Year of plenty

Published : Dec 28, 2023 12:00 IST - 8 MINS READ

The Frontline list of the Top 10 titles of 2023 in fiction and non-fiction.

One of the features of 2023 was the prodigious number of books it produced—probably a result of publishing houses releasing all the titles they had held back due to the pandemic. Or was it because authors regained their mojo after the dismal isolation of the lockdown? Whatever the case, 2023 was certainly a good harvest year, both for fiction and non-fiction. 

Interestingly, some of the big releases—Jhumpa Lahiri’s Roman Stories or Sara Rai’s Raw Umber: A Memoir—did not live up to their hype, but several low-profile books—I Named my Sister Silence by Manoj Rupda, translated by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar or Insurgent Feminisms: Writing War, edited by Bhakti Shringarpure and Veruska Cantelli—were outstanding. 

Following the promising trend of the last few years, translations from regional Indian languages continued to thrive. In November 2023, the coveted JCB Prize for Literature went to Tamil writer Perumal Murugan for Fire Bird, translated by Janani Kannan from the Tamil original Aalanda Patchi. While the newfound recognition for translations gives regional language authors their well-deserved place in the sun, it also underlines the importance of English as a connecting language. Simultaneously, one is seeing the return of Indian-origin authors like Parini Shroff or Chetna Maroo to their homeland for inspiration. Together, it seems fairly certain that 2024 will also see a glut of writing from our shores.

We present here our picks for the Top 10 of 2023, arranged in no particular order. Given the number of titles and our own subjectivity, this list is by no means exhaustive. It only indicates the tip of the talent iceberg and we hope you will write back with your suggestions. Happy reading!  


The Laughter

By Sonora Jha

Hamish Hamilton

Dr Oliver Harding, an ageing white male professor in an American university, is an unreliable narrator confessing his attraction for a young Muslim female colleague. Through him, Sonora Jha’s novel exposes the anxieties of the white male psyche as it confronts the possibilities of a multiracial America in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election, which brought Donald Trump to power. A brilliant satire on the many fears that came with this millennium, the novel is also a masterclass in storytelling.


Traces of Boots on Tongue

By Rajkamal Chaudhary, translated by Saudamini Deo

Seagull Books

Rajkamal Choudhary (1929-1967) wrote in Hindi, Maithili, and Bengali. Unabashed in its exploration of sexual hypocrisies and socio-economic realities, his writing is akin to Manto’s. This selection is a good indicator of Chaudhary’s purported belief that the lives of women, including their sexuality and sexual exploitation, are the clearest mirror of society. The stories hit home because of their forceful, realistic style.



By Rebecca F. Kuang 

The Borough Press

This novel, which is hinged on the American publishing industry, is well on its way to becoming a cult classic. And justifiably so. The writing is gripping, and the revelations are jolting because they confirm all our fears about the post-truth world. In an Instagram post where Rebecca F. Kuang poses with Yellowface, the caption goes: “In 2023 we get mad spill the beans and don’t care”—an apt description of the novel.


The Memoirs of Valmiki Rao

By Lindsay Pereira

Vintage Books

The Ramayana forms the scaffolding, but the characters are not “types” based on the originals. Here there is no clear-cut hero or villain because everyone belongs to the grey area between the absolute good and bad, and so is deserving of sympathy. These broken souls hold up a mirror to the city they call home, Mumbai, which with its cosmopolitanism and prejudices, freedom, and indifference, has a fractured heart too.


Furies: Stories of the Wicked, Wild and Untamed

With an introduction by Sandi Toksvig


Virago, the feminist publishing house, has been championing women’s voices since 1973. Furies was released to mark Virago’s 50th anniversary, and it is as wicked and wild as the subtitle suggests. All the stories feature badass women who break the mould and assert themselves strongly.


Sakina’s Kiss

By Vivek Shanbhag, translated by Srinath Perur

Vintage Books

The Kannada writer Vivek Shanbhag is known for his impeccable craft, and in this novel, he uses that skill to the hilt to tell a story about the inherent slipperiness of words. At the centre is a disappearance that remains a mystery until the end. What gets unravelled in the process of solving it is the inscrutability of life and the unreliability of memory. Srinath Perur’s translation adds to the brilliance of the original.


I Named my Sister Silence

By Manoj Rupda, translated by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar


The Nagpur-based Hindi author Manoj Rupda’s 2015 novel, Kaale Adhyaay, translated into English as I Named my Sister Silence by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, made it to the JCB Prize shortlist. It is the compelling story of an Adivasi boy and his sister who get entangled in the Naxalite movement. Making a case against stereotyping, the novel itself resists categorisation.


The Sea Elephants

By Shastri Akella


Depiction of non-heteronormative love in Indian fiction is still rare. This reflects Indian society, which continues to view such relationships as aberrations. Shastri Akella’s novel brings out the trauma of a boy who identifies himself as gay. And it also celebrates his liberation as he eventually learns to live on his own terms, unimpeded by restrictive societal expectations.



By Mahasweta Devi, translated by Anjum Katyal

Seagull Books

Mahasweta Devi, the great feminist writer and activist, also dabbled in popular genres like the thriller and this darkly humorous novel is proof of her skill. True to her style, however, this apparent murder mystery also takes a dig at capitalist society and suggests that the underdogs will win the day.


The House of Doors

By Tan Twan Eng

Canongate Books

This 2023 Booker Prize longlisted novel has a rich vintage feel, evoking memories of personalities, books, and films from the early decades of the 20th century. Real-life people like the Chinese statesman Sun Yat-sen and the English author Somerset Maugham appear as characters here, transporting us to a vanished world.


Also Read | Jon Fosse wins 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature for giving ‘voice to the unsayable’

Non Fiction

The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise

By Pico Iyer

Hamish Hamilton

“After years of travel, I’d begun to wonder what kind of paradise can ever be found in a world of unceasing conflict—and whether the search for it might not simply aggravate our differences.” Thus begins Pico Iyer’s inner and outer journeys through Iran, Japan, Sri Lanka, and North Korea as he explores the idea of home and the (im)possibility of finding Paradise.


Lab Hopping: A Journey to find India’s women in science

By Aashima Dogra and Nandita Jayaraj


A distillation of the Life of Science project curated by Aashima Dogra and Nandita Jayaraj, this book documents the stories of women scientists across India, the barriers they face, the challenges they deal with, and the changes they would like to see in what is largely a male bastion even today.


India Is Broken—And why it’s hard to fix: A People Betrayed, 1947 to Today

By Ashoka Mody

Juggernaut Books

Ashoka Mody, an economic historian at Princeton who was formerly with the World Bank and the IMF, weaves history, statistics, economics, and political science to take stock of India’s socio-economic trajectory since Independence in language that is accessible to the lay reader.


The Earth Transformed: An Untold History

By Peter Frankopan

Bloomsbury Publishing

Bringing an environmental perspective to his epic narration of the earth’s history, the British historian Peter Frankopan shines a light on how civilisations have been shaped by the vagaries of weather and climate, by droughts and pluvial periods, ice ages and warming, and not least, volcanoes.


Caste Pride: Battles for Equality in Hindu India

By Manoj Mitta


A “reality check” at the intersection of caste and law, this book shows how caste prejudices persist in contemporary India, how caste atrocities have been handled from 1816 to 2019, and the utter disregard for justice displayed by the dominant ruling elites of Indian society.


Vajpayee: The Ascent of the Hindu Right (1924-1977)

By Abhishek Choudhary

Picador India

This first volume of a two-part biography spans the early years of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s life and political engagement until the end of the Emergency and offers fascinating psychological insights both into the psyche of the man and the Hindu Right.


Insurgent Feminisms: Writing War

Edited by Bhakti Shringarpure and Veruska Cantelli


Through poetry, fiction, non-fiction, diaries, dispatches, memoirs, political commentaries and conversations (first published in Warscapes magazine), this anthology draws a stark new map of the world of war, as witnessed by women survivors from over 30 regions across the world.


Marginlands: Indian Landscapes on the Brink

By Arati Kumar-Rao

Picador India

An immersive account of India’s endangered ecosystems and the precarious livelihoods of their inhabitants. From the hot desert in Rajasthan to the cold desert in Ladakh to the mangroves of the Sundarbans, Arati Kumar-Rao’s words, sketches, and photographs bring alive landscapes that are diminishing owing to human folly and failed government schemes.


Courting India: England, Mughal India and the Origins of Empire

By Nandini Das

Bloomsbury Publishing

Thomas Roe’s arrival in India in 1616 as James I’s first ambassador to the Mughal Empire marks England’s first formal foray into India. Nandini Das’ fascinating history of Roe’s four years in India is a refreshing contribution to the understanding of the origins of the British Empire.


The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession

By Michael Finkel

Simon & Schuster

In the late 1990s, Stéphane Breitweiser stole hundreds of artworks from museums around Europe, but did not sell a single one. This book tells the true story of what made a young working-class Frenchman systematically commit art crimes and how he amassed a collection worth over $1.4 billion.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment