Team Champaca’s favourite books of 2023
Editor’s Note: We feature the brilliant recommendations of our partner, the Champaca Bookstore, in the Read section twice a month. FYI: Champaca is an independent women-run and founded bookstore and children's library in Bangalore.
It has been quite a year! As it draws to a close, we are happy to reflect on the many wonderful books published in 2023 that we were able to read. Here is an assortment of our team’s favourite books.
‘Assassin’ by KR Meera. The author’s latest and most ambitious novel, ‘Assassin’ is translated from Malayalam by J Devika. It starts with Satyapriya, the woman who survives an assassination attempt. She goes from believing it to be a case of mistaken identity to a full-blown investigation into her own would-be murderer. In uncovering the motive behind the assassination, her life is slowly laid bare before us. It is a nail-biting mystery, but it is also the extraordinary story of an ordinary woman who has a difficult life and is sometimes overwhelmed by it but is not defeated. K R Meera has dedicated her book to Gauri Lankesh.
‘The Day I Became a Runner’ by Sohini Chattopadhyay. Here is a unique book that you might want to read whether or not you like reading about sport. It tells us stories of female runners in India, specifically eight athletes who represented India. The stories are set somewhat chronologically starting with Mary D’Souza who went to the 1952 Olympic Games as a member of the track team and it ends with Ila Mitra, who was slated to represent British India in the 1940 Olympics that got cancelled due to war. The stories are deeply personal and moving. The middle section representing Santhi Soundarajan, Pinki Pramanik and Dutee Chand raises important questions about the humiliating practice of sex testing for female athletes and what the future holds for intersex athletes. The author weaves personal stories and anecdotes about her grandmother and mother into the narrative which provides context and also makes the book eminently readable.
‘For Now, It is Night’ by Hari Krishna Kaul. This is a collection of short stories taken from four volumes that were written from 1972 to 2000 and translated from Kashmiri by Kalpana Raina, Tanveer Ajsi, Gowhar Fazili, and Gowhar Yaqoob. They are about people facing political instability and a deep sense of loss in Kashmir. Funny, sad and sometimes witty, the tone of the stories changes reflecting the passage of time and the feelings of the author as he had to flee Kashmir. In the translator’s notes, they have explained what an unusual collaborative effort it was for them to translate these stories. Reading about this process and the frame of reference they provide for the stories makes it a timely and important read.
‘A Prayer for the Crown-Shy’ by Becky Chambers. This is the second of Becky Chambers’ Monk and Robot novellas, which belong to a delightful genre called ‘hopepunk’ which stands opposed to nihilism and dystopia, and presents to us a world of courage, hope and optimism. In these novellas, we accompany tea monk Sibling Dex, on their small voyage of self-discovery. This novella’s predecessor, ‘A Psalm for the Wild-Built’, sets up the premise for us: we are in a world, Panga, where humans have made the effort to re-wild land after much environmental degradation, and robots became sentient and left humans to their own devices in an exodus.
Without giving too much away, we can tell you that Sibling Dex meets a robot, the first meeting of a human and robot in centuries. Their encounter with one another raises incredible questions about what it means to be human, what it means to see the world with wonder, and what a society can be. A gorgeous book for difficult times, like a warm cup of tea.
‘Our History, Their History, Whose History?’ by Romila Thapar. This book is an expanded version of a lecture that Romila Thapar gave in 2023 in India International Centre, Delhi, an event which saw a storm of threats of cancellation and allegations of “‘false narratives’ that could harm communal harmony”. The lecture, and this now expanded volume brought to us from Seagull, explores how different types of nationalism narrativise the past, and what impact this has on the discipline of history as well as the public sphere. In her characteristically precise style, Thapar takes us through what it means to engage with the past, and how we can arrive at an understanding of it in a time like ours, when history is rife with unproved narratives and claims.
The book is as much a defence of history as a discipline, as a warning of what happens if history is not supported with proof. To sum up the epigraph of the book from Eric Hobsbawm, nationalism is to history what poppy is to the opium addict, and it is to this relationship Thapar draws our attention.
‘Quarterlife’ by Devika Rege. This is the author’s debut novel. It is a fictional enquiry into the new India that was wrought after the elections of 2014. Set for most part in Bombay, the novel invites us into the inner lives and political awakening of three individuals: Naren, a Green Card holding successful corporate honcho who returns to India restless for something new; Amanda, who wishes to stir up her comfortable and suffocating suburban life in the States, and Rohit, Naren’s brother who wishes to be a cutting edge filmmaker in a world full of Bollywood.
Their relationships are adjacent to one another, but separated by their personal ambitions. With sharp, tightly held prose, Rege explores political ideas through these characters, whether it is a glimpse into the corporate world, the nexus of culture and politics, caste and class, or how the personal is the political. The book is a fresh attempt at thinking about who we are in India today, in these drastic and changing times.
Other books that came out in 2023 that we have enjoyed reading:
- ‘History’s Angel’ by Anjum Hasan
- ‘In Ascension’ by Martin McInnes
- ‘Everything the Light Touches’ Janice Pariat
- ‘Caste Pride’ by Manoj Mitta
- ‘Fire Bird’ by Perumal Murugan translated by Janani Kannan
- ‘Yellowface’ by R.F Kuang
- ‘Sakina’s Kiss’ by Vivek Shanbhag
- ‘The Covenant of Water’ by Abraham Verghese
Life at Champaca
In December, from book discussions to cooking for children, we have an exciting line-up of events—check them out here! If you’re in Bangalore, we invite you to come to our lush, leafy store, attend the events and browse through our shelves with cold tender coconut water/ a hot cup of coffee, as per the whims and fancies of the ever-changing Bangalore weather!