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Books

South Asian Heritage Month

The God of Small Things

Author: Arundhati Roy
(India)

This is the story of Rahel and Estha, twins growing up among the banana vats and peppercorns of their blind grandmother’s factory, and amid scenes of political turbulence in Kerala. Armed only with the innocence of youth, they fashion a childhood in the shade of the wreck that is their family: their lonely, lovely mother, their beloved Uncle Chacko (pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher) and their sworn enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun, incumbent grand-aunt).

Arundhati Roy’s Booker Prize-winning novel was the literary sensation of the 1990s: a story anchored to anguish but fuelled by wit and magic.

Train to Pakistan

Author: Khushwant Singh
(India)

Train to Pakistan is a historical novel by writer Khushwant Singh, published in 1956. It recounts the Partition of India in August 1947 through the perspective of Mano Majra, a fictional border village.

Funny Boy

Author: Shyam Selvadurai
(Sri Lanka)

In the world of his large family – affluent Tamils living in Colombo – Arjie is an oddity, a ‘funny boy’ who prefers dressing as a girl to playing cricket with his brother.

But as Arjie comes to terms with his own homo-sexuality and with the racism of the society in which he lives, Sri Lanka is plunged into civil war as fighting between the army and the Tamil Tigers gradually begins to encroach on the family’s comfortable life. Sporadic acts of violence flare into full scale riots and lead, ultimately, to tragedy.

Written in clear, simple prose, Shyam Selvadurai’s first novel is masterly in its mingling of the personal and political.

Kartography

Author: Kamila Shamsie
(Pakistan)

Soul mates from birth, Karim and Raheen finish one another’s sentences, speak in anagrams and lie spine to spine. They are irrevocably bound to one another and to Karachi, Pakistan. It beats in their hearts – violent, polluted, corrupt, vibrant, brave and ultimately, home.

As the years go by they let a barrier of silence build between them until, finally, they are brought together during a dry summer of strikes and ethnic violence and their relationship is poised between strained friendship and fated love.

Rivers of My Blood

Author: Selina Hossain
(Bangladesh)

River of My Blood is a gripping tale of love and loss. The novel chronicles the life of Boori, a wild wisp of a girl as she hopscotches into adulthood and married life with an older relative, faces the stigma of being infertile and then tries to come to terms with the birth of a deaf and dumb boy. Her private wounds reflect national traumas as Haldi, her East Pakistan village is swept by Muktijuddho-the nine month-long bloody war of independence from which Bangladesh emerged as a sovereign state in 1971. Caught in the spiral of violence, powerless.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Author: Moshin Hamid
(Pakistan)

Challenging, mysterious and thrillingly tense, Mohsin Hamid’s masterly The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a vital read teeming with questions and ideas about some of the most pressing issues of today’s globalised, fractured world.

Mohsin Hamid ‘s fiction has been translated into over 30 languages, received numerous awards, and been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He has contributed essays and short stories to publications such as the GuardianThe New York TimesFinancial TimesGranta, and Paris Review. Born and mostly raised in Lahore, he spent part of his childhood in California, studied at Princeton University and Harvard Law School, and has since lived between Lahore, London, and New York.

Forget Kathmandu

Author: Manjushree Thapa
(Nepal)

In June 2001, King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah was killed in a massacre at Kathmandu s Narayanhiti royal palace, allegedly by his own son, the crown prince, and the world took new notice of Nepal. Since then, several thousand lives have been lost to a violent Maoist insurgency and repressive state counter-insurgency. Parliamentary democracy, too won late, in 1990 has been lost. And there are no clear indications of how long it will be before the civil war ends and popular government is restored. In this illuminating study of the tangled politics of her country, Manjushree Thapa examines what has gone wrong, and why. Starting with an account of the Narayanhiti massacre and its aftermath, she goes back in time to trace the history, often chaotic, of Nepal s monarchy since unification in the 18th century, and of the struggle, in the 20th century, for genuine democracy. She ends with a record of her trek into Maoist-held territories in west Nepal, where the majority continue to live in poverty, human rights abuses are on the rise, and boys and girls as young as thirteen have taken to the gun. A skilful mix of history, reportage, memoir and travel writing, Forget Kathmandu is an unprecedented examination of Nepal s past and present. The gifts of insight and lucidity that Thapa brings to her intensely political narrative make this one of the finest works of non-fiction from the subcontinent in recent times.

The Far Field

Author: Madhuri Vijay
(India)

An elegant, epic debut novel that follows one young woman’s search for a lost figure from her childhood, a journey that takes her from Southern India to Kashmir and to the brink of a devastating political and personal reckoning.

In the wake of her mother’s death, Shalini, a privileged and restless young woman from Bangalore, sets out for a remote Himalayan village in the troubled northern region of Kashmir. Certain that the loss of her mother is somehow connected to the decade-old disappearance of Bashir Ahmed, a charming Kashmiri salesman who frequented her childhood home, she is determined to confront him. But upon her arrival, Shalini is brought face to face with Kashmir’s politics, as well as the tangled history of the local family that takes her in. And when life in the village turns volatile and old hatreds threaten to erupt into violence, Shalini finds herself forced to make a series of choices that could hold dangerous repercussions for the very people she has come to love.

With rare acumen and evocative prose, in The Far Field Madhuri Vijay masterfully examines Indian politics, class prejudice, and sexuality through the lens of an outsider, offering a profound meditation on grief, guilt and the limits of compassion.

When I Hit You

Author: Meena Kandasamy
(India)

Caught in the hook of love, a young woman marries a dashing university professor. A Marxist and former revolutionary, he seems to her the ideal choice and when she moves to a rain-washed coastal town to be with him she has no idea of what is yet to come. For behind her husband’s liberal façade is a carefully hidden sadism and behind closed doors she discovers that her perfect husband is a perfect monster.

As he sets about battering her into obedience she finds that, for her family, her life is worth less than honour, reputation and potential social condemnation.

Pressured by them to stay in the marriage and in fear for her life, she swears to fight back. It is a resistance that will either kill her or set her free.

A memoirist novel, based in part on the author’s own experiences, When I Hit You is both a powerful evocation of one woman’s fight for freedom and a reflection of the damaging impact of traditions of gender, caste and class in contemporary Indian society.

In The Light of What We Know

Author: Zia Haider Rahman
(Bangladesh)

One September morning in 2008, an investment banker approaching forty, his career in collapse and his marriage unravelling, receives a surprise visitor at his West London home. He struggles to place the dishevelled figure carrying a backpack, until he recognizes a friend from his student days, a brilliant man who disappeared years earlier under mysterious circumstances. The friend has resurfaced to make a confession of unsettling power.

Theirs is the age-old story of the bond between two men and the betrayal of one by the other. As the friends begin to talk, and as their room becomes a world, a journey begins that is by turns exhilarating, shocking, intimate and strange. Set against the breaking of nations and beneath the clouds of economic crisis, and moving between Kabul, New York, Oxford, London and Islamabad, In the Light of What We Know tells the story of people wrestling with unshakeable legacies of class and culture, and pushes at the great questions of love, origins, science, faith and war.

Tales in Colour: And Other Stories

Author: Kunzang Choden
(Bhutan)

These deceptively simple stories uncover both the complexity and irony of women’s lives in Bhutan today. They show how ordinary lives, choices and experiences are both remarkable and poignant. In ‘I am a Small Person’, a despised woman uses her femininity as a means to control a man; the young girl in ‘I Won’t ask Mother’ suddenly feels empowered and confident when she makes a decision without consulting her mother. All the stories take place in rural settings, to which creeping urbanisation brings gradual change, and tensions surface between the new and the old, or the traditional and the modern. For many rural women, being able to connect to the city and all its perceived power and glamour is a very real aspiration. This yearning is exemplified in ‘Look at her Belly Button,’ where a young woman effortlessly slips out of the role of a farmer to become a ‘real Bhutanese’ urbanite.

Chinaman

Author: Shehan Karunatilaka
(Sri Lanka)

Retired sportswriter WG Karunasena is dying. He will spend his final months drinking arrack, making his wife unhappy, ignoring his son and tracking down Pradeep S. Mathew, a spin bowler who has mysteriously disappeared and who WG considers ‘the greatest cricketer to walk the earth’. On his quest to find this unsung genius, WG uncovers a coach with six fingers, a secret bunker below a famous stadium, a Tamil Tiger warlord, and startling truths about Sri Lanka, cricket and himself. Ambitious, playful and strikingly original, “Chinaman” is a novel about cricket and Sri Lanka – and the story of modern day Sri Lanka through its most cherished sport. Hailed by the Gratiaen Prize judges as ‘one of the most imaginative works of contemporary Sri Lankan fiction’, it is an astounding book.

The Kite Runner

Author: Khaled Hosseini
(Afghanistan)

THE NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER ‘Devastating’ Daily Telegraph ‘Heartbreaking’ The Times ‘Unforgettable’ Isabel Allende ‘Haunting’ Independent Afghanistan, 1975: Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament and his loyal friend Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can foresee what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that is to shatter their lives. After the Russians invade and the family is forced to flee to America, Amir realises that one day he must return to Afghanistan under Taliban rule to find the one thing that his new world cannot grant him: redemption.