The best Indian authors include poets from the nineteenth hundreds to the contemporary writers of today; discover our guide and begin your next novel.
India is rich in culture, history, and amazing food, but the subcontinent has spawned many award-winning, critically acclaimed writers. Take a look at the best Indian authors and explore what makes their writing compelling, and check out these engaging writers.
1. Salman Rushdie
Perhaps one of the most famous Indian authors, Salman Rushdie, has commercial and critical acclaim. In 1981, his novel Midnight’s Children won the coveted Booker Prize, and on the 25th and 40th anniversary of the prize, it was named the best of all the Booker winners. Currently, the Booker Prize is open to any English-language novel, but originally, this prize was only available to writers from Ireland, South Africa, and the Commonwealth, which includes Canadian, New Zealand, and Australian authors, as well as writers from the United Kingdom.
Like most of Rushdie’s other novels, Midnight’s Children features a blend of historical writing and magical realism. With magical realism, magical events are woven into reality. A master of this style, Rushdie is one of the best Indian authors because of his compelling characters, rich allegory, and often hysterical take on modern and historical tales.
“What’s real and what’s true aren’t necessarily the same.”Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children
2. Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy’s debut novel, The God of Small Things, catapulted her to international fame in 1997. Like Midnight’s Children, the novel’s protagonists are also twins. However, while Midnight’s Children focuses on the Pakistan-Indian division, The God of Small Things looks at the impact of caste discrimination.
Although Roy has only published one novel since then, she merits a place on the list of the best Indian authors because of the sheer brilliance of her debut novel. The God of Small Things is a heart-wrenching story wrapped in beautiful poetry. It earned her the Booker Prize, became a New York Times best-seller, and drew positive reviews from critics worldwide. Published 20 years later, her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, maintains Roy’s poetic writing style while looking at some of the most violent episodes in Indian history.
“And the air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these, only the small things are ever said. Big things lurk unsaid inside.”Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
3. Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri is a best-selling, critically acclaimed author and a beloved creative writing instructor at Princeton. Raised in multiple worlds, Lahiri was born to Bengali parents in London and has spent most of her life in the United States. The themes of grappling with identity while living in the margins have dominated most of her stories.
She won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction when she published a collection of short stories entitled The Interpreter of Maladies. Since then, she has published the novel The Namesake, another collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, and The Lowland. All of these books reached wide audiences and won the respect of critics.
A true literary genius, Lahiri fell in love with an Italian person. She wrote and published a novel in Italian, which she eventually translated into English and published under the title Whereabouts. Although she wrote this novel in another language and centered it around a protagonist who had lived in the same city her entire life, Lahiri still focused on becoming yourself when you feel like an outsider.
“Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.”Jhumpa Lahiri, The Interpreter of Maladies
4. Anita Desai
Anita Desai was born in 1937 in Mussoorie, India, the daughter of a Bengali father and a German mother. A polyglot who spoke multiple languages at a very young age, Desai embraced English as her “literary language” during her childhood and published her first story at age nine.
In 1963, she published her first novel Cry, the Peacock, and she has published over a dozen novels since then, earning her countless awards, including being shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times. Like many of the best Indian authors, Desia’s writing is poetic, and her stories are rich with symbolism, flashbacks, and a hint of the magical.
“India is a curious place that still preserves the past, religions, and its history. No matter how modern India becomes, it is still very much an old country.”Anita Desai, Cry, the Peacock
5. Chitra Benerjee Divakaruni
Born in India, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is now a writing professor in Houston, Texas. She has penned over 20 books that focus on universal themes rooted in stories of American and Indian women. Weaving together history, myth, and magical realism. Her stories explore the experiences of women and immigrants, and her best-selling books have been translated into over 29 languages.
Her novels The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart were both turned into movies, while her short story The Word Love inspired an award-winning short film. Her books have also been adapted into stage plays, and over 35 cities have used her novel One Amazing Thing as their one-read selection.
“Each spice has a special day to it. For turmeric it is Sunday, when light drips fat and butter-colored into the bins to be soaked up glowing, when you pray to the nine planets for love and luck.”Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Mistress of Spices
6. Kiran Desai
Named one of the 20 most influential Indian women by the Economic Times in 2015, Kiran Desai became the youngest winner of the Booker Prize with her second novel, The Inheritance of Loss, published in 2008 when she was 35. The novel focuses on joy and despair through a story about the immigrant experience.
The daughter of writer Anita Desai, Kiran left India as a teenager and spent most of her life in the United States. Although she has not published anything since 2008, she has told interviewers that she’s spent more than a decade working on her next novel, which explores the theme of power.
“Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss? Romantically she decided that love must surely reside in the gap between desire and fulfillment, in the lack, not the contentment. Love was the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion itself.”Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss
7. Vikram Seth
Vikram Seth is an award-winning Indian writer who has penned an impressive number of novels. His books include A Suitable Boy, which is a stunning 1,349 pages long, An Equal Music, Two Lives, and eight books of poetry. He spends his time between India and England, and in addition to his writing, he has worked tirelessly to fight against India’s anti-homosexuality laws.
“Every object strives for its proper place. A book seeks to be near its truest admirer. Just as this helpless moth seeks to be near the candle that infatuates him.”Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy
8. Aravind Adiga
Aravind Adiga became the public eye when his debut novel The White Tiger became a Booker Prize winner, a best-seller, and a Netflix original movie. The novel explores the tension of a character from a poor rural area of India during a time when the country was becoming a part of the global economy. Drawing inspiration from some of the best French authors, such as Flaubert and Balzac, and the English writer Dickens, Adiga said that he wanted to criticize the injustices of India to inspire improvement.
“See, the poor dream all their lives of getting enough to eat and looking like the rich. And what do the rich dream of?? Losing weight and looking like the poor.”Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger
9. Shashi Tharoor
Not just a writer, Shashi Tharoor has also been a civil servant, diplomat, and politician. He has served as a member of Parliament in Kerala since 2008, and although he was born in London and earned a doctorate at Tufts University, he spent the majority of his life in India. Tharoor, a famous columnist who has written extensively for all of India’s three largest newspapers, has also penned columns for Newsweek, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and countless other renowned publications.
His first story was published when he was only ten, and his first novel, Operation Bellows, about a WWII pilot, followed the next year. Since then, he has published several notable novels, including The Great Indian Novel, and over a dozen non-fiction books focused on Indian history, colonialism, nationalism, and other themes.
“Twilight never lasts long in India, but its advent was like opening time at the pubs our rulers had left behind. The shadows fell and spirits rose; the sharp odour of quinine tonic, invented by lonely planters to drown and justify their solitary gins, mingled with the scent of frangipani from their leafy, insect-ridden gardens, and the soothing clink of ice against glass was only disturbed by the occasional slap of a frustrated palm against a reddening spot just vacated by an anglovorous mosquito.”Shashi Tharoor, The Great Indian Novel
10. R. K. Narayan
R. K. Narayan lived from 1906 to 2001. It wasn’t until Narayan was over 40 that British rule ended, and India became independent. That means he also lived through the partition of India and Pakistan, which was marked by severe bloodshed and thousands of deaths. Although he lived through political unrest, his writing embraces a simple style and focuses on ordinary people.
Many of his stories take place in the small town of Malgudi, and they explore the inhabitants’ daily lives, superstitions, and traditions. His writing has been compared to greats such as Checkov, Flannery O’Connor, and William Faulkner, as it captures the humor and beauty of life, even when writing about the tragedy. He wrote at least 15 novels plus short story collections and non-fiction works. The options are endless with this writer, but Swami and Friends is a great novel if you want to check out his stuff.
“Did our Jesus go gadding about with dancing girls like your Krishna? Did our Jesus go about stealing butter like your arch-scoundrel Krishna?”R.K. Narayan, Swami and Friends
11. Amitav Ghosh
Primarily focused on historical fiction, Amitav Ghosh writes stories exploring national and personal identity tensions. His novels include The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, The Glass Palace, and several others. He also penned the Ibis Trilogy, which is about the opium wars. In addition to writing fiction, he has also published many essays and non-fiction books, such as In an Antique Land, a memoir about his time in Egypt studying the history of an enslaved Indian and a 12th-century Jewish merchant.
“Rules, rules, she said softly. All you ever talk about is rules. That’s how you and your kind have destroyed everything—science, religion, socialism—with your rules and your orthodoxies. That’s the difference between us: you worry about rules and I worry about being human.”Amitav Ghosh, The Circle of Reason
12. Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913 for his collection of poems Gitanjali, and he was the first non-European to claim the honor. His novels, stories, poems, essays, and other works explored personal and political topics in lyrical language.
He was one of the first Indian writers to turn away from classical forms and traditional poetic structures. He was vocally opposed to the Raj for over a half-century before India gained independence. His work continues to inspire the best Indian authors as well as writers from around the rest of the world. It has been translated into multiple languages, and his writing was influential for countless writers, including Pablo Neruda and Octavio Paz.
“Give me the strength lightly to bear my joys and sorrows. Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service. Give me the strength never to disown the poor or bend my knees before insolent might. Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles.”Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali
FAQs About the Best Indian Authors
What is the most popular book by an Indian author?
The Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri, has sold over 15 million copies. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, and The Story of My Experiments with Truth, the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi, are also big sellers.
What is the best Indian author’s most famous book?
Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children is his most famous book, and it’s considered the best book published by any writer from The Commonwealth in the last half-century.
What are the best Indian novels?
The best Indian novels include Midnight’s Children, The God of Small Things, and The Inheritance of Loss. These books explore stories that are unique to India while focusing on universal themes such as love, loss, self-reflection, and the desire for inclusion.
Looking for more? Check out our round-up of the best books by Barbara Cartland!
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