Best summer books of 2023 | Epic adventures, biting satires, uplifting memoirs and more

The Hindu-Literary Review’s pick of the season’s best titles across genres

June 23, 2023 11:42 am | Updated July 31, 2023 01:13 pm IST

It’s been a sweltering, unforgiving summer, and it’s not over yet. While there are several ways to beat the heat — a cool drink in the refuge of your home, the next train out to the nearest hill station, or even, at a pinch, a bench under the shade of a giving tree — so many of these experiences only get better with a book in your hands. 

We bring to you some wonderful, hot-off-the-press books, your tickets out of here. Pick your destination — from epic adventures to biting satires, history retellings to uplifting memoirs, and so much more.


The Light at the End of the World

Siddhartha Deb

A sprawling epic spanning centuries, this book is both a pilgrimage and an adventure through India and its history. Begin with Delhi in the near future, and then travel back in time, past Bhopal, just before the gas tragedy, to Calcutta in the year of Independence, and finally, to 1859, in the aftermath of the 1857 uprising. In the end, the different threads of the narrative come together to reveal the connections that have been there all along.

Review | ‘The Light at the End of the World’ by Siddhartha Deb

Demon Copperhead

Barbara Kingsolver

A reimagining of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, this book has won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year. Kingsolver sets her story in rural Appalachia amid poverty and the opioid crisis. Like Dickens, who wrote his novel “to protest the ravages of poverty on the children of his time”, Kingsolver says she wrote her story for the same reason. The eponymous protagonist is born poor and fights to survive against all odds, including foster care, addiction, love and loss.

Review | ‘Demon Copperhead’ by Barbara Kingsolver

Sahela Re

Mrinal Pande, translated by Priyanka Sarkar

Sahela Re brings together micro-history and fiction, and in what is a lyrical ode to music, history and the passage of time, tells the story of Vidya, a scholar who decides to write a book on the history of Hindustani classical music. As she travels through the country, a picture forms — stitched through anecdotes, correspondence, conversations and gossip — of a time when music was sacred and worshipped by its patrons.


Rebecca F. Kuang

June Hayward, a relatively unknown writer, watches her faux-friend and literary sensation Athena Liu die in front of her. And while June does call 911, she also steals the manuscript Athena had just finished writing — a masterpiece about Chinese labourers and World War I. June edits and publishes the book as her own work, and almost overnight discovers what literary stardom means. But someone knows the truth, and is willing to do anything to bring June down. A sharp, spiky satire about race, cultural appropriation, social media and diversity, this is a book that entertains even as it skewers.

Review | ‘Yellowface’ by Rebecca F. Kuang


Devika Rege

It’s 2014. India is thrust into a new political era of unrest and divisive politics after the Bharat Party comes to power with promises of economic prosperity. Set against this canvas, Rege follows the lives of the young people who populate her book as they navigate the socio-political fabric of the country, and examines how quickly the political can become the personal.

Review | ‘Quarterlife’ by Devika Rege


From Manjunath to Manjamma: The Inspiring Life of a Transgender Folk Artist

B. Manjamma Jogathi with Harsha Bhat

An uplifting memoir about a gruelling but epic journey, this is transgender folk artist B. Manjamma Jogathi’s story of an “almost five-decade-long battle for acceptance”, from years of ostracism and a suicide attempt, to her transformation into Manjamma, becoming president of the Karnataka Folk Academy, and finally, receiving the country’s highest civilian honour, the Padma Shri, in 2021.

Review | ‘From Manjunath to Manjamma’ by B. Manjamma Jogathi, with Harsha Bhat

Yaari: An Anthology on Friendship by Women and Queer Folx

Edited by Shilpa Phadke and Nithila Kanagasabai

An anthology of 95 contributions from women and queer folx across South Asia, Yaari is a meditation on and an ode to friendship in all its forms and avatars. The writing takes different forms, too — comic strips and fiction, reflections and rants, poems and essays. Together, they form a kaleidoscopic and inclusive view of what friendship is and what it can be, how it can sustain and nurture, and why, at its heart, it can also be deeply political.

Vivekananda: The Philosopher of Freedom

Govind Krishnan V.

A new reading of Vivekananda reinstates him as a universalist and humanist. The writer argues that the tendency to read Vivekananda as a “kind of soft Hindutva figure” does a huge disservice to the thinker. Disrupting the Hindutva narrative, the writer explores Vivekananda’s views on themes relevant to the right-wing project like Indian civilisation, caste system, Brahminism and attitudes towards Islam.

Extract | ‘Vivekananda: The Philosopher of Freedom’ by Govind Krishnan V.

Empire, Incorporated

Philip J. Stern

Was British colonialism above all the business of corporations? A historian argues that corporations, more than the Crown, took the lead in global expansion and administration, whether in the Indian subcontinent, Africa, Ireland and North America or the Falklands in the early 1980s. Corporations conceived, promoted, financed, and governed overseas expansion, he writes, ensuring that British and colonial society were invested in their ventures.

Shadows at Noon: The South Asian Twentieth Century

Joya Chatterji 

From the changing character of nationalism to food habits, a historian takes readers through the complex past of the subcontinent, weaving in her experiences and years of research. She tells the story of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and their historical signposts — the British Raj, Independence, Partition, the formation of a modern state — by picking overriding themes that have shaped each.

Vajpayee: The Ascent of the Hindu Right, 1924-1977

Abhishek Choudhary

Ahead of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s birth centenary next year, a two-part biography — the first one is out, and the second is due December — traces the former prime minister’s role in shaping the Bharatiya Janata Party. The writer argues that to understand the growth of the right wing today, it’s imperative to understand Vajpayee’s early association with the Sangh.

Review | ‘Vajpayee: The Ascent of the Hindu Right, 1924-1977’ by Abhishek Choudhary

Maya, Modi, Azad: Dalit Politics in the Time of Hindutva

Sudha Pai, Sajjan Kumar

With a focus on Uttar Pradesh, where the Bahujan Samaj Party’s reach has seen a decline, two writers try to understand a dichotomous situation on the ground: a section of Dalits is shifting allegiance to the Bharatiya Janata Party, and at the same time, new Dalit organisations are vehemently protesting against atrocities and right-wing hegemony.

Review | Maya, Modi, Azad by Sudha Pai, Sajjan Kumar

A Stranger in Your Own City

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

Most of the stories that the Iraqi journalist narrates in this book took place in the midst of violence and civil wars, and in the aftermath of the American invasion of March 2003. He grew up in Baghdad and then worked for the foreign press, giving him a unique vantage point to recount the horrors of war and decades of conflict.

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