Placeholder canvas
Igniting Ideas For impact

Embarking on a transformative journey through six chapters, we traverse India's landscape, exploring pioneering startups and their revolutionary...

2 months

Author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni Recommends 8 Must-Read Books

Author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni Recommends 8 Must-Read Books

Renowned author, poet and teacher Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni recommends these eight books which have influenced her writing in some shape or form. Here’s a look.

This article contains affiliate links. If you purchase something using one of these links, The Better India will get a small commission.

With a keen interest in mythology, I devour every book of the genre. In recent years, however, I have found myself drawn towards mythology retellings from the perspectives of so-called villains to the women of the story. Of course, one book that comes to mind here is The Palace of Illusions, which is a retelling of the Mahabharata from Panchali’s point of view. 

The author of the book Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has retold many popular stories from a woman’s perspective. 

Divakaruni began writing in 1987 and two of her books have been adapted into movies and TV series. 

In an interview, she once said that her own reading depends on the next book she is going to write. She also teaches a creative writing programme at the University of Houston. No wonder her reading list compasses everything, from fantasy fiction to mystery and feminist novels.

Here are eight novels recommended by the author, collated based on various interviews:

1. The Liberation of Sita by Volga 

Liberation of Sita
The Liberation of Sita by Volga

Valmiki’s Ramayana is Rama’s story. In Volga’s retelling of the epic, we get to see Sita’s side of things. In this book, Sita embarks on an arduous journey of self-realisation and meets extraordinary women who have broken free from all that held them back, including Surpanakha, Renuka, Urmila and Ahalya.

“I was most intrigued by this book and its original take on the characters from the Ramayana,” said the author in an interview with The India Today.

Buy the book here.

2. Ahalya by Koral Dasgupta

Ahalya by Koral Dasgupta

In classic mythology, Ahalya was the wife of Sage Gautama and among the most beautiful women in the world. Enamoured by her, Lord Indra dressed up as the Sage and deceived her, leading the sage to curse her. It was Rama who “released” her from the curse. 

Surely there is another side to the story, that of Ahalya’s. In the first book of the Sati series, Dasgupta looks at Ahalya’s truth. “She narrates her life story from innocence to infidelity and seeks to reinvent Ahalya with a feminist consciousness,” reads the summary on Goodreads.

“The magical and thought-provoking adventure that follows will intrigue and mesmerise readers,” said Divakaruni about the book.

Buy the book here.

3. Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies
The first book of the Ibis trilogy

In the first novel of the Ibis trilogy, the author lets us into the world of those onboard the vast ship of Ibis. A motley mix of sailors, coolies and convicts sail down the Hooghly on the way to Mauritius. Through the journey, they become brothers and build new lives for themselves.

Divakaruni praised the trilogy in an interview with The Houston Chronicle.

“I’ve been savouring this trilogy for a while, ever since Amitav Ghosh gifted me the first of the three novels ‘Sea of Poppies’ when he was invited to Houston by the India Studies Program at the University of Houston. Steeped in historical detail, this poignant 19th-century saga of the opium trade and the trafficking of Indian coolies is meticulously researched and shows a deep and intelligent understanding of the political currents of the time,” said the author. 

Buy the book here.

4. The Illuminated by Anindita Ghose

The Illuminated by Anindita Ghos
The Illuminated by Anindita Ghose

Ghose’s first novel revolves around two women — Shashi and Tara. 

As the summary on Goodreads states, “After the sudden death of her celebrated husband, Shashi is alarmed to realise that overnight, she has lost her life’s moorings. Meanwhile, their fiercely independent daughter Tara, a Sanskrit scholar, has been drawn into a passionate involvement with an older man, which threatens to consume her in ways she did not imagine possible,” 

The Illuminated is sophisticated as it is provocative in its thematic focus on questions of identity. 

In an interview with My Kolkata, Divakaruni spoke highly of the book.

“I really enjoyed Anindita Ghose’s The Illuminated, about how a mother and daughter weather a great tragedy. I couldn’t believe that it was her first novel. I have to confess, I was jealous,” said the author.

Buy the book here.

5. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

Lord of the rings
Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings is a high fantasy series written by JRR Tolkien, treasured by millions of readers over time since it was first published in 1954. 

Steeped in unrivalled magic and otherworldliness, its sweeping fantasy and epic adventure have touched the hearts of young and old alike. 

In an interview with Books on Toast, Divakaruni said that she loved the series and learnt a lot from it. “I love the books and have learnt about world creation from Tolkien,” said Divakaruni.

Buy the book here.

6. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

His Dark Materials trilogy
Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman

Another tale set in fantasy, Pullman’s trilogy takes you into a new world. The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass tell the adventures of two children named Lyra and Will, who embark on a journey through otherworlds. 

“Along the way they meet witches, fallen angels and soul-eating spectres. And in the end, the fate of the living — and the dead — will rely on them,” reads the book’s summary.

In the Books on Toast interview, Divakaruni said that she loved the series and would recommend it.

Buy the book here.

7. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott 

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott 
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott 

This book gives us instructions on writing and life. 

“If you have ever wondered what it takes to be a writer, what it means to be a writer, or what the contents of your school lunches said about what your parents were really like, this book is for you. From faith to love, grace, pain, jealousy, and fear, Lamott insists that you keep your eyes open, and then shows you how to survive,” says Goodreads of the book.

Divakaruni strongly recommends this book, not just for writing skills, but also for its sense of humour. 

Buy the book here.

8. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Handmaid's tale
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel that has been adapted into a TV series. 

“Offred is a Handmaid in The Republic of Gilead, a religious totalitarian state in what was formerly known as the United States. She has only one function — to breed. 

If Offred refuses to enter into sexual servitude to repopulate a devastated world, she will be hanged. Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. 

Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force,” says Amazon.

In an interview with The New Indian Express, Divakaruni said that Atwood was one of the authors she admires the most. 

“I love her imagination and language,” said Divakaruni.

Buy the book here.

Edited by Divya Sethu, Feature Image courtesy

‘What’s on author Chitra Divakaruni’s nightstand?’ by Alyson Ward for Houston Chronicle, Published on 28 November, 2016
‘Guess which 2021 book made Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni jealous!’ by Samhita Chakraborty for My Kolkata, Published on 27 December, 2021
The New Indian Express
Books on Toast

We bring stories straight from the heart of India, to inspire millions and create a wave of impact. Our positive movement is growing bigger everyday, and we would love for you to join it.

Please contribute whatever you can, every little penny helps our team in bringing you more stories that support dreams and spread hope.

Support the biggest positivity movement section image Support the biggest positivity movement section image