Preti Taneja's List Of Book Companions
Preti Taneja’s debut novel We That Are Young is a fierce, literary exposé of an elite family whose business empire influences every facet of Indian life. The book is inspired by Shakespeare’s King Lear. Since her novel is a reinterpretation of a classic, Taneja has chosen to share with us books that echo each other in some way or the other
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë, Penguin Classics, Rs 250. Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys, Penguin Modern Classics, Rs 350.
Jane Eyre was the first novel I fell in love with as a teenager. But it was when I read Jean Rhys’s reinterpretation that I understood the relationship between Jane and Bertha, her colonial ‘other’, and the devasta-ting indictment of colonialism and patriarchy. Rhys, being a modernist writer, is dedicated to making each sentence speak with multiple meanings, from women’s points of view. She wrote Bertha’s story over a hundred years later and showed how subversive and important it is that we reimagine the classics.
The Mahabharata, C. Rajagopalachari, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Rs 190. Until The Lions: Echoes From The Mahabharata, Karthika Naïr, HarperCollins, Rs 799.
I’m working on a stage-piece about women of the Mahabharata for Tara Theatre in London. So I’m reading Until The Lions, a brilliant ‘echo’ of the epic, by Karthika Naïr. In it, the minority characters, particularly women, get to tell their own stories. The writing is profoundly lyrical and powerful. The book is now inspiring a performance by dancer Akram Khan.
Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf, Penguin Modern Classics, Rs 299. The Hours, Michael Cunningham, Picador, Rs 1,200.
Cunningham takes Woolf’s classic about society heiress Clarissa Dalloway and weaves it into the tale of three women across the 20th century, including Woolf herself. He brings the writer’s process, her dilemmas, her compassion and brutality to life. Both novels deal with women’s yearning for freedom from motherhood and heterosexuality. Both novelists write about suicide with an almost unbearable lightness of touch. Both are essential as a way of understanding how texts belong to us differently over time.
King Lear, William Shakespeare, Penguin Classics, Rs 250. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley, Anchor, Rs 799.
Set in Iowa in the 1980s, A Thousand Acres ends when the family farm is sold to the ironically named Heartland Corporation by Larry Cook à la King Lear. This is the jumping-off point for We That Are Young, which begins with the words: “It is not about land, it’s about money.” Smiley understands, with Shakespeare, that psychological darkness is inherited. And that ‘divide and rule’ is not only a colonial method but also a patriarchal one that men use to keep women from supporting each other. Smiley shows us that violence is passed through generations, especially from fathers to daughters. So is environmental damage: In poisoning our planet, we are poisoning ourselves.
The Sellout, Paul Beatty, Pan Macmillan, Rs 399. Citizen, Claudia Rankine, Penguin, Rs 599.
The Sellout is a compassionate, furiously funny satire of the highest order, exposing the absurdity of racism, while Citizen is a searing, lyric poem. Both reveal the everyday discrimination people of colour face in all societies; both call for an end to that. They are essential reading, no matter what country or shade of skin you’re in.
Book prices are subject to change.