The best known books set in each country: India

A few years back I ran through each of the countries and territories of Europe and looked at the books set there which had the highest number of owners on LibraryThing and the highest number of raters on Goodreads. This is of course an imperfect metric, as all such metrics must be. But it does indicate the visible cultural impact of each country among GR / LT readers. No judgements can be made on literary merit, just on the effectiveness of marketing.

So I think I will try it again, but this time taking the whole world. If once again I take the countries in order of population, that puts India first, as it has recently overtaken China as the world’s most populous state. I’m going to be completely arbitrary about how many books I list from each country, but will generally aim for five-ish. But India is a big place, and the top eight books on Goodreads and LibraryThing which readers describe as being set there are as follows:

Eat, Pray, LoveElizabeth Gilbert1,743,75922,110
SiddharthaHermann Hesse771,52927,768
The God of Small ThingsArundhati Roy298,09519,592
Interpreter of MaladiesJhumpa Lahiri193,41312,094
The White TigerAravind Adiga191,6619,573
Midnight’s ChildrenSalman Rushdie123,79513,881
A Fine BalanceRohinton Mistry149,4989,155
A Passage to IndiaE.M. Forster80,35712,409

So, something that is going to happen quite a lot if I continue this project is that I will have to disqualify books of which less than 50% is set in the relevant country. In the case of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, less than 30% of the book is set in India, the first third being set in Italy and the remainder in Indonesia. So it gets disqualified.

As it happens Siddartha, by Hermann Hesse, is quite high on my reading list right now. Investigation reveals some doubt about whether the key moments are actually set in India or Nepal; the site of the Buddha’s home town, Kapilavastu, is contested. A quick scan of the text reveals that there are very few place names mentioned apart from Savathi, also known as Shravasti, which is definitely in India.

But there is room for reasonable doubt about whether Hesse was really writing about India at all. It’s clear that the top book on both Goodreads and LibraryThing which is both set in a recognisable place called India and by an Indian writer is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, which I read and enjoyed many years ago. But I’ll come back to this after I have read Siddartha, to give Hesse a fair chance.