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India is a rich and vibrant country, and these books about India will transport you there. While India is popular with many travelers, it may not always be at the top of the travel priority list for a lot of people (although with so much to see, it probably should be, including mine!). But whether you are planning a trip there or aren’t sure you will ever get there, these books set in India can teach you so much about this country, its rich culture, complicated history, and its people.
I first fell in love reading about India with Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Interpreter of Maladies (we have another book of hers at the top of this list), and since then I’ve really discovered just how much India-based literature there is out there. There are so many books to choose from!
We’ve really tried to capture a representative cross-section here: from literary fiction dealing with colonialism and independence to historical fiction and mysteries to children’s books celebrating Diwali. Indian authors have contributed so much to literary world, and I hope you can find a book you love here!
Fiction Set in India
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri is one of my favorite authors, and she is especially known for stories about Indian immigrants in the United States. The Lowland is perhaps my favorite of her books, and is largely set in India. This is about two brothers whose close bond tested when tragedy strikes. The impetus of this book is the events of the 1967 Naxalbari uprising in India, during which the views of the brothers take them on largely different paths. For fans of literary fiction and family stories.
A Burning by Megha Majumdar
When Jivan, a girl who lives in the slums, is caught up in the case of a terrorist attack because of a post on Facebook, the course of her life may depend on two other characters she is connected to. But these other characters also have their own self-sustaining motives. This is a novel set in contemporary India, and is a social commentary on politics especially in the age of social media. For fans of literary and contemporary fiction.
Honor by Thrity Umrigar
When India-American journalist Smita returns to India to cover a story, she is drawn into the life of Meena, who was recently attacked for her marriage to a Muslim man. Meanwhile, Smita is embarking on a very different kind of love story of her own. For fans of literary fiction.
The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
In a market in Dehli, a bomb goes off killing two brothers. But their friend survives, and this novel tells the story of what his life becomes and how the two families continue to live after these events. This is nuanced story about terrorism, violence, and loss. For fans of literary fiction.
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
In England, a group of Indian immigrants are struggling to make a new life for themselves. While this book is largely set in the UK, huge parts of it are set in India, as it delves deep into the backstory of each character. They all come from vastly different backgrounds and classes, and yet they have all found themselves in the same place, hoping for a better future. For fans of literary fiction.
China Room by Sunjeev Sahota
In 1929 Punjab, three girls are married to three brothers. Now that they are married, they are forced to spend their days working in the family’s china room, hidden away from everyone. Mehar, one of the women, is trying to figure everything out, including which of the men is her husband. Then, in an alternate timeline in 1999, a young man from England has returned to his family’s home (which of course includes a locked china room) to overcome an addiction. For fans of historical fiction.
Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
This is a mother-daughter story set in India. The mother, Tara, has spent her life devoted to an ashram, while her daughter, Antara, has been largely raised by others. Now Antara is an adult, and she must come to terms with her childhood as her mother ages. For fans of literary fiction.
Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag, Translated by Srinath Perur
In this slim novel, a family that had been living in poverty comes into a good deal of money. What results is a tangled mess of family relationships. Hence the title: ghachar ghochar is a phrase used to indicated something that has been tangled and can’t be undone. For fans of literary fiction and dysfunctional family stories.
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
Nine-year-old Jai loves watching police TV shows. So when a classmate goes missing, he enlists his friends to help him solve the mystery. But as more kids start disappearing, their mystery becomes scarier. For fans of mysteries and books for adults told from the perspective of a child.
The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay
When Shalini’s mother dies, she travels to the Kashmir region of India searching for answers. There, she becomes close with a new family. But she is still an outsider, which may be dangerous in the midst of the region’s political upheaval. For fans of literary fiction.
The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
The Palace of Illusions takes one of India’s greatest epic poems, the Mahabharata, and retells it from the perspective of a woman. Panchaali helps her royal husbands reclaim their thrones, but she is also harboring a secret attraction to Krishna, her husbands’ enemy. For fans of classics retold from the perspective of women (think, Circe).
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Written as a letter from a driver and entrepreneur in Bangalore to the president of China who is visiting his country, this novel explores class, work, success, and morality in India. For fans of dark comedy and social commentary.
Mirror Made of Rain by Naheed Phiroze Patel
This book about contemporary India follows Noomi, an upper-class girl coming of age and trying to figure out how she can break free from the social obligations of her society. But when she moves to Mumbai, starts a new job, and falls in love, she may just be falling into the same old traps. For fans of contemporary, literary fiction.
The Archer by Shruti Swamy
Set in 1960s and 1970s Bombay, this novel centers around a woman named Vidya who falls in love with a type of dance called kathak. As she grows though, balancing her art with her life becomes a challenge. For fans of historical fiction and women’s stories.
Mother Land by Leah Franqui
When American Rachel Meyer moves to Mumbai with her husband, she had to adjust to what that means for family dynamics — especially with her mother-in-law who decides to move in with them after leaving her husband. For fans of women’s fiction and contemporary fiction.
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
After leaving her abusive husband, Lakshmi becomes a sought-after henna artist and a secret keeper for wealthy women. But when her husband shows up again with his own secret, the life she built for herself may crumble. For fans of women’s fiction and historical fiction, and if you love this book it’s the first in a triology.
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
This books, set in 1920s India, is inspired by the story of India’s first female attorney. In this novel, Perveen Mistry becomes the first female attorney in India and investigates the case of three widows who she suspects are being taken advantage of. For fans of mysteries.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
This is a book about two fraternal twins in rural India whose lives are changed forever when tragedy strikes. It’s a story about a family whose life together is changing alongside the broader change happening in their country. For fans of character driven fiction.
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
This book is set in India during the 1980s near the Himalayas, where an old judge lives with his cook and his orphaned granddaughter. This is a book about loss, and reviewers consistently mention its heaviness as it deals with themes of colonialism, dashed hopes, death, and how the movement for democracy in nearby Nepal impacted the characters. For fans of literary fiction.
The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal
When their mother dies, three sisters living in the UK travel to India to lay her to rest as she wished. The three sisters have never been particularly close, and while they all have different motives for taking the trip, it will change them all, bring them closer, and reveal secrets from their past. For fans of contemporary fiction and women’s fiction.
Polite Society by Mahesh Rao
In this retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma set in Delhi, wealthy Ania plays matchmaker for her friend but finds herself caught up in her own unexpected love story. For fans of women’s fiction, rom-coms, and Austen retellings.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Saleem Sinai is born at the exact same time India gains its independence in 1947. His life afterward is anything but normal, as every event in his life is somehow linked to the events of India. For fans of historical literary fiction, family sagas, and modern classics.
Find even more great books for your travel reading list with these books about Ghana!
Non-Fiction Books About India
This award-winning and critically-acclaimed book delves into the lives of those living in a Mumbai slum near new luxury apartments. The families there are hopeful for a brighter future, but it’s tough to escape poverty. For fans of narrative non-fiction.
India After Ghandi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy by Ramachandra Guha
If you’re looking for a history of India, which is of course rich and complicated, this may be the book you’re looking for. This book tells the story of India both before and since Independence, with a special focus on politics and the people who have influenced the political history. For fans of massive history books.
Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India by Madhur Jaffrey
Madhur Jaffrey is an award-winning cookbook author, and here she presents a memoir about growing up in India, where every memory is laced with the richness of food. And of course, because she’s a cookbook author, this memoir contains recipes. For fans of memoirs and books about food.
City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi by William Dalrymple
Delhi is a city that has been created and destroyed many times, known for having seven past versions of itself. This book dives into the history of Delhi and all the ways it has been recreated over centuries up to what it is now. This book is for fans of history and especially for those who might be planning a trip to Delhi.
Following Fish: Travels Around the Indian Coast by Samanth Subramanian
In these essays, Subramanian explores the coasts of India, examining the way fish impact the culture, economy, food, and more. For fans of travel memoirs and essays.
Children’s Books About India
The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk by Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal, Illustrated by Jess Golden
The Wheels on the Bus…but in India! This delightful nursery rhyme book can be read or sung, as you follow a tuk tuk through the streets of an Indian city. Recommended ages: 0-5 years.
Diwali (Celebrate the World) by Hannah Eliot, Illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan
This book of colorful illustrations teaches kids about the five days of Diwali and the important traditions of this holiday. Recommended ages: 1-4 years.
Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes
This story of the Hindu god Ganesha has bright and delightful illustrations. Ganesha loves sweets, but one day a hard candy breaks off his tusk (which of course means he has a lesson to learn). Recommended ages: 2-5 years.
A Sari for Ammi by Mamta Nainy, Illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat
Two little girls watch their mother weave beautiful saris, but she never gets to wear any of them. So, they come up with a plan to get Ammi a beautiful sari of her own. Recommended ages: 4-8 years.
Binny’s Diwali by Thrity Umrigar, Illustrated by Nidhi Chanani
When Binny’s class is learning about different holidays, she is excited to tell them about her favorite celebration: Diwali. She teaches her class all about her favorite traditions, food, and more. Recommended ages: 4-8 years.
A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India by Meera Sriram and Mariona Cabassa
As a little girl searches for a gift for her mother, she encounters all the colors of an Indian market. Each page is dedicated to a different color, with fun and bright illustrations. Recommended ages: 4-8 years.
Monsoon Afternoon by Kashmira Sheth, Illustrated by Yoshiko Jaeggi
A monsoon is coming, and a little boy wants to go outside and play. Everyone in his family is too busy, until he finds his grandfather and they go outside to have fun in the rain and explore the way it has changed their world. Recommended ages: 4-8 years.
Grandma and the Great Gourd: A Bengali Folktale by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Illustrated by Susy Pilgrim Waters
When Grandma receives a letter from her daughter asking her to come visit, Grandma must trek through the jungle and face the treacherous animals. Recommended age: 5-8 years.
The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art by Barb Rosenstock, Illustrated by Claire A. Nivola
In this picture book based on a true story, Nek Chand builds an intricate rock garden when he finds himself in a new place. When the government discovers it and wants to tear it down, the community comes together to save it. Recommended ages: 7-10 years.
Middle Grade & Young Adult Books Set in India
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
In this graphic novel, Priyanka longs to know about India—the land her mother left behind and that she doesn’t like to talk about. When Priyanka finds an old pashmina though, it transports her to India where she learns the secrets of her past. Recommended ages: 8-12 years.
Sita’s Ramayana by Samhita Arni, Illustrated by Moyna Chitrakar
The Ramayana is one of the great ancient texts from India. Here it is told in graphic novel form, as Queen Sita is kidnapped by a king and rescued by her brother. Recommended ages: 9-12 years.
Prince of Fire: The Story of Diwali by Jatinder Verma, Illustrated by Nilesh Mistry
This is another retelling of the Ramayana for kids, this time as a chapter book with illustrations. Here, Prince Rama and his bride, Sita, set off on an epic journey after Rama is banished. It ends with their return home and the festival of Diwali. Recommended ages: 9-12 years.
Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar
When Anjali’s mother joins Ghandi’s freedom movement, the life of her family changes. From giving up some of her treasured possessions to overcoming prejudice, Anjali must learn and grow and eventually step up for freedom. Recommended ages: 9 and up.
Thirst by Varsha Bajaj
In Mumbai, access to water can be difficult, especially for the poor. Minni can only get water for a few hours a day. But in the building where she starts a new job, the water supply seems endless. She also discovers a water mafia boss though, which could spell trouble. Recommended ages: 10-12 years.
Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame by Supriya Kelkar
When Meera was a child, her parents married her to a boy from another village. When she turns 13, she is expected to go live with him and his family. Instead, violence erupts, her husband is killed, and Meera finds herself working for a British officer. When she discovers violent plots in place to further the British colonization of India, she must decide whether to save herself or warn her her people. Recommended ages: 10-13 years.
The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman
When four homeless kids come together in Chennai, India, they form a family. They are independent and strong, and they are skeptical of trusting adults. But they just may need to learn to trust someone in order to survive. Recommended ages: 10 and up.
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
After the 1947 partition, when India is split into Pakistan and India, Nisha’s father decides it would be safer for them to move from Pakistan to India. Nisha has already experienced so much loss (her mother died when she was a baby), so she isn’t happy about losing her home too. But can she find hope in a new place? Recommended ages: 10 and up.
The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana
When the Emperor Sikander arrives in Shalingar, the freedom of the people is threatened. Princess Amrita offers to become the Emperor’s bride, but instead finds herself on the run. This fantasy book based in India is recommended for ages 12 and up.
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