Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why I Love… Historical Fiction Set In India

My love affair with India started rather early when I first watched the animated series "80 Days Around the World With Willy Fogg” (Portuguese and Spanish children might remember this quite well) based on the Jules Verne novel "80 days Around the World". The young widow, Princess Romy, who was saved from suttee by Rigodon and Fogg, seemed so exotic and mysterious to my 8 years old eyes (she still does!). At that age, my interest was mostly focused in her strange clothes and the fact that she was about to be burned with her dead husband. It intrigued me for weeks and my poor father had to find (and quickly!) some children's books about India to satisfy my curiosity. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling was read many times until it fell apart.

In my late teens a friend of my mother gave me a copy of one of her favorite books - The Far Pavilions - and I was completely entranced. Such richness all through those pages! I just had to have more of that drug. ;-)

Today, my relationship with India continues, stronger than ever. For me it is still a place of adventure with a deeply fascinating culture, a land where everything seems possible, even under the worst situations that often make world news.

Here are some of my favorites reads:

The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye

Shadow of the Moon by M. M. Kaye

The White Mughals by William Dalrymple

Shalimar by Rebecca Ryman

Olivia and Jai by Rebecca Ryman

Zemindar by Valerie Fitzgerald

The Raj Quarted (The Jewel in the Crown, The Day of the Scorpion, The Towers of Silence, A Division of the Spoils) by Paul Scott

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

Taj: A Story of Mughal India by Timeri Murari

For those interested, here are some other books I still didn’t read but who were warmly recommended by friends:

Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors

The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan

East of the Sun by Julia Gregson

The Last Kashmiri Rose by Barbara Cleverly

I know this is all about books, nonetheless if you like historical fiction set in India and are also a movie buff, you simply have to watch Jodhaa Akbar. It might not be the most accurate historical movie in Indian cinema but what a fest for the eyes!

And finally, I wanted to thank the ladies of HT for inviting me and letting me share one of my passions. Thank you Ana T., Marg, Kailana and Teddy, it was a pleasure to be here with you! ;-)


** ** ** **

Alex is, besides a big historical fiction fan, the friend who is responsible for Historical Tapestry's image. She made the template, the buttons we use on our Why I Love and HT News series and even the bookmarks we occasionally send out. She blogs at Le Canapé and she always has interesting things up on her blog.

Thanks, Alex!


  1. I've really enjoyed the Far Pavilions and Shadow of the Moon in the past, not to mention Zemindar. Thanks for giving me a nice list of recommendations to go hunting for in the future.

    Non-fiction-wise, have you read Women of the Raj, by Margaret MacMillan?

  2. You've named several of my all time favorites, The Far Pavilions, Shadow of the Moon, Zemindar and Olivia and Jai - as well as others I still haven't had a chance to read yet.

  3. What a great list! I will definitely look into some of these!


  4. Thank you so much for this post! Indian fiction is my absolute favorite to read. I'm checking the box to keep this post new in my blogroll so I can work through each of these books that I haven't read yet!!

  5. I'm adding all of them to my WL as sadly I haven't read any of them yet. I do remember Willy Fogg though. :-)

  6. It’s great to see we all share some of our favorites. ;-) The Far Pavilions is definitely THE book for me. Did any of you ladies saw the TV series?
    The William Dalrymple is more non-fiction even if it’s written as a novel, but it was impossible for me not to include it in this group. The story is really compelling!

    No, I didn’t read the Women of the Raj but I immediately added the book to my wishlist. Thank you so much for the recommendation! :)

    Ana T.,
    Willy Fogg is like Maya the Bee or Heidi, we wouldn’t be the same without them. ;-)

  7. Alex, I'm glad you liked Jodhaa Akbar--it was a good film and largely historically accurate. You could also try Lagaan, which is not quite historically accurate! Have you tried Timeri N. Murari's novels about Kim--The Imperial Agent abd The Last Victory?

  8. Devaki,

    Lagaan also belongs to my list of favorite Indian movies along with Jodhaa Akbar. The story, the characters (incredible chemistry between Bhuvan and Gauri), the music...everything is perfect! It's one of those movies I watch each time I need to cheer up. Oh and I'm a big fan of Aamir Khan. ;-) I only wish Gowariker could make more historical movies, he certainly has an eye for them.

    The only Timeri Murari book I ever read was Taj and it seems I've been missing some good ones. I'm going to add them to my wishlist right away! I just love to get new recommendations.;-) Thank you so much!

  9. I really loved The Shadow of the Moon when I read it years ago. I wish I could find it again, but it seems to be a bit hard to get hold of here, as does Olivia and Jai.

    I really liked East of the Sun when I read it a while ago, and another good one is The Temple Dancer by John Speed, although I didn't really enjoy the follow up book as much.

  10. great post, thanks for the book recommendations. I read beneath a marble sky and enjoyed it very much.

  11. Thanks so much for the wonderful post and the wonderful work you have done for HT, Alex! You rock!

    I also love books set in India! I also loved Passages to India and Great Pavillions. Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors is a must read! I LOVED it. I would also recommend A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.

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  13. Marg,
    I’ve been dying to read the Temple Dancer since I read your review in HT!

    I’m definitely moving the John Shors to the top of my TBR!

    It really seems I have to pick up the John Shors now. ;-) And I’m checking A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and it seems right up my alley. Thank you!

  14. That's a great list of recommendations! I have a few of them in my TBR. Now I just need the time to read them.

  15. I've yet to read any historical fiction set in India. I'm so curious now. Thanks for this incredible list of recommendations. Alex's site also looks so interesting. Thanks:)

  16. I have read A Passage to India. It was such an interesting read. I love historical fiction that centers around local wars and conflicts. Speaking of which I just found a great novel about the Civil War by David R. Donaldson and Mark Grisham. It is called Bedlam South. I would recommend it to anyone. It has such a compelling plot.

  17. I know I'm a little late, but I just read Olivia and Jai a few weeks ago and loved it. It was recommended to me because I loved The Far Pavilions so much. And now I have a list of new books to read!
    Thank you!

  18. The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan is one of my all time favorites, you should all read it!
    These books look amazing, I cant wait to get my hands on them. Thanks!

  19. I spent a year travelling around India in 1978 and 79 and since then I have found historical fiction set in India to my most enjoyable reads. I have recently finished reading "Shantaram" by Gregory David Roberts, and while it may not fit that well with the eminent list above, I found it to be a cracking good read.

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  21. Delighted to find all these inspiring reads all the way in New Zealand,
    I have just finished reading A Black Englishman by Carolyn Slaughter .... a great read set in 1920 India .... heaps of period detail and an enthralling story too. Highly recommend it. Just about to try tracking down a copy of Beneath a Marble Sky. Will keep checking the site for more good reads.
    Many thanks, Kiwi

  22. do any of you know any indian historical fiction for children?