Young-adult Literature about India, Written in English

Early - Middle

The Birth of the Ganga. 1998. Harish Johari.
A large picture book that retells the story of the birth of the river goddess Ganga, from whom the Ganges river takes its name. The Ganges is the holiest river in India. The book is written at a higher level than it first appears (it has many big illustrations). A similar book by the same author is How Ganesh Got His Elephant Head, which retells the story of the elephant-headed god Ganesh (the populist divinity of the Hindu pantheon). Review: A- ...serves as an accessible introduction to some of the fundamental beliefs, rituals, and deities of Hinduism. Nice illustrations.
Gay Neck: The Story of a Pigeon. 1927. Dhan Gopal Mukerji.
The story of 12-year old boy who trains a carrier pigeon, and the pigeon's experiences as an allied messenger in World War I. Nebwerry Award winner, 1928. There are several other children's books by the same author.
Homeless Bird. 2000. Gloria Whelan.
Koly is a thirteen-year old girl who is forced into an arranged marriage. She sees her husband for the first time on their wedding day. Her husband--also a teenager--is terminally ill, and soon leaves Koly a widow. Homeless Bird shows how Koly endures, and then rejects, some oppressive Hindu traditions regarding girls and women. Review: A- ...provokes thoughts about the rights of women in fundamentalist societies. It is not fast-paced and full of excitement, however.
Malgudi Schooldays: The Adventures of Swami and His Friends. 1935. R K Narayan.
Swami, a ten-year old boy, has various adventures in the India of the 1930's. For example, he plays cricket and protests the British occupation. This book edits and supplements the original (Swami and Friends), which was Narayan's first published book. Narayan is probably India's top writer of the 20th century.
Mina's Spring Of Colors. 2000. Rachna Gilmore.
Mina is an eleven-year-old Canadian of Indian descent whose grandfather comes to visit. She finds his old-fashioned Indian ways embarrassing; simultaneously, she is angered by white classmates who mock him. The story raises themes of racial tolerance, and also describes the Indian spring festival, Holi.
Shower of Gold: Women and Girls in the Stories of India. 1999. Uma Krishnaswami.
From a Booklist review: "Retold with immediacy and verve, these stories from the Indian subcontinent include Hindu and Buddhist tales, folklore, fables from old literary works, and legends based on the lives of real women. There are several reincarnation stories, a Romeo and Juliet story from fifteenth-century India, tales of Hindu goddesses who are magical and powerful, and traditional male-dominated stories told from the female point of view."
The Story of Divaali. 2002. Jatinder Verma.
The Diwali is a popular Hindu festival, often compared to Christmas. It generally marks the coronation of the legendary prince Rama after his victory over the demon king, although the significance of the festival varies by region.

Middle - Young Adult

Roller Birds of Rampur. 1993. Indi Rana.
The book's blurb: "Caught between two worlds, seventeen-year-old Sheila must choose between the West she knows and the India she loves." The coming-of-age crisis that launches the story occurs when her white boyfriend dumps her because she's Indian. Review: B+. Pretty good writing, good story idea, but...a 300-page story should not spend the first 100 pages developing the character's identity crisis.
Shiva's Fire. 2000. Suzanne Fisher Staples.
Parvati is a gifted disciple of classical Indian dance who commits to a program of grueling study under the tutelage of a world-famous guru, until she meets a cute boy. Review: A-. The story is well told, but a tad slow.

Young Adult - Adult

"Cool Wedding." Latha Viswanathan. Short story, published in the Winter 2003 issue of Shenandoah.
The protagonist is an Indian housewife living in the United States, mother of two teenagers, Web master of a dating site, and, most recently, guest at her nephew's American wedding. The story is in the form of a gossipy letter written home to a female friend, which humorously explores attitudes in modern Indian culture. The writing captures idioms of Indian English nicely. [excerpt]
The Cosmic Clues (Dell Mystery). 2004. Manjiri Prabhu.
A female private investigator in Pune, India solves crimes with a combination of criminology skills and Vedic astrology. Review: B...easy to read, and somewhat amusing. True detective afficianodos will spurn it: the mysteries are pretty silly, and information is withheld from the reader until the crime is solved.
Goa (Blood of the Goddess). 1996. Kara Dalkey.
An apothecary's apprentice in 16th-century Europe begins a quest (how rare) to find fabled medicines. He encounters the Inquisition in India, a dangerous yet powerful Indian woman, and various other exotic matters. His quest develops into a search for the blood of a goddess which kills the living and resurrects the dead. The Blood of the Goddess is a trilogy. Review: B+ ....easy to read, with some good historical research into the Inquisition in India.
Ramayana Series Volumes 1, 2, 3: Prince of Ayodhya, Siege of Mithila, Demons of Chitrakut (Ramayana). 2003. Ashok K. Banker.
Ashok Banker's trilogy is loosely based on the classic Hindu epic, somewhat like the Lord of the Rings is loosely based on Celtic and Nordic myth. The lord of the underworld is amassing an army of demons to invade the mortal plane (cf. season seven of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and only the Prince of Ayodhya can save us; that's why he's the heir and we're not. Review: C- ....bloated and slow, but thorough in its introduction to the magical elements of Hinduism. Readers who are very patient might enjoy it; fantasy pop-fiction requiring great patience to read may seem pointless to others.

Classics (possibly translated)

"Non-cooperation." 1920. Mahatma Gandhi.
This is the famous speech which outlines the philosophy and strategy of civil disobedience, as part of the Indian response to the British occupation. It inspired Martin Luther King and a great deal of modern activism.
Rabindranath Tagore, 1861-1941.
Tagore was a poet who won the Nobel prize for literature. In 1930, he visited Einstein in Berlin; the resulting, recorded, conversation foreshadows new-age "physics" by about 60 years.
The Ramayana. 544 BC. Valmiki.
The Ramayana is an ancient epic, whose popularity and influence in southeast Asia compares to the Odyssey in the West. Rama is a noble-but-flawed prince who battles demons, fate, doubt about his wife's faithfulness, and so forth and so on. There are two animated movies. Dhan Gopal Mukerji, RK Narayan, and Jamake Highwater have each abridged the story. Various online summaries invite your gaze.
Indian literature occupies a kooky place in the world. English is the closest thing India has to a national language. As a result, much modern Indian literature is written in English (e.g. Salman Rushdie), and many Indians speak and read the language. But, it is rarely found in Western study of English-language literature.

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