India is an incredible, awesome country – but it’s also incredibly different from any other. I love immersing myself in books to have a way to connect with and learn more about the countries I’m visiting or want to visit.

India has some of the best books!

My recommendations for books to read when visiting India:

    Fiction Books About India

  • The God of Small Things


    This book is set in Kerala, so I highly recommend it if you’re headed to southern India. Even if you’re not, it’s still a book that deeply examines family life in India. I liked the interplay between the brothers, and the overall family dynamics. It’s also got great scenes to visualize Kerala!

  • Siddhartha


    If you haven’t read this book, you need to. Whether or not you’re going to India! This book will make you look at life differently, and appreciate it more. It’s a great book to understand some Indian philosophy/religion, but an even better book to learn about life.

  • The Jungle Books


    Both Kipling and Orwell contributed greatly to the West’s interpretation and view of Indian culture. While this is just a story (and one you might be somewhat familiar with!), it’s worth reading as insight into one of the twentieth century’s greatest thinkers. It’s been said The Jungle Books represent Kipling’s life philosophy. With his philosophy being greatly impacted by his time in India, this is a must-read!

  • Burmese Days


    While this book is set in Myanmar (Burma), it’s still worth reading if you’re heading to or thinking about heading to India. The colonial period marked much of India, and this book brings insight into how the colonizers viewed the natives. It’s an interesting and compelling read,
    and Orwell is fun to compare and contrast with Kipling.

  • The Marriage Bureau for Rich People


    This is a fun and entertaining read. And it’s delightfully light after some of the other books dealing with more complex issues! This book is fiction, but it offers great insight into marriage in India. Marriage in India is like nowhere else in the world, and this captures so much of the nation’s infatuation with it. It’s a different look and insight into India, and absolutely worth a read. This is a great beach book, too!

  • Shantaram


    This is an extraordinarily long book, but it’s a detailed picture of life in Bombay (Mumbai)
    for an ex-con escaped from Australia. If you’re looking for something to fill a 20-hour flight,
    this is a great choice! It is a vast novel that showcases the diversity of Indian culture. You will definitely learn a lot more about India while following the story.

  • The Lowland


    I fell in love with this book. The family involved is so complex, and amazingly shared within this book. I had never heard of the Naxalite movement before reading this, and I learned a lot about it. Even if you’re not going to India, this is an amazing book. It’s a reminder of the ties that bind us through life, and the power of our actions to affect those around us. For better or worse…

  • The Widows of Malabar Hill


    This is an excellent and fun murder mystery, and you could leave it at that! But for the sides where it illuminates India, it’s great at getting to what a woman’s role in the society looked like. You’ve got multiple perspectives. Perveen is at the more independent end – she has a job and is working as a solicitor in her father’s law practice. The widows are all widows of the same man, so there’s insight into polygamy and insight into the practice of seclusion. This is another great, fun beach read if you like murder mysteries!

  • Sold


    While this book is set in Nepal and not India, it’s worth reading if you’re heading to India.
    Sold is absolutely haunting, and will stick with you long after you’re done. It’s technically a young adult novel, but it’s got some very adult themes. Lakshami is sold into prostitution, and this book is her story. It shows how some daughters and women have been treated, and is enlightening as to the life of those in rural India and Nepal.

    Non-Fiction Books About India

  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers


    While this often reads like a novel, it’s not. And every fiber of your being will be wishing it was fiction. Because recognizing that this isn’t fiction means recognizing the absolutely poverty of parts of India, and how horrible people can be to each other. You will walk away from Behind the Beautiful Forevers having a hard time thinking of anything else.

  • Infinite Vision


    If Behind the Beautiful Forevers left you feeling any bit of hopelessness, Infinite Vision is the perfect book to read next. This details how Aravind was founded by Dr. V and changed a business model for optometry. It’s a true story of hope and how business can bring change while making money.

  • India. A History.


    If you’re looking for a sweeping history that’s pretty easy-to-read and will take you through India, India. A History. is for you.You will go back millennia and be brought to modern India, and you will walk away with a great background for the amazing sights you’ll see throughout the country.

  • The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857


    The Last Mughal will take you through the fall of the Mughal dynasty, which truly ushered in the era of British colonial rule. This is a great background on the politics of the fall, and the dynasty. So many of the amazing monuments, forts, and palaces throughout India were build by the Mughals – this will give you a good background for seeing them.

  • Indian Instant Pot Cookbook


    Especially if you’re headed to India for the first time, you’ll want to bring the food home.
    The best Indian food is homemade – not from the local takeout joint! Learn how to make amazing Indian food (in an Instant Pot, no less) to bring the flavors of your trip home.

  • Untouchables: My Family’s Triumphant Escape from India’s Caste System


    India’s caste system is one of the most interesting institutions that has been incredibly hard to break down. In Untouchables, it talks about the caste system, and its many legacies. It’s worth a read to understand how many Indians relate to each other.

If you’re interested in other travel books, you can check out:
Great Books for Backpacking Southeast Asia
Books to Read When Visiting Italy
The Ultimate Egypt Reading List


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15 great books to read about India

15 Books set in India or about India to read when you're visiting or thinking about visiting.

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