Kunal Basu's Favourite Reads
Kunal Basu wrote The Miniaturist, The Yellow Emperor’s Cure and Kal-katta, as well as The Japanese Wife—a collection of short stories, the lead story of which was made into a film. He lives in Oxford, England, where he teaches at the Saïd Business School. Here are his top 10 reads
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, RHUK, Rs 550.
“You are invited to watch me face the firing squad,” Pasternak had quipped upon handing over the manuscript. The tale of Yuri and Lara kindled in me the love for grand narratives. Decades later, Zhivago still calls me back to the steppes in moments of disillusionment and despair.
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, Simon & Schuster, Rs 399.
Not a huge fan of family sagas, I’ve marvelled, nevertheless, at the power of Buck’s fiction to engross readers in the mundanity of life as well as its defi-ning moments. It remains my favourite potion to ground flights of fantasy to safe moorings of existence.
Leo the African by Amin Maalouf, Abacus, Rs 599.
Maalouf made a late entrance to my bookshelf with this spectacular debut of a Renaissance-era trader and his picaresque journey through the Middle East and the Levant. It’s hard to miss the striking parallels between the tales of the oppressed, right through the Inquisition, to our times.
The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa, Faber, Rs 650.
From the backwaters of Bahia comes this fable of the Messiah who’s come to rid the world of the Antichrist. Biblical, sacrilegious, bloody and pure, this epic reaffirms my belief that great novels are indeed larger than life.
Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee, RHUK, Rs 399.
Before I begin a new work, I return to the Barbarians to remind myself that terror is omnipresent, but the pain and humiliation lurking underneath our desires might well bring deliverance. This is the most disturbing of all Coetzee novels, yet the most celebratory of the human spirit.
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, Bloomsbury, Rs 499.
Poets rarely make good novelists, and vice versa. Ondaatje is an exception, and this novel its brightest testament. Love and war make great bedfellows in fiction, and this is a rare occasion where I loved both the novel and its cinematic form.
Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez, Penguin, Rs 1,252.
The last of Gabo’s novels, this isn’t a favourite among readers used to his full- bodied magical tales. Its appeal lies in its inner voice—that of an old man struggling with memory, a passion that has all but extinguished itself and a pervading melancholy amidst sensual love.
Mr. Vertigo by Paul Auster, Viking Adult, Rs 4,999.
An orphan taught to walk on thin air becomes the star of a vaudeville act, his rise to fame and fortune as extraordinary as the disco-very of America. Not a shred of research was involved in its creation, Auster claimed, and if true, it affords a glimpse into the peak of human imagination.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Orion Publishing, Rs 499.
A cemetery of forgotten books is as alluring a backdrop as any for an electrifying plot supported by sublime writing. An innocent search for a long-lost author leads to a labyrinth of mysteries full of magic, murder and madness—enough to preserve one’s faith in literary thrillers.
On the Beach by Nevil Shute, Vintage Classics, Rs 961.
I’d take this blockbuster along to re-read on any long journey. Its post-apocalyptic world encountered by ordinary humans could serve as a warning of our likely future and a reminder of frailties that still drive us towards the brink.