From an epic historical fiction about Mughal emperor Akbar to a biography of Asha Bhosle that rewrites history, journalist Yasser Usman, whose critically acclaimed bestselling biography of Rekha, Rekha: The Untold Story released earlier this year, on his #BestReads2016:
Tom Rob Smith
How do you solve a crime in a state where ‘there is no crime’? Set in and around Moscow in 1953, the year of Stalin’s death, this astonishing novel fiercely portrays the paranoia and paralyzing fear of those times. Inspired by real events, this is projected as a story about the hunt for a serial killer, but it is much more than just the crime. The historical fiction within the Soviet Union’s disturbing socio-cultural landscape and multiple timeframes is edgy and gripping.
Asha Bhosle: A Musical Biography
Veteran writer Bharatan vividly narrates the story of Asha Bhosle’s musical and personal journey. A rebel since childhood and caught in a difficult marriage later, Asha was never one to give up. This is not really a chronological biography but paints the picture of her struggle and achievements effectively. However, the most fascinating stories are about the pettiness between the two legendary sisters (Asha and Lata Mangeshkar), and the backbiting and the politics of Hindi music industry’s stalwarts. The book also questions the contribution of R.D Burman in Asha’s career. According to Bharatan, it was O.P Nayyar, and not R.D., who made her a singer to reckon with.
India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends?
This short history of the bilateral distrust between India and Pakistan has been written with amazing simplicity, never missing the point. The shared history between the two nations, the Partition, the wars and now Kashmir and terrorism — ex-diplomat Haqqani talks about all with great lucidity and says that India and Pakistan should start talking to each other as countries rather than as communities still engaged in the politics of communal identity. The hope lies in the inherent logic of international relations. A very absorbing read.
This recently released novel by eminent TV journalist Shazi Zaman is a ground-breaking work on the Mughal emperor, a narrative so enchanting that it blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction. Breaking many myths around Akbar, it tries to delve into his mind and describes how he reacted to the events around him and how his mind was shaping history. The meticulous research done by Zaman for 20 years is sourced from numerous historical documents as well as museums from all over the world. What makes it remarkable are the incidents from unique sources like Dalpat Vilas, whose unknown author was clearly standing very close to the emperor when he had a fit one full moon night; Ardhkathanak, the accounts of Jesuits who noted with dismay that the emperor brings reason into religion; and the Mahdavi account of a verbal duel with the orthodox ulema. A much-needed book in these times. Riveting!
Chander and Sudha
Dharamvir Bharati (Translated by Poonam Saxena)
Years ago, I read the iconic Hindi writer Dharamvir Bharati’s blockbuster novel Gunaho Ka Devta. Reading Poonam Saxena’s excellent translation was like reliving the poignant story, and feel for the flawed yet compassionate characters all over again. Allahabad of the 1940s and the turmoil due to issues like caste, love and sex might sound dated, but read it to understand how they are still relevant. The translation is pacy, colloquial and simple, complimenting the mood of the original novel.
Yasser Usman’s Rekha: The Untold Story is available on Juggernaut here. The Best of 2016 on Juggernaut is available here.