Way back in July (six months ago!), Reuters did an explainer on why the passage of time felt so weird during the lockdown (it’s a great test — you should try it out). Weeks passed in a blur, and October came after March, yet the days were so long. What did we do in April, and where did August go?

Thankfully, the one thing that felt normal was to read, albeit much of it was related to my own upcoming book on Nepal’s history with China (Amazon/Context, 2021). But it’s been a year of catching up with the books that…

Keeping with tradition, here’s the third instalment of the books that made my 2019. Happy New Year, folks!

Black Leopard, Red Wolf — Marlon James

I’m yet to finish James’ Booker-winning A History of Seven Killings, but frankly, I was more excited to read this sprawling African lore-fantasy that’s the first part of a trilogy. Drawing on African history, myth and legends, and set in an epic struggle between the North and the South, this is the story of a search for a boy. It takes a while to get into the book, but once the pace is set and you become familiar with the characters, it’s…

British writer John Burdett’s Sonchai Jitpleecheep series compels Western readers to look beyond Thailand’s beaches and the fetishisation of its sex industry.

Two police officers watch a Mercedes they’ve been surveilling halt by the side of the road. They walk up to it and notice that the doors have been jammed so that those inside cannot escape. When they look inside, they see “an enormous python” wrapped around the neck of an African-American marine. Pichai, one of the cops, shoots the python, but when he opens the door to help the marine, dozens of ya ba (crystal meth)-fuelled cobras bite him. “One peeps between buttons on the black man’s shirt, which is alive with undulations.”

So begins a crime series set in…

With thousands of years of shared histories and 70 years of a cantankerous border between them, India and Pakistan dominate the South Asian subcontinent in all matters, including in literature. ‘South Asian’ fiction prizes such as the following long-list are inevitably dominated by English writing from these two countries, and that too from the ‘mainstream’ publishing industry of these countries (i.e. from the big MNC publishers; only 3 of the books in this list are by indie and/or locally owned publishers, including one American indie; only one writer is non-Indian or non-Pakistani in origin).

15 books on the longlist are by writers of Indian and Pakistani origin. [Edit: S.J. Sindu is a Sri Lankan-American writer. Her book is published by Soho Press, New York]

So here’s a highly subjective list…

Peter Haber stars as Martin Beck in the Swedish TV show based on the books | Nordic Noir and Beyond

In his 1950 essay, “The Simple Act of Murder”, Raymond Chandler wrote, “The realist in murder writes of a world in which gangsters can rule nations and almost rule cities…where the mayor of your town may have condoned murder as an instrument of money-making.” The popular cosy English country mysteries, best exemplified by Agatha Christie, did not “really come off intellectually as problems, and they do not come off artistically as fiction,” Chandler argued. …

This is the second in a monthly series on crime writers from around the world. It was originally published on Scroll.in. Read more about Ausma and her new novel in the Khattak/Getty series here.

Canadian writer Ausma Zehanat Khan

Imagine being a Muslim in today’s environment of hate and scapegoating, to hear rhetoric that demonises your entire community, to see the head of your country defer to majoritarian narratives, to have to measure your actions carefully in everyday life so that others cannot doubt your loyalties. You begin to question small incidents: did the man run you off the road because you wore a hijab…

I’ve been writing a monthly column for Scroll.in on crime writers from around the world, and what their fiction tells us about the societies they live in. The first was on Chinese writer Qiu Xiaolong, who is now living in the US.

Chinese writer Qiu Xiaolong/Wikimedia Commons

At a point in A Case of Two Cities, Chinese writer Qiu Xiaolong’s fourth book to feature the poetry-loving Inspector Chen Cao, the detective recollects an eighth-century Tang dynasty poem:

Oh, do not laugh
if I fall dead
drunk in the battlefield.
How many soldiers
have come really back home
since time immemorial?

Inspector Chen has just been…

One of my bookshelves at home. Forgive the mess and the lack of organization.

I tried to maintain a books read list for the year, but failed miserably. But it was a pretty good year, filled with some excellent writing. Here’s a thread on some of them:

1/n: Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo was among the best biographies this year. A fascinating study of the renaissance genius, who was much more than just Vitruvian Man and Mona Lisa. Isaacson does a superb job of recounting his courting of European nobility, his rivalries & his focus.

2/n: I was late to Brad Stone’s study of Amazon, The Everything Store (shoulda read much earlier considering I work in…

I want to talk about two outstanding crime series I read in the last few months: the Inspector Khattak–Rachel Getty mysteries by Canadian author Ausma Zehanat Khan, and the Sam Wydham–‘Surrender-not’ series of historical crime by British writer Abir Mukherjee.

In a world where race, ethnicity, and class have begun to polarise opinions about belonging, citizenship and nationality, these two series bring a unique worldview within fiction. …

By now everyone’s aware that social media companies gather user data. ‘The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data,’ wrote The Economist, and it couldn’t be more correct. Most uncharacteristically for a free-market proponent like The Economist, it argued, ‘if governments don’t want a data economy dominated by a few giants, they will need to act soon.’

Data is what allows the internet to customise itself to your needs. Data is what allows political parties to understand where their voters might lie. …

Amish Raj Mulmi

Consulting Editor @ Writers' Side Literary Agency. Writes mostly on books & publishing, and Nepali history. More at amishmulmi.wordpress.com

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