Readers Write In #129: My 2019 in Books – Top 10

Posted on January 10, 2020


(by G Waugh)

1. Rishi Moolam by Jayakanthan

Jayakanthan’s take on the Oedipus Complex just blew me away. I don’t know why I have this obsession with small books. This is easily the greatest novella ever written in Tamil.

2. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

The second place is taken by the longest book I have ever read in my life. The longest book ever spans the shortest narrative duration. The whole story takes place between the years 1951 to 1953. A vivid description of the cross section of post Independence society, with peripheral characters suddenly taking over the main narrative and vice versa. The enthralling aspect of the novel was how unremarkable these lives were without a semblance of dramatic heavy-lifting, yet how endearing all of the characters were and how unconsciously people change and how some people even after undergoing numerous travails remain themselves undergoing little or no change. This is one of the novels which I will go back after at least a decade. The book can be called India’s literary answer to Richard Linklater brand cinema .

3. Pol Pot by Philip Short

The finest ever biography of a nation narrated from the perspective of a cold blooded yet epoch making dictator in Pol Pot, the most ruthless of 20th century tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, etc. The narrative is so lucid bolstered by a solid literary style and a wonderful eye for detail. A strong recommendation.

4. Gene by Siddharth Mukherjee

A fantastic work of non-fiction that manages to transcend the limits of its genre and become a lively story of its own. The theme is genetics, a subject that becomes more and more captivating as you venture deeper into it under the influence of the sure footed Mukherjee.

5. Adults In The Room by Yanis Varfouakis

It sort of appalls me to note that this book has ended up languishing beneath four other books in the year’s list. Such a riveting read, written by a super sincere political revolutionary who reluctantly takes over a ministerial position in the ambitious Syriza government leading Greece during its worst ever financial crisis. Just grab the book and begin your journey into the most secret caverns of international finance right into the powercenter of global decision making. The honesty of Varfouakis sucks you into the narrative and when you come out, you feel completely transformed, wiser and yet totally confounded about the way the world works around you. Soon to be made into a movie by Costa Gavras.

6. Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein

Lives up to the title. Reads like a full blown conspiracy theory but oozes so much truth and squelches all your well defined beliefs in everyday social phenomena. This 600 page indictment of laissez faire capitalism reinterprets international history in such stark and telling detail and blows other mundane perspectives into smithereens. This book could have taken one among the top three places in the year’s list but its final place shows the quality of the list.

7. Love In The Time of Cholera by GG Marquez

Only after you plunge into the depths of Marquez you find how indistinguishable the aesthetics of Prose and Poetry are. You can discern the fine yet elemental links that show the evolution of poetry from prose when you wallow calmly inside the turbulent waters of Marquezian seas that rise and subside in totally unpredictable intervals and leave you fully refreshed and revitalised once you reach the shore. This mind blowing epic of love and waiting could have fathered the modern love stories of the Gautham Menon genre.

8. Oru Nadigai Nadagam Parkiral by Jayakanthan

Jayakanthan’s meditation on the ideals of love, the societal conceptions of the same and how difficult it is to reconcile the two. The conflict between the confused, yet renowned ‘intellectual’ Ranga and the uneducated yet super refined Kalyani who come together romantically and eventually decide to part under circumstances of their own making keeps throwing difficult questions that boggle the minds of intellectuals, poets and lovers. But Kalyani, the central character keeps it simple. She gives simple and indisputable answers to all of those difficult questions. She is the embodiment of everything that is ethereal in love- undying, headlong commitment that stands easily on an unshakable platform of trust.

9. JJ Sila Kuripugal by Sundara Ramaswamy

This is nothing but a painstakingly compiled biography of a fictional character – JJ. This work could be compared to what Woody Allen had achieved with Zelig. The novel’s form is so astonishingly new that the content -the complexity of the protagonist pales slightly in comparison. I felt a bit distant with the protagonist but I am sure I will get back to the novel once again in future.

10. Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer

A modern day epic that pits two protagonists against each other from completely different strata and geography, following them from birth till the end of their lives. It is a nice and a fairly unsentimental read that moves at a healthy pace thanks to a no-nonsense Archer. The heavy-duty scenes do not work and probably Archer knows this and hence keeps them to a bare minimum. But the fleeting imagination of Archer and the consistency of the writing keeps
you invested.

Honorable Mentions:
● Oru Ilakiyavadhiyin Arasiyal Anubavangal by Jayakanthan
● Conversations with Mani Ratnam by Baradwaj Rangan
● Kafka On the Shore by Haruki Murakami
● Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
● A Feast of Vultures by Josy Joseph