The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas

About the book

Within one exotic land lie the secrets of a lifetime…
Newlywed Nerys Watkins leaves rural Wales for the first time to accompany her husband on a missionary posting to India. Deep in the exquisite heart of Kashmir lies the lakeside city of Srinagar, where the British live on carved wooden houseboats and dance, flirt and gossip as if there is no war.

But the battles draw closer, and life in Srinagar becomes less frivolous when the men are sent away to fight. Nerys is caught up in a dangerous friendship, and by the time she is reunited with her husband, the innocent Welsh bride has become a different woman.

Years later, when Mair Ellis clears out her father’s house, she finds an exquisite antique shawl, a lock of child’s hair wrapped within its folds. Tracing her grandparents’ roots back to Kashmir, Mair embarks on a quest that will change her life forever.

Reviewed by CC Reader

a vivid and authentic book reflecting the author’s knowledge and experience. Good characters and plot  – a little wearisome for others

star rating ***

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Q & A / Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup

About the book

Former tiffinboy Ram Mohammad Thomas has just got twelve questions correct on a TV quiz-show to win a cool one billion rupees. But he is brutally slung in prison on suspicion of cheating. Because how can a kid from the slums know who Shakespeare was, unless he is pulling a fast one. In the order of the questions on the show, Ram tells us which incredible adventures in his life on the streets gave him the answers. From orphanages to brothels, gangsters to beggar-masters, and into the homes of Bollywood’s rich and famous, Ram’s story is brimming with the chaotic comedy, heart-stopping tragedy and tear-inducing joyousness of modern India.

Reviewed by Copythorne WI

 A brilliant, fascinating and informative book which made a superb read. Several of our members have lived or travelled in India and found the descriptions of the life, corruption and contrasts of India chimed with their memories. NB the book should not have been renamed ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ Although the film is good, the plot hardly follows the story. Q & A has a far superior plot and is an excellent read!”

star rating ****

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Tiger hills by Sarita Mandanna

About the book

Tiger Hills‘ is a sweeping multigenerational story set in a coffee plantation in Coorg, southern India, in the 19th century. The novel begins with the birth of Devi, a special child, who befriends a young boy whose mother has died in tragic circumstances.

Reviewed by Abbotts Ann WI

Best read so far in about 4 years of the group. All members found the book challenging in parts but beautifully written and descriptive with a fascinating storyline. Look forward to a sequel!!

Star rating ****

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A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

About the book

With a compassionate realism and narrative sweep that recall the work of Charles Dickens, this magnificent novel captures all the cruelty and corruption, dignity and heroism, of India. The time is 1975. The place is an unnamed city by the sea. The government has just declared a State of Emergency, in whose upheavals four strangers–a spirited widow, a young student uprooted from his idyllic hill station, and two tailors who have fled the caste violence of their native village–will be thrust together, forced to share one cramped apartment and an uncertain future.

Reviewed by Petersfield U3A Book Group 3:

An absorbing book which we would never have chosen on our own. It made for one of the best discussions we have had in the group . A book many of us could not put down. Brilliant, informative and deeply moving.

Star rating: ****

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Life of Pi by Yann Martel

About the book

Life of Pi is a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel published in 2001. The protagonist, Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, a Tamil boy from Pondicherry, explores issues of spirituality and practicality from an early age. He survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Reviewed by Forest Arts Reading Group:

Excellent book. Really makes you think. Well written and endearing, we loved it, thank you!

Star rating: ****

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Amulya Malladi – Mango Season

About the book

Every young Indian leaving the homeland for the United States is given the following orders by their parents: Don’t eat any cow (It’s still sacred!), don’t go out too much, save (and save, and save) your money, and most important, do not marry a foreigner. Priya Rao left India when she was twenty to study in the U.S., and she’s never been back. Now, seven years later, she’s out of excuses. She has to return and give her family the news: She’s engaged to Nick Collins, a kind, loving American man. It’s going to break their hearts.
Returning to India is an overwhelming experience for Priya. When she was growing up, summer was all about mangoes—ripe, sweet mangoes, bursting with juices that dripped down your chin, hands, and neck. But after years away, she sweats as if she’s never been through an Indian summer before. Everything looks dirtier than she remembered. And things that used to seem natural (a buffalo strolling down a newly laid asphalt road, for example) now feel totally chaotic.
But Priya’s relatives remain the same. Her mother and father insist that it’s time they arranged her marriage to a “nice Indian boy.” Her extended family talks of nothing but marriage—particularly the marriage of her uncle Anand, which still has them reeling. Not only did Anand marry a woman from another Indian state, but he also married for love. Happiness and love are not the point of her grandparents’ or her parents’ union. In her family’s rule book, duty is at the top of the list.
Just as Priya begins to feel she can’t possibly tell her family that she’s engaged to an American, a secret is revealed that leaves her stunned and off-balance. Now she is forced to choose between the love of her family and Nick, the love of her life.

Reviewed by  Whitchurch Reading Group:

An interesting subject giving an insight into a culture. The recipes and kitchen scenes were very visual. Easy to read and a good story – would recommend it.

Star rating: ***

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Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

About the book

Beginning in America, and spilling back over memories and generations to India, Unaccustomed Earth explores the heart of family life and the immigrant experience. Eight luminous stories – longer and richer than any Jhumpa Lahiri has yet written – take us from America to Europe, India and Thailand as they follow new lives forged in the wake of loss.

Reviewed by The Benches

An interesting, well written selection of short stories culminating with a group of three related tales…almost a novella. Some characters lacked definition, all stories have a sense of loss, each character seemed disassociated both from friends and family. We rated this book as a little above average.
Star rating ***

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The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru

About the book

In India, at the birth of the last century, an infant is brought howling into the world, his remarkable paleness marking him out from his brown-skinned fellows. Revered at first, he is later cast out from his wealthy home when his true parentage is revealed. So begins Pran Nath’s odyssey of self-discovery – a journey that will take him from the streets of Agra, via the red light district of Bombay, to the brick cloisters of Oxford and beyond – as he struggles to understand who he really is.

Reviewed by The Benches Reading Group

We were unanimous with our praise of the first novel by Kunzru. Messages we thought that the author was trying to convey (and quite successfully), were subtly hidden in humour and in incongruous settings so avoiding rigid and confrontational and divisive arguments. Would make an excellent film.
Star rating ****

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Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

About the book

At the heart of this epic saga, set just before the Opium Wars, is an old slaving-ship, the Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean, its crew a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts. In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a truly diverse cast of Indians and Westerners, from a bankrupt Raja to a widowed villager, from an evangelical English opium trader to a mulatto American freedman. As their old family ties are washed away they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais or ship-brothers. An unlikely dynasty is born, which will span continents, races and generations. The vast sweep of this historical adventure spans the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, and the exotic backstreets of China. But it is the panorama of characters, whose diaspora encapsulates the vexed colonial history of the East itself, which makes Sea of Poppies so breathtakingly alive – a masterpiece from one of the world’s finest novelists.

Reviewed by Morning Tide WI Reading Group:

There was too much use of local patois, too little story about the opium trade, too much description of the ships of that time. A difficult book to read, we were all disappointed (several did not complete the book).

Star rating: *+

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Passage to India – E. M. Forster

About the book

When Adela Quested and her elderly companion Mrs Moore arrive in the Indian town of Chandrapore, they quickly feel trapped by its insular and prejudiced ‘Anglo-Indian’ community. Determined to escape the parochial English enclave and explore the ‘real India’, they seek the guidance of the charming and mercurial Dr Aziz, a cultivated Indian Muslim. But a mysterious incident occurs while they are exploring the Marabar caves with Aziz, and the well-respected doctor soon finds himself at the centre of a scandal that rouses violent passions among both the British and their Indian subjects. A masterly portrait of a society in the grip of imperialism, A Passage to India compellingly depicts the fate of individuals caught between the great political and cultural conflicts of the modern world.

Reviewed by Anton U3A Reading Group:

Not an easy read. Thought provoking – raising issues. Rambling at times; not always clear who was speaking in the dialogue. A book of its time.

Star rating: ***

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