Manjula Padmanabhan's All-Time Favourite Reads
Manjula Padmanabhan is an author, playwright, artist and cartoonist. She won the 1997 Onassis Award for Theatre, in Greece, for her play Harvest. Her comic strip Sukiyaki appears in Chennai’s BusinessLine. Her books include The Island of Lost Girls and two collections of plays, Blood And Laughter and Laughter And Blood
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, Penguin Classics, ₹250
These two small books contain a vast universe of ideas—about a child’s limitless imagination of finding friends and battling fears. About the games that rule all our lives, the mirrors that distort reality and the delights of fantasy.
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman, Penguin UK, ₹999
A searing representation, told through drawings, of Jews living through the horror-years of Nazi Germany. Most of the characters are represented as animals. This visual device heightens the pathos and suspense, whilst also providing a soft, self-deprecating humour: The Jews are mice, for instance, while the Nazis are cats.
The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake, Vintage Classics, ₹1,099
The name Gormenghast belongs to a vast, stony castle. The trilogy, beginning with the birth of Titus Groan, the 77th Earl of Gormenghast, follows Groan, the castle’s rituals and its unforgettable denizens. The language has a mind-altering quality, with elements of humour and horror, sweetness and tragedy.
The Sea of Fertility by Yukio Mishima, Penguin Modern Classics, ₹17,365
The four novels in this tetralogy combine extreme beauty with exquisite pain through the life of its protagonist, Shigekuni Honda. He follows a thread of love that spans four different lives, in successive reincarnations. It is a breathtaking exploration of human longing, desire and loss.
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter, Basic Books, ₹999
It has been described as a gymnasium for the intellect—and it is! The author dissects human intelligence with dazzling wordplay, puzzles of logic and mathematical riddles.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Vintage, ₹399
A magical tale, set in the US and Europe, about two powerful sorcerers and their battle for supre-macy. The story spans several decades, starting in the early 20th century, skipping back and forth in time. It is centred on the circus—a thrilling, dream-inspiring confection.
The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell, Faber, ₹1,876
This story weaves through the lives of a dozen characters, in Egypt just before and after World War II. The book is as much about the philosophical confrontation between the East and the West as it is about love, power and betrayal.
Cuckold by Kiran Nagarkar, HarperCollins Publishers, ₹599
Set in 16th-century Mewar, the story follows the life of Maharaj Kumar. He is based on a historical character, Bhoj Raj, but he speaks to us in the familiar voice of a modern man. He is warm and charming, but his wife is the legendary Meerabai, in love forever with Lord Krishna. A story of impossible, immortal love.
The Watchmen by Alan Moore and David Gibbons, DC Comics, ₹1,199
It’s a novel, told via comic-book imagery, about a group of retired superheroes. When one of the group’s members is mysteriously murdered, another member, Rorschach, attempts to expose what he believes is a monstrous government conspiracy. Densely plotted, with multilayered storylines, it is as clever as it is prophetic: [spoiler alert] New York is almost destroyed in a monstrous attack.
The Magus by John Fowles, Vintage Classics, ₹499
The novel unfolds like a beautiful, maddening puzzle. Nicholas Urfe, a young Englishman, visits the Greek island of Phraxos and becomes enmeshed in an elaborate psycho-logical game of truth and deception, love and death. It is intense, surreal and deeply disturbing.