Image: BBC

Image: BBC

On Sunday, the BBC aired its first episode of the highly anticipated adaptation of Vikram Seth's panoramic novel A Suitable Boy – the corporation's first period drama with an entirely south Asian cast.

Set in north India in 1951, it tells the story of a mother's mission to find “a suitable boy” to marry her vivacious, free-thinking student daughter in the years following Indian independence. Told through the prism of a nation struggling through a time of intense change (and no small amount of internal conflict), it is a family saga about love, nationhood and growing up as we witness the shifting fortunes of four large families navigating this crucial point in India's history.

If you enjoyed the first episode - the critics certainly did - and are itching for more, we've got you covered. Here, from Anita Desai to Salman Rushdie, are five books about families, India, marriage and all the rest, to keep you going as the series moves on.

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza (2018)

"To be taken hostage by Fatima Mirza’s heartrending and timely story is a gutting pleasure... She captures your mind and heart with an urgency that defies you to stop reading.” This is how the actress-turned-publisher Sarah Jessica Parker described Mirza's sweeping debut novel that captures the tensions of a devout Muslim family in California at the turn of the 21st century.

Amar and his sisters Hadia and Huda are growing up in California, under the eyes of strict but loving immigrant parents from India. Like A Suitable Boy, A Place For Us opens with a wedding – Hadia's – and the homecoming of Amar after a mysterious three-year absence.

Only, it's not all happy. As the family awaits Amar's return, they feel trapped between joy at being reunited with their long-lost son/brother, and apprehension over whether this time he'll stay. Soon, as the reasons for Amar's estrangement begin to emerge, the family is thrust into a tornado of tension, as the ghosts of adolescence return.

Old resentments reanimate. Buried fears are exhumed. And, as the parents' traditional values collide with their children's evolving identities, the family is forced to confront what divides them, and begin to reconnect after years of misunderstanding and unspoken truths.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (2013)

Crazy Rich Asians is not set in India, but in Singapore. But love, marriage, tradition and the changing gears of modernity are the flavour of Kevin Kwan's hilarious social satire. The story follows three wealthy Chinese families - the Youngs, Shangs and T'siens - whose lives converge for the high-society wedding of the year.

Nick Young is heir to one of the wealthiest families in Asia. Not that his ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend Rachel has any idea. He's kept his mega-wealth secret. Until, that is, he invites her to the wedding of his best pal, Colin Khoo, whereupon Rachel is thrown into a world of private islands, palaces and jets.

What follows is a story that's as jaw-achingly funny as it is jaw-droppingly absurd – a carnival of life among the world's one percent that drips with as much family drama as its insuperable matriarchs do pearls.

Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai (1980)

Here is a story about family, India, the role of women and the complex social algorithms of a culture that's both ancient and in flux. Meet the Das family, a group of grown-up siblings that were once close but have grown apart.

Raja is the successful one, having fallen in love with a Muslim woman and left for Pakistan. Tara married a diplomat, had kids and flew west. Bim, meanwhile, has been left behind – an ambitious English lecturer stuck in their crumbling childhood home in Dehli to care for their mentally disabled brother, Baba.

But when Tara returns for the wedding of Raja's daughter, the ghosts of their childhood drift out from under the bed, building petty rivalries on top of buried resentments dating back to their childhood in British India, and the fateful summer of independence in 1947. It was the year Gandhi was murdered, and the year – for reasons nothing to do with Gandhi – a chain of events changed the Das sisters' lives forever.

This Booker-nominated novel is, in short, a masterpiece of familial dynamics that explores what it really means to be related. Or, in Desai's words, to draw "from the same soil, the same secret darkness.” 

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (2017)

Described as “a sprawling kaleidoscopic fable”, Arundhati Roy's second novel is a gorgeous patchwork of narratives that travel from Delhi to Kashmir, where India and Pakistan wage war around the Line of Control. Of its many interweaving plot lines, and vast cast (including storytelling birds and beetles), there are two that lead the charge.

One follows Anjum, a hijra, or transwoman, grappling to make a life for herself in Delhi, turning a graveyard into a refuge for the city's waifs and outcasts. The other follows Tilo, a fiery, rebellious architect turned political activist, who lives in a "country of her own skin", and the three men who fall in love with her – a Kashmiri freedom fighter, a journalist and an Indian intelligence official.

From there, Roy takes us on a wild ride through an India in the wake of partition, through time and place, including some of the darkest episodes of modern Indian history, from land reforms that drove out poor farmers to the 2002 pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat and the Kashmir insurgency.

This is a novel for anyone interested in the state of modern India, the triumphs and tragedies that have shaped it, and the people who make it. That, and Roy's miraculous storytelling gift.

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)

Saleem Sinai was born on the stroke of midnight – the precise moment India seized the reigns of its own future from the British empire in 1947. He's a special child, blessed with psychic powers, able to mysteriously connect with 1,000 other telepathic children born under the exact same moon. But with such power comes a curse, as he finds himself inexorably "handcuffed to history", his fate entwined with that of modern India.

But to fully justify this book's sheer mastery of prose and narrative (twice voted Best of the Bookers in 1993 and 2008), we'd need more space than this. Suffice to say, once you fall down the rabbit hole of Salman Rushdie's mind, it's hard to climb out, even after turning the last page. Not that you would necessarily want to.

As those pages turn, we tumble across 31 years of India's post-partition history – the religious battles, linguistic strife, the tragedies of partition, the painful creation of Bangladesh, Indira Gandhi's repression – all through the gripping family saga of our plucky and garrulous narrator.

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