Meena Kandasamy's Top 10 Favourite Books
Recipient of the 2022 Hermann Kesten Award, Meena Kandasamy is an anti-caste activist, poet, novelist and translator. Her latest work, titled Tirukkural: The Book of Desire, is a translation of a section of Tirukkural—one of the most important texts in Tamil literature.
The Annihilation of Caste by B. R. Ambedkar I was seventeen when I read this book, and it filled me with so much outrage at the sheer injustice, terror and horror of caste that I wanted to just go out and burn the world. I’ve never felt more angry, roused, worried and heartbroken after reading a book. I think reading it at a formative age certainly influenced the path I followed in my life. I give this book to lots of young people who show promise and have a genuine thirst to change the world.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy weaves magic with her use of language and imagination, and this novel is there on every single list I’ve ever made. It was very influential in my life because it made me realize that language is something incredibly powerful, and I think savouring this book was my first decisive step towards becoming a writer.
The Right of Nations to Self-Determination by Vladimir Lenin
This book shaped my understanding of the liberation struggle for Tamil Eelam. There is a tendency to dismiss linguistic/national liberation struggles as chauvinistic, but reading Lenin changes the way one looks at self-determination. He passionately makes the point that the fight for socialism and for national liberation are interconnected, simultaneous struggles.
Reality Hunger by David Shields
This book is a must-read for literary novelists because it makes you realize how much more fun and experimental fiction can be, and also underlines the importance of incorporating non-fiction into novels. In each of my books, I have grappled with this question. Discovering Shield’s work felt like finding moral support.
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
This novel is an homage to the human imagination. It is as much as about cities that exist in fantasy as it is about the power of storytelling. I have reread it at least three times and it is a gift that keeps on giving. This is a book that cannot be described, it can only be devoured.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Known for its non-linear narrative structure and the stunning use of magical realism, this novel tells the story of the murder investigation into the death of a young man in a small Colombian town. It weaves in multiple points of view, a belief in predestination, and allows for the coexistence of science and superstitions.
300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso
I read this somewhere between baby #1 and #2, and when I came across this line, I knew Manguso had my heart forever: “I used to pursue the usual things—sex, drugs, rough neighbourhoods—in order to enjoy the feeling of wasting my life, of tempting danger. Motherhood has finally satisfied that hunger. It’s a self-obliteration that never stops and that no one notices.”
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
I’m a fan of Maggie Nelson and her constant boundary-pushing approach to literature. In Bluets, filled with its prose poems and free associations, she uses a colour as both the prism and the landscape against which she lets in light, and shares her stories. It is a lyrical exploration of the human experience.
Children of the Days by Eduardo Galeano
Although the Uruguayan writer Galeano is best known for his book The Open Veins of Latin America, I’ve a slightly different favourite. This book has one chapter for every day of the calendar, so there are 366 entries, and every entry covers some major moment (often of resistance) in human history. It makes for a great gift, and some very emotionally-charged reading.
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
For anyone interested in reading or learning about issues of race, identity and social justice in America, Rankine’s book provides a powerful combination of emotional resonance and intellectual meditation in exploring the lived experiences of Black people. It is also a pioneering form that she has adopted: blending photography, poetry and prose.