10 books about India that are better than Shantaram

Mahatma Gandhi, India, partition, Shantaram and Eat, Pray, Love are not the only books about India: Here are 10 of my favourites

There are two types of people in the world: those who think Shantaram is a great book; and those who think it is a spew of virulent air, driven by the criminal mind and maniacal ego of its Australian pseudo-writer. I guess you can tell which type of person I am. This post is 10 suggestions for books about India that are better than Shantaram.

I tried to read Shantaram when I was living in Delhi, but ended up literally throwing it across the room. I thought it was poorly written and more about the fevered imagination of its writer than about India. In fact, it offers very little insight into India, if you ask me; and the longer I spend in India getting to know it, the more true this statement becomes.

Since that time, however, I’ve read lots and lots of book about India, by Indians and foreigners, and almost all of them are much, much better. If you actually want to know something about India — rather than about an ego-driven writer — I suggest the following 10 books, in no particular order.

(If you want to learn more about a book, below, hover your cursor over the image; and to buy it, simply click on the image and you will be whisked to the U.S. Amazon site.)

1. A Search in Secret India by Paul Brunton. A cult classic, this book was published in 1934 and it’s about the author’s sincere, strange and ultimately inspiring search for spiritual truth in India. After many false starts, dead-ends and kooky run-ins, he lands at the feet of Sri Ramana Maharishi. Which in itself a metaphor for the spiritual journey. This is the book that introduced Sri Ramana Maharishi to the west (and he still remains one of the greatest Indian saints of the 20th century).

2. Empire of the Soul by Paul William Roberts. This is the book I hope Shantaram readers graduate to read. It is about two lengthy trips journalist Roberts took to India, separated by many years; and about how he reconciles some of the extraordinary experiences he had there. Roberts is known for hard-boiled books about war-torn countries like Iraq, so when he writes about his spiritual awakening, it rings true.

3. Out of India by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. The introduction to this book of short stories is alone worth the price of the book. It’s hands-down the best piece of writing I have ever read about what it is like to be a foreigner in India. Absolutely priceless. If you recognize her name, it’s because she was the screen-writer for the Merchant-Ivory film productions (including A Passage to India, see #6.)

4. India’s Unending Journey by Mark Tully. Mark Tully was the BBC’s chief correspondent in India for many years. He has the character to overcome his profession’s limitations and admit that the chief thing he learned in India was to be certain only about uncertainty. And he says it’s the most valuable thing he has ever learned.

5. India: A Million Mutinies Now by V.S. Naipul. What can I say? It’s the classic. Personally, I admire this book more than I like it.

6. Passage to India by E.M. Forster. Very recently, the Consul General of India in Toronto — a remarkably cultured woman — told me she thought Forster really captured India in this book. I told her I feel like Fielding. Mutual understanding was firmly established. It was the best book I studied at university, I still remember the discussion about the meaning of the Marabar Caves. The film is good too!

7. Maximum City by Suketu Mehta. This is one of the best books I have read recently. It has an ambitious scope and many small wonderful moments, and seemed Dickensian to me in its attempt to capture the spirit of the times in a big, broiling, magnificent city. This is Bombay (Mumbai): gangsters and hero cops, foot-path poets and down-to-earth movie stars. You will learn a lot more about what Bombay is really about in this book than in Shantaram.

8. Kim by Rudyard Kipling. This is my favourite book of all time. If you’ve never read it, throw out everything you think you know about Kipling, who was the most famous writer of his time. The book follows the story of teenage Kim, son of an Irish immigrant and ‘friend of all the world’, who travels the roads of India with his guru, an elderly Tibetan lama on a spiritual quest for a river of enlightenment. It is unique and uncanny in its ability to absolutely immerse you into the scene and the story. You can feel the oppressive heat of the plains and the crisp air of the mountains. You can imagine Kim’s excitement about rejoining his friend on the road after a stint locked-up at school. You can feel the old man’s pain as his quest seems to elude him, and the love he engenders in Kim, his disciple. And you will be carried away by the transcendent ending.

9. City of Djinns by William Dalrymple. I was torn, not sure which Dalrymple book to put on this list. They are all good, especially Nine Lives. He is a solid as a rock in terms of research, reporting and writing. But this is his first book about India and it’s about Delhi (Dilli), my home-away-from home in India — and in fact, his real home. He lives there now. He has an Indian soul. The book is both a personal narrative about living in India for a year and about the history of Delhi. (And if there’s one thing Delhi has, aside from crowds of people and traffic, it’s history.) It’s by turns informative and funny. I keep intending to find out if International Backside taxi stand really exists. P.S. Dalrymple is the found of the Jaipur Literature Festival.

10. Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. On the stroke of midnight, August 15, 1947, India became free. This is the classic book about the biggest event in modern Indian history: the freedom struggle, partition and birth of a nation. You cannot begin to know or understand modern India if you don’t have a grip on its struggle for independence and the larger-than-life players who made it happen, especially Gandhi, Nehru, Mountbatten and Jinnah. The film Gandhi, directed by Richard Attenborough, gives you a lot of the same information, but this book fills in all the holes.

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77 Responses to 10 books about India that are better than Shantaram

  1. Adam January 19, 2012 at 8:51 am #

    I’d recommend Midnight’s Children. Also, there are some pretty good contemporary Indian authors who have books published in Engilsh. I enjoyed reading those while I was there because it was much more modern and applicable to India today.

  2. Brad January 19, 2012 at 9:10 am #

    Midnight’s Children!!

  3. Mariellen January 19, 2012 at 9:25 am #

    Hi Adam, Yes I agree about Midnight’s Children and also with your point about contemporary books, like The White Tiger and the many books by Chetan Bhagat. Modern India is really changing. I recently read The Beautiful and the Damned and India Calling, both about modern India, and they are insightful too.

  4. Mariellen January 19, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    Thanks Brad! The moment I saw your comment on Twitter I went “Doh!” Don;t know how I missed it, or A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Both great, great books that make you feel, oh boy. But the great thing about Midnight’s Children is the rollicking humour. It is a masterpiece.

    • Jane August 15, 2013 at 6:14 am #

      again have to agree! There are so many wonderful books out there about modern India as well as the paradoxes created when the changes brought about by the new “modern” India meet with traditional Indian life. I also love books by Ruskin Bond as well as Gita Mehta. But your list is quite comprehensive and there are even a couple which I haven’t read yet and will proceed to do so asap.
      thanks again
      with love light and JOY
      Jane recently posted..On My Way Back!!My Profile

  5. helen January 19, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    Oh no! Mariellen, my very favourite book of all time is not on your list 🙁

    Third Class Ticket – by Heather Wood. It’s the true story about a group of Bengali villagers who are given the opportunity to travel around India and discover their own country. Seeing it through their eyes is spectacular, and is one of the reasons I’ve been to India three times. It’s hard to find the book but I’d be willing to lend you my precious copy if you’re interested.


    Thanks for the other recos though, I’ve read many of them and I have several I could also add, but Third Class Ticket is my top choice.

  6. Mariellen January 19, 2012 at 11:39 am #

    Helen! I don’t know that book, oh my!! And now I feel I must read it. Can you bring it to TTM next week?

    • Sankar Singaravelu July 5, 2014 at 6:13 am #

      Hello Mariellen,
      I would like to read some books which reveals some untold secrets behind Indian history.Can you please suggest some books in this regard.Waiting for ur reply.

  7. Debashis January 19, 2012 at 11:46 am #

    Great compilation of books on India, Mariellen. Two of my favorites (A Passage to India & A Million Mutinies) have made it to the list.

    While there are books about India in general and Mumbai & New Delhi in particular, I believe the Kolkata (Calcutta) angle is missing. 🙂 Just kidding.. But do give a try to these two : ‘A City of Joy’ by Dominique Lapierre & ‘The Calcutta Chromosome’ by Amitabh Ghosh. I’m sure you would like them.

    Kudos once again on a fabulous list. 🙂

  8. Scott January 19, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    Hard to get it to 10 . . . nice work. Great call on Brunton . . . Naipaul is also a must . . . Freedom at Midnight, read it on my first trip there, perhaps the India book I read on that first trip that finally settled me into where I was, and who these people are . . . Finished Dalrymples Ten Lives, and would put that somewhere too . . . as for Shantaram: for me it’s not a book to graduate either to or from – it is a unique journey of it’s own; a page-turner . . . River Sutra was also a favorite on my first trip . . .

  9. Mariellen January 19, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    Thanks for suggestions Debashis, I am so fascinated by Calcutta but I have not spent enough time there. I think I need to read these books and go back to Calcutta …

  10. Mariellen January 19, 2012 at 11:58 am #

    Hi Scott, thanks for you input. In fact I feel I MUST add Midnight’s Children to this list and make it 11, not 10. I did mention Dalrymple’s Nine Lives, it is on the list, in a way. A great book, really outstanding. But, I am wondering where you stand on t e Shantaram divide? 🙂

  11. Scott January 19, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    I posted a response . . . can’t find it anywhere . . . (To repeat:) . . . Nice call on Brunton! . . . getting India down to ten books is a Taj-Mahalian-task, nice work 🙂 Freedom at Midnight I read during my first trip, and it was probably the single book that made me look up from it’s pages and be able to look into the eyes of India and it’s inhabitants and know where I was and so much more about what the country had gone through. River Sutra by Geeta Mehta was a favorite . . . Nine Lives by William Dalrymple is well worth the time . . .

    For me, I enjoyed Shantaram and (even:) Eat, Pray, Love . . . for what they were worth. Gilberts book I read during all three flights on my last trip . . . Shantaram I devoured. Eat, Pray, Etc was like sushi for me: I enjoyed it while I was “dining”, but even as I stood to leave the restaurant, I realized I was still “hungry”. Both those books seem to me to less “about” India than the others you’ve mentioned. To me, they are both stories (one better realized than the other, much better!) but in the end they are for me – stories, and parts/much of them take place IN India, while the others on the list seem to me to be more ‘about’ India.

    I am re-reading the Eknath Eswaran edition of The Bhagavad Gita . . . I read this in college – though not the Eswaran edition, and it was probably the single reason I chose to cancel my multi-month bike ride down the coasts of Portugal and Spain and go to India instead. Now, over thirty years later, I still haven’t been to Portugal or Spain, but instead have spent over two years of my life in India.

  12. Manish January 19, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    A suitable boy by Vikram Seth

  13. Mariellen January 19, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

    Hi Manish, Great choice … though I’m sorry to say I have not read it …

  14. Bronwyn January 19, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    As I live in Mumbai, Maximum City has long been a favourite, and I agree: much better than Shantaram.
    Still though, I don’t think there are enough Indian authors in this list. One of the reasons I thought Suketu Mehta wrote so well on Mumbai is because he is Indian, and an original Mumbaikar. I love to write on Mumbai, but could never write about it in the way that a Mumbaikar could.

    I think Rohinton Mistry, Arundhati Roy and Jhumpa Lahiri are some of the most evocative India-focused authors: I could read their books for just the writing, OR just the stories, and they would be more than complete.

  15. Angela January 20, 2012 at 4:00 am #

    Great post, thanks for this selection, I haven’t read any of them but I’ll be catching up, just downloaded Kim 🙂

    • niks November 26, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

      where do u download book kim from pls tell me

  16. Mariellen January 20, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    Hi Bronwyn, I deliberately concentrated on books by foreigners because Shantaram is by a foreigner. But, yes, Indians would have of course a depth of familiarity and knowledge about their own culture that foreigners would not. I did mention Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance in an earlier comment. He is phenomenal. (And he lives in my city, Toronto!)

  17. Mariellen January 20, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    Angela, Oh, you are so lucky to read Kim for the first time. Savour it.

  18. Cora January 31, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    I knew I would find a great list of books when I read your opinion on Shantaram and Eat Pray Love! I agree with all the books I read, except for Freedom at Midnight, which I find awfully biased and very poorly researched. I just sent for the two I haven’t read yet, Ruth J.P’s and Mark Tully’s.

    The French scripwriter Jean-Claude Carrière has written a lovely book on India, but I don’t know if it was ever published in English; it’s called Dictionnaire amoureux de l’Inde.

    Thanks a lot for sharing this list. I look forward to read your book as well.

  19. Mariellen February 2, 2012 at 8:25 am #

    Hi Cora! “We blog to meet other like minded souls.” Who said that? I’m not sure, maybe I did — and it certainly proves true when I read comments like yours. Thanks so much for the book suggestion, and interesting take on Freedom at Midnight, which I always think of as a classic. I really enjoy reading books about partition — I am fascinated by this historical time period — so maybe I need to read some more to gain a broader perspective.

  20. suvoluxmi February 10, 2012 at 6:26 am #

    I was very eager to read Shantaram, … but unfortunately, even after 2 very honest tries, i almost threw the book away, far, far away from my eyes, but mind was still haunted by the ‘Listen-to-my great-story.-I-am-great’ narrator’s style.
    Most of the books mentioned here are truly jewels. There is one book very close to my heart, and although it is not exactly telling about India, as a whole, it is a lovely story, written with such artistry and passion… Amitava Ghosh’s ” The Hungry Tide”

  21. Andrea Cordonier February 11, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    Hi –

    Glad to discover your website today and especially to come across the list of books and additional comments from readers. India is top of my bucket list at the moment – Newfoundland and the arctic (NWT) are in second and third place, respectively.

    Wish I had been interested in travelling to India when I was younger and much freer to travel. Alas, I think we are attracted to different places at different times in our lives, discovering them when we are meant to discover them.

    Kindest, Andrea Cordonier

  22. Beverly February 12, 2012 at 10:14 am #

    How about Rohinton Mistry…..A Fine Balance and Family Matters?

  23. admin February 15, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    Thanks Beverly, Totally agree about A Fine Balance. I will have to make another list, or longer list!

  24. admin February 15, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    Hi Andrea,

    Agree: “I think we are attracted to different places at different times in our lives, discovering them when we are meant to discover them.” But without the the sad sound of “Alas.”

    Everything happens the way it is meant and when it is meant. Well, that’s what I believe! And this is perhaps especially true about travel in India. It’s a good idea to be READY to travel there. I wanted to go to India from childhood, and was 45 when I made my first trip. And it was great! But I was ready.

    ps Yes, I want to go to NWT and NFLD too!

  25. Kristen February 16, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    I absolutely love Holy Cow as well. Its a hilarious read.

  26. Mariellen February 18, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    Yes, I liked Holy Cow too, and I agree it’s laugh-out-loud funny in places. I laugh every time I think of the iron incident. After I lived with my boyfriend’s family in Delhi — an Indian family with servants — it made the book all the more poignant.

    Thought about putting it on the list, but it didn’t quite made the cut. It would have if the list was top 20 books!

  27. Anji February 28, 2012 at 6:53 am #

    I’m currently reading Wise and Otherwise by Sudha Murthy and it’s really been an eye opener. It’s a compilation of short stories about incidents she has lived and encounters she has head with local indians. It gives you a true insight on how people behave and act on a day to day basis. I believe it is a must read.

  28. Mariellen February 28, 2012 at 11:37 am #

    Wow, thanks Anji, Wise and Otherwise sounds like must-read material to me. I will try and find it.

    I read Third Class Ticket (see comment, scroll up), and it was fantastic. Loved it. Can’t even imagine how the western author could provide such sensitive detail and insight!

  29. Tyler November 10, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    This is blasphemy! I’m sure the suggested literature has potential to be good and maybe better than Shantaram. But Shantaram is more than India. It is love, it is life, it is lesson, it is motivation. I think you should take the time to read it completely though and analytically analyze the characters and storyline before feeding it to the dogs.

  30. Mariellen Ward November 15, 2012 at 8:43 am #

    Hi Tyler,

    Have you read some of these other books? Have you been to India? It’s my experience that the people who love this book the most tend to be people who have never actually been to India.

    I am not likely to change my mind. The further along my path I go, the less I am interested in inflated egos.
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..Vipassana: 10 days of silent meditationMy Profile

    • carl June 4, 2013 at 11:43 am #

      LOL talk about inflated egos….

  31. John Smythe November 19, 2012 at 7:08 am #

    I am afraid I am in your minority.
    I was under the impression I was reading an account of a life – inflated ego perhaps part of that story- that landed a man in a country & his experiences within. The insights into the culture are part of that journey no matter where they occurred, not the basis.
    Perhaps you know better as you have “been” to Delhi.
    You have probably realised why I am here.
    Without your use of Shantaram, I would not have opened a site ” 10 books about India”.
    Wonder why?

  32. Mariellen Ward November 20, 2012 at 5:54 am #

    Hi John,

    You got me there! I deliberately used the title Shantaram in the headline to lure readers. You are right, it is a very popular book. In fact, I would say it has a cult following. There are some very good things about it, no doubt. For one thing, it’s an entertaining page turner. Is it insightful about India? I guess that’s subjective. My point is that if you want to read a book, or books, that are insightful about India, you can do a lot better than Shantaram. But perhaps if you want a very thrilling page-turner, then Shantaram is your book. So let’s call it a draw.
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..Holding hands with children in needMy Profile

  33. TripFiction January 16, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    What a great selection of novels you have brought together. We are just reading East of the Sun, set in India and are charmed by it.

  34. Jeff March 4, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    “It’s my experience that the people who love this book the most tend to be people who have never actually been to India.”

    I recently started reading Shantaram, but haven’t gotten far and I have never been to India. I won’t say I love it because I haven’t formed a strong opinion yet. But, I can see already where someone who has been to India and has a connection to the country could be unhappy with the book. For me, Shantaram came recommended from fellow travelers in Latin America and I never thought to read it as an introduction to India or to in some way know more about that country. I thought of it simply as a hopefully entertaining tale — perhaps quite embellished — of one man (with a “maniacal ego,” perhaps?).

    Though I am only about 10% done, I can say that whatever final opinion I develop, it will not be that the book is poorly written. The author definitely has a style that is both readable and fairly distinct. It might not be everyone’s favorite style, but it is ungenerous to say he is a poor writer or, in your words, a “pseudo-writer.”

    Just as I am reading Shantaram thanks to the suggestions of other travelers, I similarly thank you for your excellent suggestions, most of which I was not familiar with, and some of which I will definitely be reading in the future. Where to start? Perhaps I will start with Kim…
    Jeff recently posted..Windows Live Writer: A Great Tool for BloggingMy Profile

  35. Moscovite May 1, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

    “I tried to read Shantaram when I was living in Delhi, but ended up literally throwing it across the room. I thought it was poorly written and more about the fevered imagination of its writer than about India.”

    So you haven’t even read the book, yet you are so judgmental about the author and the book itself!? How can it be? Being a writer yourself, aren’t you afraid that because of that short statement you’d lose the respect of, perhaps, thousands of potential writers. I would most probably never invest my time, reading anything coming from somebody so judgmental, as I don’t really feel that I could learn anything from such crowd. You want us to believe that you know India better than Mr. Roberts, having spent there 6 months on the longest of your stays, as opposed to ten years that he lived in Bombay. Time, however, is beyond the point. “Knowing” a country, any country for that matter, is not like knowing physics. That knowledge is your own subjective knot of personal experiences.
    Furthermore, Shantaram is not about India. It is about one man’s life, choices he’s made, life’s ups and downs, suffering he’d endured and bestowed upon others. It is about love, about hope and about redemption. You would’ve known, had you taken time to read it. Bashing a book, any book for that matter, without even reading it is very unprofessional, to say the least, coming from an author.

    • Mariellen Ward June 4, 2013 at 11:49 am #

      I read the book before I threw it across the room. My point is, if you want to get to know about India, try and get beyond Shantaram; read some books that better represent the country. And these are 10 that I recommend.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Top spots in Toronto’s India BazaarMy Profile

      • Shaan Bhangal July 14, 2017 at 6:39 am #

        Pretentious and patronising – that is how I would describe this list this article by Ward. Pretentious in the sense that I am being told ‘to get to know about India’ by a white Canadian, who’s vision of India has been informed by the subjectivities of their own society that they fail to recognise. Patronising in the sense that who are you to tell me what India is? Just because you have stayed in the country for 6 months does mean that you ‘know’ India. Do you even realise that everything you see and everything you know is refracted and informed by the ideological preconceptions? At Shantaram doesn’t hold up a false pretence and pretend to know what India is, such as yourself or at least you imply. Read some history, not the pseudo-history of Rudyard Kipling. Seriously, Rudyard Kipling is your favourite book on India. The author that helped falsely catagorise and organise Indian culture into Western conceptions of what India should look like. Read some history. Read Orientalism by Edward Said, read work by Will Gould, read work by Anil Seal, read Bose and Jalal and look for yourself at the wealth of history that is out there. If you want to try and know India read these books. Not the bullshit that makes India seem like the West’s strange and spiritual playground that you want it to be.

        • Mariellen Ward July 21, 2017 at 9:50 am #

          Thanks for your comment Shaan. I wrote this blog post 5 years ago, with a deliberate aim of stirring controversy and provoking discussion and comments. I don’t disagree with you, I have spent a lot more time in India since then, and broadened my reading considerably. I will definitely add the books you mentioned to my reading list.

          We are all in a state of learning, growing, and evolution. We can all help each other in this life-long pursuit. If you have other book suggestions, I would really appreciate — or how about writing a guest post?
          Mariellen Ward recently posted..Wildlife in Kanha National Park: A photo essayMy Profile

  36. Claudia May 20, 2013 at 9:11 am #

    Actually I would not describe Shantaram as a page-turner, at least not for me and especially not at the beginning of the book. It took me quite a while to get engaged by it and in the end I was really impressed by the thoughts of the character. It is indeed about life and not about India and reading the book to learn/read about India is the first mistake a reader can make.
    I ended up with that book because an Indian co-worker suggested it to me. He was a special man, very spiritual oriented (at least my impression in the little time I got to share with him) so I started it with no expectations; I had no idea what it was about or who this Australian guy was. Great way to start a book and maybe, starting a book with so much expectations (subjective, misleading or prejudiced-positive or negative) is the mother of disappointment.
    I don’t know if it would make it a 10-top list, but, I am not a writer nor a good reader, so…… I can only express my feeling towards the book: it got to my spirit and daily thoughts and made me think. and I liked that. Did it make me understand India better? Most probably not, but I got a good feeling of certain characters and environment of the country). I do not agree with all said about Indians and by the way… I have been to India, also on a solo traveling for 4 months. I guess I could say I have some sort of feeling for the country and therefore a point of reference…. anyways… just wanted to write a thought and thank you Mariellen for the great list of books. I’m starting Burmese Days by George Orwell. I will leave some thoughts afterwards. Or… maybe not, it is not about India after all! 🙂 But on my night table are already laying Children’s Midnight, Holy Cow, Train to Pakistan, and Freedom at Midnight. Oh and may I suggest one Indian author? Khushwant Singh…
    Anyways…. I also love India and I hope to travel back soon, but also Indonesia, Nepal, and Tibet….
    And whatever all of our opinions are… great that we share about books by giving our thoughts and titles of new books!

  37. arpit May 22, 2013 at 12:09 am #

    First of all thanks for listing the books that you think are great. What I am wondering are you advertising these books? Lol. Shantaram is a great read only of you could understand it

    • Mariellen Ward June 4, 2013 at 11:51 am #

      Hi Arpit, I am not “advertising” them but I am adding links so people can buy them. I get a very, very small amount of affiliate commission. But that’s not why I am recommending them. I am recommending them because I think they are great books!
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Shop online for clothes, jewelry from IndiaMy Profile

  38. carl June 4, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    Yea but Shantaram isn’t ABOUT India, if you actually read it instead of throwing it across the room you would know this.

    • Mariellen Ward June 4, 2013 at 11:45 am #

      I read it before I threw it across the room, Carl. I wrote this post because I wanted people who had only read one book set in India — Shantaram — to read others, if they wanted to get to know the culture. And these are my recos.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Top spots in Toronto’s India BazaarMy Profile

  39. Bharath September 6, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

    Hi Mariellen Ward

    I like the way you maintain the blog and thankyou for being a fan of India and things Indian.

    I read somewhere in this blog that you just heard about but haven’t read vivekananda upto now. Well, as a person who has brought Indian philosophy much nearer to westerners at a time when India is at her lowest in terms of self-confidence, swami vivekananda needs much attention and I am sure you are going to love his books, for his words are full of magic.

    You listed a very nice collection of books and from my part I would like to suggest few of my most favorite
    1. ‘Jnana Yoga’ and ‘Lectures from Colombo to Almora’ both by Swami Vivekananda
    2. The Life Divine by Sri Aurobindo
    3. Gora by Rabindranath Tagore

    I think I am very much sure that these books are going to make it to the top of your favorite books.

  40. V rose September 11, 2013 at 3:56 am #

    You simply must read “A Suitable Boy” by Vikram Seth!!!

  41. Leslie November 2, 2013 at 5:59 pm #

    I’m so happy to find a dissenting voice in the slavish chorus of Shantaspam devotees. I finished this book ten minutes ago and your headline in my google search was like a gentle salve to my ravaged eyes. I too would have hurled this book across the room were it not contained within the fragile walls of my poor kindle.

    Without the rambling pseudo philosophy that clogged every page like the worst Paulo Coelho garbage, it would have been a thrilling read. Without the black and white heart of gold gangsters and prostitues who lived out their tortured lives with grim honour and cheap excusable flaws, it might have been believable. Without the endless lamentations of how difficult it is being the most awesomest arse kicking, bike riding, sickness healing, knife fighting, heart breaking, fire fighting, lyric waxing cool dude on the face of the planet it might have been vaguely likeable.

    But it wasn’t. It should have been called “Shantaram: or how being a superhero makes me sad. An exploration in humourless earnestness.”

  42. Miraboov February 24, 2014 at 11:12 pm #

    I just started reading this after a fellow traveler who was leaving Goa gave it to me with a kind of semi-enthusiastic recommendation. I wasn’t aware of the book or it’s reputation.
    My problem right away is with the writing itself. I think if you read a lot of pulpy kind of writing the style wouldn’t bother you so much. But if you’ve read a lot of authors who truly are great wordsmiths (as well as storytellers) it’s hard to get past the amateurishness of the writing in Shantaram.
    As you mentioned, if you just want a page turner-thriller it could serve the purpose, and as with movies I certainly indulge in those guilty pleasures fairly often. But even then, there’s a base level of skillfully written (non-cheesy) dialogue that’s required to keep me engaged, and that’s what’s I’m missing so far with Shantaram.

    BTW I read Kim about 6 or 7 years ago, and totally agree, what an amazing book, and a great example of what beautiful prose is.

  43. Pranav Khadka May 15, 2014 at 11:04 am #

    Yes, i would have to agree Shantaram may not be the best written book about India(it isnt exactly a book “about” India), but it certainly is a very good book. The story of how a Foreigner who was able to have done such a lot of things in India is a huge accomplishment.Most of us who think our life has been eventful realize that such things can happen. Shantaram i think is beautiful because its a story of a mans melodramatic life that happened in India, not a book that describes India.

  44. Melinda August 4, 2014 at 9:17 pm #

    Kim by Rudyard Kipling it is!

    I’m almost tempted to read Shantaram because of the controversy that surrounds it in this article and comments but I think I’m going to reframe myself if it’s anything like Eat Pray Love.

    Though I enjoyed Eat Pray Love I did’t feel in anyway connected to India through it’s descriptions and like many main stream novels felt that it was driven more by the events that scrape the surface of life in easy to read fashion than filled by any meaningful substance.

    But it did however redeam my passion for travel.

    Thank you for your reccomendations!
    Melinda recently posted..How To Pack Fashionably LightMy Profile

  45. Rudraksh Pathak October 1, 2014 at 5:45 pm #

    I disagree with your hate towards Shantaram.
    First of all, a vast expansive experience such as India’s can never be boiled down to a book.
    This country is more about feelings than facts, intuition than logic.
    you seem to be inclined towards a westernized school of thought towards understanding a country, especially one as complex as India.
    you seem to also place more value of history, facts and events of importance (technical points), than raw depth(albeit limited in scope).
    Shantaram, in my view, captures what a foreign mind cannot understand without “becoming one” with the country. it’s almost impossible to understand this place in a very short time, regardless of how trained or analytical or intuitive your mind is.
    the place through the eyes of one truly belonging to it is way different than someone who is just on the periphery, looking inside.
    it takes years sometimes to abandon your ‘brain’ and start ‘listening to your heart’
    for Roberts,the 10 years decade really helped

    • Mariellen Ward April 2, 2015 at 10:44 am #

      Actually, you can’t disagree with my feelings. My feelings are my feelings. You can only have different feelings, a different view point. And isn’t that great that we all see things differently!!
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Conscious eating at a yoga ashram in IndiaMy Profile

  46. Noemi February 20, 2015 at 1:03 am #

    I’ve been reading Holy Cow! An Indian adventure by Sarah Macdonald. She is an Australian journalist who lived in India for a long time. I’d highly recommend this book to everyone. It’s funny and well-written. I just can’t put it down!

  47. Matt March 31, 2015 at 2:29 pm #

    What a horrible horrible blog. That’s it just a blog.
    No where have I ever heard shantaram is a book about India. It’s about a mans life in India, it never claimed to be a lonely planet.

    • Mariellen Ward April 2, 2015 at 10:41 am #

      Hi Matt, I appreciate that you commented on my blog, and I appreciate that we disagree. However, it doesn’t mean you have to be insulting.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Mirabai Expedition 5: Releasing the bonds of loveMy Profile

      • Jim August 25, 2016 at 11:40 pm #

        “Maniacal ego,” “pseudo-writer,” and “I threw the book across the room” VS. “horrible horrible blog.” Which is more insulting? Probably your comments, as they’re about a person who sat down and actually wrote a book, VS. your blog. BLOG, dude. It’s easy to be a critic, eh? Even easier to be a no-talent hypocrite.

        But, I’m sure you “appreciate” my comment.

        • Mariellen Ward August 28, 2016 at 9:28 am #

          Hi Jim, nice to hear from you again. I see your irony is in fine form, cheers.
          Mariellen Ward recently posted..A seven year anniversary and a big announcementMy Profile

          • Jim September 9, 2016 at 5:11 pm #

            This is the first time I have ever commented on your blog, or any other, so I don’t know whom you have me confused with…Perhaps your conscience?

            P.S. I’m sorry I gave myself to cheap insult, what with the “no-talent-hypocrite” bit. I do apologize. Insert Smiley Whatever Face here.

            But until you have written your own book, and had the good luck to publish it, and (God forbid that it’s popular) opened yourself up to criticism, well…

          • Mariellen Ward September 9, 2016 at 8:37 pm #

            Sorry, Jim, I thought you had commented already, but that comment seems to have disappeared.

            You know, i’ve written about 1,000 blog posts and dozens of articles, many of them feature length. I’m sure, together, they equal a book.

            But following your logic, only book authors can critique books; only album-producing musicians can critique music; only feature film directors can critique films, etc. Not sure that’s practical.

            Also, writing a blog certainly has opened me up to criticism, and you of all people should know that.

            Why don’t we agree to disagree. I don’t like this book. However, if it helps, I have softened my stand on it since I wrote this. I wouldn’t be so “provocative” if I was writing it now for the first time. Live and learn. Cheers,

            Mariellen Ward recently posted..India in a Day reveals beauty, diversity, humanityMy Profile

  48. Curious Desi June 28, 2015 at 6:16 am #

    You may want to try “Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India” by Roberto Calasso.

    I have few more recommendations in my list of books to understand India –


    Curious Desi recently posted..Why some countries are rich and others poor?My Profile

  49. zoya sen June 30, 2015 at 5:18 am #

    I love to reading books. Thanx for sharing this important list of books.
    zoya sen recently posted..Canada Day BackgroundMy Profile

  50. Jon Fuhrmann August 11, 2015 at 6:56 am #

    Interesting post – and I hope to read some of these books (having only read Kim so far – and loved it!).

    I read Shantaram between my two India trips so far (may there be many more), and I can see where all the vitriol comes from. In a lot of ways it doesn’t represent India well. I think the main issue seems to be that the author tried to pass it off as a genuine account, which it isn’t.

    But I have to say, I enjoyed reading it a lot, and some aspects of it do ring true. But, of course, it hopelessly romanticises some rather ugly aspects of India in that manner westerners are wont to adopt.

    That said, looking forward to checking out some recommendations from someone actually well versed in similar literature 🙂
    Jon Fuhrmann recently posted..Nepal’s Himalayas: the Sherpa factorMy Profile

  51. Claire Macdonald August 25, 2015 at 4:23 pm #

    Thank you for your interesting blogs about this endlessly fascinating country Mariellen. It’s well worth reading MM (Mollie) Kaye’s three-part autobiography of her life in India during the days of the Raj. ‘Sun in the Morning’, ‘Golden Afternoon’ and ‘Enchanted Evening’ are beautifully written and bring the India of those long gone days alive. Mollie, (‘The Far Pavilions’ and ‘Shadow of the Moon’), was born in Shimla in 1908, the daughter of Sir Cecil Kaye who worked closely with the Indians and was their great supporter. He, like Mollie, loved India and its people. On our visits to India my husband and I found ‘Oaklands’, their wonderful old family home outside Shima, and visited Sir Cecil’s grave near Kalka. Reading her words, I can feel the heat rising from her beloved plains and hear the rustling of the deodar pines in the Himalayan winter wind.

  52. Khushi January 1, 2016 at 1:17 am #

    Thanks for an Amazing read 🙂

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