Here at Traverse Journeys, we’re huge advocates of travel books for the road. For a country like India, it’s impossible to truly grasp the diversity and complexity in one story much settle on a must-read list. With that in mind, we selected three of our absolute favorites that highlight some of India’s most fascinating mythological past and captivating and very real present.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Written as a fictionalized version of his own life’s story, Gregory Roberts takes us into the underworld of contemporary Bombay. As an escaped convict from Australia, our main character Lin flees to India where he disappears into the hidden society of “outsiders” – beggars, homeless, gang members, holy men, soldiers and other exiles, all of whom find home among each other.
Throughout the story, Roberts provides sensory details that take you into the smells, sites and sounds of the slums of Bombay. Instead of a depressing mass of poverty, he takes us into a vibrant world of those who make the best of circumstances through ties of loyalty, caretaking and trust. Lin finds himself in a multitude of circumstances, from running a free medical clinic to being involved with the mafia. Roberts’ literary style is poignant, detailed, and captivating.
by Arundhati Roy
This touching love story filled with political dramas and family conflicts offers a real-life picture of India in a book that is considered a classic worldwide. The saga is set in the late 20th century in the southwestern state of Kerala with an event that changes a family’s trajectory forever.
During the narrative of the family characters and drama, the undercurrent rests on larger themes such as the caste system, social class, love communism. Arundhati’s literary style is compared to that of the classics and forces you to think even when a situation is so unlike your own.
by Jonah Blank
Written by an anthropologist and journalist, this book retells the ancient story of Ramayana, the blue-skinned god. Like Lord Rama, Blank takes us on a journey from the north to the south of the Indian subcontinent retracing the steps of the ancient spiritual journey while weaving in modern historical context from Blank’s own journey through the country.
Blank’s engaging prose and literary style draw you in from the beginning, weaving back and forth between Lord Rama’s journey and his own.