Get ready to learn and be surprised by the cultural stories told through memoirs and historical accounts of authors like Thrity Umrigar.
Thrity Umrigar spent her childhood studying at a Catholic school in a country dominated by the Hindu religion. Growing up, she witnessed the humanitarian crisis in India, especially the torture, mistreatment, and public shaming of the people whose beliefs didn’t align with the majority. These experiences helped Umrigar write compelling novels that stir many readers’ emotions.
Umrigar moved to the United States to earn her MA in journalism. While completing her one-year fellowship at Harvard, she wrote her first book, Bombay Time which shares the struggles of Indian people she experienced growing up. Since then, she’s authored eight bestselling novels, including The Space Between Us, The Weight of Heaven, and The World We Found. These were translated into several languages, with printed copies in over 15 countries.
Umrigar also won a Lambda Literary Award, Seth Rosenberg Prize, and Cleveland Arts Prize, recognizing her distinct contribution to culture and literature. If you want to read more about humanity and history, check out our list of the best authors of historical fiction.
Best Authors Like Thrity Umrigar Ranked
1. Diana Abu-Jaber, 1960 –
Diana Abu-Jaber was raised in a cross-cultural society with her Jordanian father and American mother. Currently, she teaches literature at Portland State University and continues to write novels about general issues and experiences, primarily culinary reflections. Life Without A Recipe is her most notable culinary memoir, as she compared cooking without a recipe to how one walks the course of life without a map. Abu-Jaber’s first memoir, The Language of Baklava, also ties her childhood cultures with food memories.
Throughout her career, Abu-Jaber has received many awards for her novels. Among these are the 2004 PEN Center USA Award for Crescent, the 1994 Oregon Book Award for Arabian Jazz, and the 2012 Arab-American National Book Award for Birds of Paradise. You might be wondering, why write a memoir?
“…tasting a piece of bread that someone bought is like looking at that person, but tasting a piece of bread that they baked is like looking out of their eyes.”Diana Abu-Jaber, Crescent
2. John Boyne, 1971 –
In his 30-year career, John Boyne authored over 20 novels translated into 58 languages, making him one of Ireland’s most-translated novelists. Early on, he focused on publishing books with historical relevance, including his debut novel, The Thief of Time. His works touch on 18th to 20th-century histories, such as the French Revolution and America’s movie industry. In 2011, he released The Absolutist, another historical narrative about World War I that dives into betrayal, secrets, and shame.
Today, Boyne sits on the international bestselling stage with his books A Ladder to the Sky and The Heart’s Invisible Furies. He has won four Irish Book Awards, and in 2012, received the Hennessy Literary Hall of Fame Award.
The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas is his most famous book about two young boys who experienced the Holocaust. The book earned the top spot in the New York Times bestsellers, with over 11 million printed copies. It’s globally accepted as material to introduce Holocaust to young readers worldwide.
“There’s nothing more tedious than a grown man blaming his parents, birth or otherwise, for all the things that have gone wrong in his life.”John Boyne, The Heart’s Invisible Furies
3. Wendell Berry, 1934 –
Wendell Berry is an American novelist and environmentalist. His works reflect much about the balance of nature and restoring morality and cultural diversity among humans. For instance, The Memory of Old Jack, published in 1974, portrays how people are responsible for nature’s preservation and shares the advocacies of an older man during the Civil War. Berry later decided to make a series of this book and published the second in 2000, Jayber Crow, where a young orphaned boy searches for a purpose in a world of despair.
In 1977, The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture was released, showcasing Berry’s thoughts on the importance of agriculture in preserving culture. It prompted environmentalists to back Berry in criticizing business owners and land developers. In 2010, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal, and in 2016, he received the National Books Critics Circle Lifetime Achievement Award.
“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life.”Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture
4. Monica Ali, 1967 –
Monica Ali came from a family with Bangladeshi and English parents, which her debut novel in 2003, Brick Lane, was all about. She explores the lives of a Bangladeshi family who migrated to the UK. The book instantly caught literary attention, receiving the New York Times Editors’ Choice and the 2003 Discover Award for Fiction. It was also nominated for the 2003 Man Booker Prize and adapted into a film released in 2007. Ali’s Brick Lane is a must-read if you love Umrigar’s The Space Between Us.
Ali continues writing novels about misrepresentations, racism and religious bias, and other pressing issues about self-expression in Love Marriage, Untold Story, and In the Kitchen. Granta Magazine named her among one of the 20 Best of Young British Novelists, recognizing her contribution to literature and society’s equal rights advocacies.
“I’m talking about the feelings of alienation engendered by a society where racism is prevalent. I’m talking about the terrific struggle to preserve one’s own sanity while striving to achieve the best for one’s family.”Monica Ali, Brick Lane
5. Chitra Banerjee Divakanuri, 1956 –
Chitra Divakanuri is an Indian American novelist and a McDavid professor of creative writing at the University of Houston, an internationally recognized literary program. Her experiences as an educator and activist against domestic violence are largely reflected in her works. She authored over 21 novels and has short story and poetry collections, published in over 100 magazines and translated into 30 languages.
Her notable books are Sister of My Heart, Palace of Illusions, and The Last Queen. Her latest publication, Independence, is about an Indian family’s freedom from British servitude, hammering the deprivation of independence of the Indian people throughout history. These novels gave Divakanuri the American Book Award and the Light of India Award. She was included in the 20 Most Influential Global Indian Women in 2015 by The Economic Times.
“The heart itself is beyond control. That is its power, and its weakness.”Chitra Banerjee Divakanuri, The Palace of Illusions
6. Amulya Malladi, 1974 –
Amulya Malladi was born and raised in India. She has eight novels on her list, including the bestselling The Mango Season, A House for Happy Mothers, and The Copenhagen Affair. Malladi’s readers appreciate how she can inject humor and still keep the severity of serious issues like depression, arranged marriages, family problems, and societal issues of oppression and injustices. She believes her writing style helps balance the atmosphere of her narratives.
A Death in Denmark is Malladi’s biggest hit. It explored Denmark’s involvement in World War II, revealing the secrets of the country’s dark past and present cultural climate. Malladi uses an elegant protagonist and atmospheric setting to control the controversial stories in this book.
“Time made apologies and absolution unnecessary. Time didn’t really heal, it just made bad memories distant so that the brain couldn’t recapture the lost pain.”Amulya Malladi, A Breath of Fresh Air
7. Aravind Adiga, 1974 –
Aravind Adiga earned a degree in English Literature at Columbia University and worked as a journalist at the New Yorker, Sunday Times, and TIME Magazine. In 2008, he debuted with The White Tiger, exposing Indian society’s poverty and corruption, where people began to worship the god of money. It instantly won the Booker Prize for Fiction, an annual literary prize for the best fiction novel. However, it was also viewed as activism because it was published during a global financial crisis.
Other notable books from Adiga are Between the Assassinations, which reveals the contradicting views of different religions in India, and Last Man in Tower, where a man refuses to leave his home when a real estate developer tries to buy out their place to build an empire. If you’ve read Umrigar’s The Weight of Heaven, you’ll enjoy Adiga’s The White Tiger.
“I was looking for the key for years, but the door was always open.”Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger
8. Vikram Seth, 1952 –
Vikram Seth was raised in London and India. He earned his master’s degree in economics at Stanford University and later returned to India to focus on writing. Most of his early poetry and short stories are based on his travel experiences, featuring nuclear weapons, religion, homosexuality, hitchhiking, and music of different regions.
In 1993, he published the novel A Suitable Boy, about a young Indian girl’s journey to finding her husband. Although arranged marriage is already common in the country setting, it still resonates with a broader audience, especially since most people cry for liberty and freedom to choose. It imprinted Seth’s name in the literary world, and the book was awarded the WH Smith Literary Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize.
His other notable publications are An Equal Music, dedicated to people, primarily Indian musicians, and From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet, an adventurous and culture-riched travel record.
“The secret of life is to accept. Accept happiness, accept sorrow; accept success, accept failure; accept fame, accept disgrace; accept doubt, even accept the impression of certainty.”Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy
9. Sally Koslow
Sally Koslow taught creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and the JCC Manhattan and became chief editor of McCall Magazine. She also contributed articles to The New York Times and other newspaper publications. Her experiences in these areas prepared her for a successful career in novel writing.
Among her international bestsellers are The Late, Lamented Molly Marx, about a woman who watches how others go about their lives after her passing, and The Widow Waltz, a riches-to-rag story of a mother who was left almost penniless by her late husband. Another Side of Paradise and The Real Mrs.Tobias are other books that kept her readers hooked.
“Loyalty is a tight weave, a heathery tweed of which love is only one fiber.”Sally Koslow, The Widow Waltz
10. Elizabeth Strout, 1956 –
Most of Elizabeth Strout’s works are set in the countryside, where society has a rich culture. Despite this, her characters struggle to connect and understand others. In 1998, she published Amy and Isabelle, a story of a mother and daughter discovering more about themselves after different types of betrayal. Oprah Winfrey adapted the book for a television movie in 2001.
In 2008, Strout released a novel that changed the course of her career. Olive Kitteridge, a collection of 13 connected stories, won the Pulitzer Prize, an annual recognition of outstanding achievement in American literature. It’s a great representation of despair, hope, love, and jealousy narratives. It was also adapted for an HBO miniseries in 2014. Other notable works from Strout are The Burgess Boys, Anything is Possible, and Lucy By the Sea. The latter reflects experiences during the 2020 pandemic.
“I suspect the most we can hope for, and it’s no small hope, is that we never give up, that we never stop giving ourselves permission to try to love and receive love.”Elizabeth Strout, Abide With Me
Looking for more? Check out our round-up of the best Indian authors!
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