoor, when he is free of politics and can reveal all that  is wrong with India’s foreign policy, for the full picture. But this book does serve its purpose. It recalls his doctoral thesis, which became his first book, Reasons of State, which dwelt on India’s foreign policy during Indira Gandhi’s first stint as Prime Minister. In the chapter titled ‘External Affairs’, Tharoor finds the problems of understaffing of diplomatic corps, structure, coordination, personnel planning and absence of informed public debates still relevant as he found it 30 years ago. he is seen it all from the inside, so his summation counts.

The Second World War
Antony Beevor

Only last year, readers were treated to In All Hell Let Loose, a refreshing work on the war that primarily focussed on the plight and otherwise of common people – farmers, housemaids, bootleggers and businessmen - caught up in the whirlwind. British military historian Antony Beevor’s work is refreshing too, but in a different context. First, the characters in the war were not merely mannequins and had their own set of human shortcomings and second, although the historians focused primarily on Europe, there was much more happening elsewhere too, notably in the Pacific and other parts of Asia, that affected the outcome. This book serves a felt need for a more rounded view.


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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017