10 Classic Novels by Indian English Novelists You MUST Read – A List

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Indian Novelists you must read books classics list Literature English

Richer than Indian English poetry, English novels by Indian novelists have created a remarkable impression on the world of wisdom. Not only the novelists who are in India but the Indian diaspora has also contributed to this intellectual effort. Right from the beginning of this journey, the works by Indian English novelists got appreciation from the global audience. Novels by Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao and R K Narayan in the pre-independence era (and a little after) or those by Khushwant Singh, Vikram Seth and Amitav Ghosh in the 70s, 80s and 90s, Indian prose fiction attracted critical acclaim. Women Indian novelists Anita Desai, Shobha De, Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, Anita Nair, and many others also have their shares to claim. However, I have a limited number of positions today. I will share the ten best English novels by Indian authors! These are the novels from the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. More lists with publications after the ‘golden generation’ will follow. Continue reading. 

10 Classic Indian English novels – a list

    1. Kanthapura by Raja Rao: I may have said it many times. I repeat it once again. Kanthapura is a Golden signature on the records of Indian English fiction! One of the finest, if not the best, examples of productive literature, this novel explores the efforts of Indian people who stood behind Gandhi, the lighthouse (for many) in the abyss of the Indian freedom movement, without thinking twice! Moorthy, an energetic, enthusiastic, and progressive man from the Brahmin community, takes the responsibility of bringing the entire village of Kanthapura under one oath – fighting for the freedom of India the Gandhian way. Rich with language, imagery, and usage of local symbolism, Kanthapura will be an unforgettable read for anyone!
      Get a copy of Raja Rao’s masterpiece now – click here for the Amazon India link.
    2. Confession of a Lover by Mulk Raj Anand: Anand wrote many novels. However, not all his publications match the threshold this romantic, elusive, and somewhat different story touches. Confession of a Lover is the story of a lover, Krishan Chander, who falls in love with Yasmin, a fellow student and a Muslim girl. The novel covers four years in the lives of the protagonists and minor characters, from 1921 to 1925, and revolves around Khalsa College, Amritsar. Loaded with rebellious ideas, emotional sobbing, the usual orotund that Anand delivers, and a painful love episode, Confession of a Lover will be an intriguing book on the reading list of any Indian literature lover.
      Buy the novel from Amazon India – click here.
    3. The Guide by R K Narayan: One of the best novels I have ever read, The Guide represents the finest display of balance between the philosophical and practical ideas of India. Railway Raju, immortalised by Dev Anand in the movie of the same name, will forever remain one of the best fictional characters. The Guide is more than a love story, a tale of ambition, a representation of marriage and its troubles. Read this novel to have an experience that will be everlasting!
      Buy The Guide by R K Narayan – click here to go to the Amazon page.
    4. A Dream in Hawaii by Bhabani Bhattacharya: Bhabani Bhattacharya always remained parallel to the golden triangle in Indian English fiction – Rao, Narayan and Anand. At times, Bhattacharya excelled Anand in the craft and technique of fiction. Only second to He Who Rides a Tiger, A Dream in Hawaii brings the readers a classic case of an East-West encounter. The spirituality of the East and the commercial attitude of the West go hand in hand (in this novel). It offers an intriguing read (even) to modern readers of English fiction.
      Find books by Bhabani Bhattacharya on Amazon India – click here.
    5. I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale by Khushwant Singh: Flawed in exhibiting the realities of the time and obsessed with sex (in his novels) (Naik 231), Khushwant Singh manages to offer his readers something memorable in this novel. The plot explores varied reactions to the ongoing freedom movement of India as it peaked in the forties of the twentieth century. At the centre of the storyline, there is a joint Sikh family. The style of Singh’s writing and his pitiless realism might surprise (or shock) many readers.
      Buy Khushwant’s book on Amazon – click here.
    6. Wound of Spring by S. Menon Marath: Famous for a very ironical stance on the Gandhian Swadeshi Andolan, it offers a grim realism with certain oils of refinement of fiction. In Wound of Spring, Menon Marath wove the story of the disintegration of a traditional Indian Nayar family (in Kerala) during the second decade of the twentieth century (Naik 231). Marath’s style is better than Khushwant’s. If you can find it in the bookstores near you, please read this novel ASAP!
      Get a copy from ABE Books – click here.
    7. Azadi by Chaman Nahal: A 1975 publication, Azadi was the novel that brought Chaman Nahal the prestigious Sahitya Akademi award in 1977. Many literary critics in India have hailed this novel as one of the best fictional accounts of the Indian partition! Chaman Nahal’s realism is remarkable. His style of fusing true accounts with fiction that can sustain reality without spilling the details will impress readers any day! The migration of a Hindu family from Sialkot, the love story of Arun and a Muslim girl (that fails in the horrors of partition), and the grim images of partition’s byproducts – Chaman Nahal indubitably succeeded in producing a memorable novel. It is not a surprise that this novel remains hidden from the masses. On the contrary, far from the truth and augmented (but subconscious) representation of the lopsided partition ripples like Clear Light of Day became a hit among many. Why? You decide once you read it.
      Buy Azadi by Chaman Nahal – go to the Amazon page now.

               08. The Strange Case of Billy Biswas by Arun Joshi: The enigma Railway Raju chased in The Guide continued here. Bimal Biswas, aka Billy Biswas, does not let his foreign education distinct between man and man, woman and woman, and helps him understand the world better (with new perspectives in play). The case is strange because Billy chases an escape from everything – individuality, family, society and the world we know. He chooses to live with Adivasis. What’s next for Billy? Read this riveting and peculiar novel by Arun Joshi to find out.
Get a copy from Amazon India – click to open the book page on Amazon.

           09. Fire on the Mountain by Anita Desai: Parallel to her featuring on the shortlist of the Booker Prize and not making it, unfortunately, novels by Anita Desai, realistically, make the best efforts but fall short of the zenith assumed as perfection (if something like this idea exists). Nevertheless, it does not take anything away from the craft of fiction writing Anita possesses. Out of many novels she has written, Fire on the Mountain is the one that compels the readers to ponder the bitter realities of life. The pervasive sadness finds company in the monotonous shroud of solitude the lead characters don throughout the novel. Will it be a pleasant novel to read? NO! Will this novel engage the readers? Yes and no. My suggestion – read it once.
Grab a copy from Amazon India – click here.

        10. Inside the Haveli by Rama Mehta: Feminism, in general, has merged, gradually, with man-is-wrong attitude. Rama Mehta, a woman who saw the British era in India ending, was a fine novelist who produced something exemplary for the generations to read – Inside the Haveli, a novel. Geeta gets the shock of her life as soon as she enters her husband’s home, a haveli with separate spaces for men and women. Lack of education, purdah system, limited freedom and everything a feminist author could use (with no productive solution). Rama’s novel, however, wonderfully employs ‘supportive male’ and ‘traditionally-rooted’ characters who support the protagonist in efforts to bring progressive changes inside the haveli!
Get a copy of this novel – click here to buy from Amazon India.

Friends, this was my list of ten classic Indian English novels. I have included works by Indian English novelists from the pre-independence era and immediately after the independence. I will bring more lists of works by Indian women novelists, modern novelists and contemporary authors. Do grab your copies from Amazon India. Links to purchase the books are there after the descriptions.  

Unfortunately, one or two books might not be available on online websites (shame). You may try to get those from the bookstores near you. All the best!

Alok Mishra

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6 Comments. Leave new

  • Darshan Sharma
    June 1, 2023 7:13 pm

    Thank you for this amazing list of novels… yes, there are many that I did not even know about… even being a student of English literature and someone who is doing research on Indian English novels. What kind of syllabuses and education system we have in our higher education milieu? I wonder!

  • Azadi and Wound of Spring sound very interesting…. unfortunately, as you rightly said, I tried looking for them on Amazon India and could not find those novels. Any idea? I will surely look in the bookstores near me.

  • I have read the guide many times. I will read Chaman Nahal and Raja Rao soon. Thanks for this list of best Indian English novels..

  • Very amazing collection… I will try to find a copy of Chaman Nahal novel Azadi.. that sounds interesting to me.

  • Shivangini Ayar
    December 12, 2022 6:59 pm

    I am very shocked to see many novels on this list were unheard by me! Rama Mehta sounds intriguing and I will surely read her novel. A novel contradicting Gandhian philosophy will also be an interesting read for me. Thanks for bringing these Indian English novels to attention. Waiting for more.

    • Truly said.. Shivangini! I tried to find Azadi too and it is not available on Amazon and a few websites. Will try looking in bookstores near me tomorrow.


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