Kolkata's Victoria Memorial

Image: Ryan MacEachern/Penguin

Kolkata – known as Calcutta until 2001 – is the capital of India's West Bengal state and one of the country's most populous cities. The city has plenty of history, from being home to India's oldest operating port to being the place where the East India Company was first granted a trading licence. And it's this history, and plenty more besides, which has influenced and inspired so many writers over the years. 

Selected Poems by Rabindranath Tagore (2005)

Rabindranath Tagore, who died in 1941, is one of the city’s most famous writers and was a fierce opponent of British rule in India; his work Nationalism discusses the challenge the resurgence of the East poses to Western supremacy. 

Tagore was also a painter, novelist and musician, but is most famous for his poetry and often hailed as India’s greatest Romantic poets. This collection of his poems show his range, with poems about nature, Tagore's bewilderment about his place in the world, and his joy at watching a grandchild play.

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee (2014)

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Costa Novel Award, among others, The Lives of Others is a story about intertwining family and political tensions set in West Bengal.

In 1967 Calcutta, Supratik has become involved in extremist political activism. When he disappears – determined to change his life and the world around him – he leaves only a note behind. In his absence, poisonous rivalries grow in his family and destructive secrets are revealed. Reviewing the book in The Guardian, AS Byatt said Mukherjee – who was born and brought up in Calcutta – brings the world of his novel "to life with great skill". 

Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (1999)

Cousins Sudha and Anju were both born on the same night in a big, old house in Calcutta. And on that night, their fathers were also mysteriously lost. Sudha and Anju are closer than sisters, until Sudha learns a terrible secret and hides it from her cousin, and Anju discovers Sudha is secretly nursing a forbidden love. When the women are married to the sons of suitable families, their separation seems complete.

Sister of My Heart is a story about the bonds of family from an author who has also written poetry and an acclaimed collection of short stories. 

A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee (2016)

A Rising Man is the first novel in Abir Mukherjee's Calcutta-set series. The first book, set in 1919, introduces readers to Captain Sam Wyndham, a former soldier looking to escape his demons by taking a new role with the police force in Calcutta. There, accompanied by Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee, he's thrust straight into the scene of a horrifying murder.

Mukherjee's books can be read as purely a crime series, but their examination of inequality and its look at the dying years of British colonialism – and Indian people's increasing revolt against Empire – make them something quite special. 

Lion by Saroo Brierley (2013)

Calcutta might not be the setting for all of Lion – titled A Long Way Home when it was first published – but there's no denying the city plays a crucial role in its author's story. Saroo Brierley's memoir, which was turned into a film with Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, is an extraordinary tale. Saroo lived with his mother and three siblings in a poor village in India, until the day he boarded a train and got lost, aged just five. His book tells the story of how he ended up on the streets of Calcutta, and then in Tasmania after being adopted. And it recounts how, aged 30, he found his way back home to be reunited with his birth family. 

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