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Books to read through the monsoon

In the afternoons, or late at night, when the heat oppresses and the mind wants to wander, or, perchance, if there is the din of rain on roofs, and the world has come to a standstill, nothing beats a few immersive hours spent with a good book.

Have the monsoon rains finally arrived? The days get hotter, and the relief that monsoon rains are supposed to bring seems to be absent. In the afternoons, or late at night, when the heat oppresses and the mind wants to wander, or, perchance, if there is the din of rain on roofs, and the world has come to a standstill, nothing beats a few immersive hours spent with a good book. Here are my recommendations: 

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth: Yes, the novel is long—very long—but it is still one of the most enjoyable books to read on a rainy afternoon. The canvas is broad, the era is evoked with just the correct tint of nostalgia, and the characters are witty, lusty, and vivid. Seth’s love story set in the early years of the Indian republic is impressively successful in painting a picture of the world where it takes place: the heat and rain and cold fog of the fictional city of Brahmpur, perhaps somewhere closer to Kolkata than to Delhi. At nearly 600,000 words, the reader will be lost in a unique world for weeks of the monsoon.

Life and Death are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan: A kindly land-owning farmer is killed during the Maoist revolution in China, and begs Yama, the Lord of Death, to allow him to be reborn in his own family, so that he can take care of unfinished business. Thus begins the bizarre story in Life and Death are Wearing Me Out, until many successive births have been undergone, as an ass, a bull, a boar, etc. Mo Yan’s ability to satirize the politics of China, from the years of the Maoist uprising and through the harsh years of the cultural revolution and the famine, all the while telling a story that is pretty damn hilarious, will make the reader seek out even more books by this Nobel laureate.      

Tales of Dunk and Egg by George R. R. Martin: Since all men must die, and since the long summer must end before winter comes, what better set of novellas than the Tales of Dunk and Egg to keep the GoT fan dreaming of the Seven Kingdoms through the monsoon months when there will be no new episodes of the show? This collection of three novellas charts the adventures of Ser Duncan the Tall (so poor, he has no provenance, and therefore must pledge his sword to any lord who will have him) and his trusty young squire Egg. The events in these novellas take place a hundred years before Ned Stark gets his head cut off; the squire Egg grows up to become King Aegon, fifth of his name, of the house of Targaryen. Like all GRRM stories, the novellas are a quick read, suitable for the hour or hour-and-half of torrential rain.

Return of a King by William Dalrymple: Afghanistan has always been overrun by ambitious empires around it, and no imperial power has ever managed to take and keep the country. What Kipling named ‘the great game’ of espionage and sabotage between the great imperial forces of the day, Great Britain and Russia, began in earnest in Afghanistan in the early decades of the 19th century. Dalrymple’s very well-researched and extremely readable book charts the disastrous war waged against Afghan tribes by the East India Company, and traces the relevance of the blunders made then to the war that is still going on. There are bits that show how wonderfully cosmopolitan the times were then, and there are bits that show how barbaric and wasteful the wars were for both sides. People who prefer their stories to be based on reality will fully enjoy this book!       

All of Us in Our Own Lives by Manjushree Thapa: I haven’t yet had the time to sit down and finish this book from cover to cover, but, in all likelihood, I will have finished it by the time this list goes to print. Recommended because the book is a tapestry of Nepali lives, intersecting and interacting, and because it is Manjushree Thapa’s latest.

The King’s Harvest by Chetan Raj Shrestha: In a novella that is about 60 pages long, Chetan Raj Shrestha manages to write a most tender, heartfelt story of a wise idiot, a near-bodhisattwa named Tontem, who, along with his family, struggles with the elements to farm the land to raise grains for the king of Sikkim. It is a fable about man’s place among fellow men, as much as it is about man’s place in the natural world. For the lush green and the thick rain and the harvest of all conceivable herbs and grains, do read this novella on a monsoon morning.