Karan Madhok's Top 10 Favourite Reads
Founder/editor of the Indian arts review, The Chakkar, Karan Madhok released his debut novel A Beautiful Decay in 2022. His story Public Record appeared in the anthology A Case of Indian Marvels: Dazzling Stories from the Country’s Finest New Writers.
The Stranger by Albert Camus, Vintage international
When life is meaningless, why keep on living? Camus’ L’Étranger—translated from French as The Stranger or The Outsider—is a masterclass of philosophical literature, an eternal bout with the absurd under the hot Algerian afternoon sun, featuring my favourite opening line in all of fiction: “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte” (Today, maman died).
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, Grapevine
Few books have had the cultural impact of Orwell’s bleak, dystopian prediction of the future (one now nearly 40 years past). Orwell created a Britain under harsh totalitarian rule, governed by force, surveillance, and censorship. Even today, his ‘predictions’ continue to be as prescient as ever, co-opted (and often misunderstood) by political movements around the world.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, RHUK
In a sense, Indian writers of my generation are all children of this novel, the great ‘Booker of Bookers’. The story of Saleem Sinai—and of South Asian independence—unlocked a perspective that made absolutely everything seem possible in literature. It’s a flight through magic and reality, one world and many worlds, time and space.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Pan Macmillan
Originally a radio comedy broadcast, this ‘trilogy in five parts’ brought together sci-fi and humour into a perfect singularity, and boasts of being the only piece of literature capable of providing the answer to life, the universe and everything. Enjoy the ride to the restaurant at the end of the universe. Just don’t forget to bring your towel.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, Penguin
The enchanting saga of the Buendía family in the fictional town of Macondo is one of the most impactful pieces of literature ever written. Márquez’s beautiful, recursive tale challenges reality with magic, comments on a universal sense of solitude and plays with the progression of time itself.
Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, Fingerprint! Publishing
“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” Thus begins this devastating exploration of man’s inadequacies and helplessness under the weight of the world, of sons and their fathers, of the horrors of isolation, of being left forever unheard. Few writers have ever metamorphosed the grotesque and the mundane into something so beautiful.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, Vintage Books
Many a true word is spoken in jest, and Heller’s 1961 magnum opus—based on a fictional WWII US army air squadron in Italy—is one of the funniest, truest books ever written. A satire of war, capitalism, love, and death, the novel has made me laugh until it makes me hurt.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, HarperCollins
There’s hardly anything I can add about this epic story that hasn’t been dissected ad infinitum. The three-volume book is one of the most popular texts ever written in English. Every trip to Middle Earth is an invitation to stay there forever. Tolkien created a language, a universe, and crafted a literary fantasy novel that transcends genre.
The Mahabharata (Translated by John D. Smith), Penguin
I love The Mahabharata in all its forms—and not just because I was named after the magnetic anti-hero, Karna. It’s a story of a great war, a family feud, gods and men, the shaping of a nation, dharma and the wheel of time itself. It’s a story that keeps on giving, and has done so to millions around the world in its various adaptations for millennia. Simply put, the greatest epic ever composed.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang (Translated by Deborah Smith), Random House
A haunting meditation on resistance, selfhood, and the body, Han Kang’s three-part novel explores personal agency and sexuality, the desire for the other, and the desire for individuality. Originally in Korean, The Vegetarian excels in bewildering the reader—as much as it is sure to delight them.