June will be a big bang month for English fiction from Indian writers with global reputations. If you're compiling your summer reading list, make sure you include what promises to be an awesome twosome: Amitav Ghosh's 'River of Smoke', the second novel in the Ibis Trilogy. And Aravind Adiga's 'Last Man in Tower'. Both carry a raft of expectations with them, and chances are readers won't be disappointed by either.
River of Smoke begins where the first book in the trilogy, Sea of Poppies, left off. There, the Ibis was on its way from Calcutta to Mauritius in the nineteenth century, carrying, among others, all the principal characters in the novel: The Bihari widow Deeti and her low-caste lover Kalua, who have become indentured workers to escape her wrathful family; Zachary Reid the sailor and Paulette the French orphan masquerading as a Bengali girl to run away from home; Neel Rattan Halder - falsely implicated in a case - and his cellmate Ah Fatt, the half-Chinese, half-Parsi opium addict who are being deported to Mauritius.
The first volume in the trilogy ends tantalizingly, with the prisoners escaping in mid-sea during a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal, and everyone's fate uncertain. The set-up for the second volume couldn't have been more exciting. In June, the release of River of Smoke - written, unusually for Ghosh, in about three years only - will take the story forward. Now, two other ships are caught in the same cyclone, bringing in characters on other personal quests that take everyone to Canton's Foreign Enclave. The drug trade, love stories, greed and the play of base impulses behind the rhetoric of freedom play primary roles in this middle-volume.
The choice for readers really might only be in the sequencing, for along with Ghosh, they must also pick up Man Booker winner Aravind ('White Tiger') Adiga's new novel, Last Man in Tower. In a made-for-cinema storyline, a single schoolteacher stands between a stereotypically avaricious property-shark and his multi-crore-rupee dreams of redeveloping a ramschackle block of flats overlooking Asia's largest slum, Dharavi, into an ultra-luxe tower for the rich.
If Adiga takes off from he left off in White Tiger, the dark side of Indian shining will be evident here in vivid characterization, trenchant dialogue and energetic plot, starring Mumbaikars pushed beyond the edge by the opportunistic exploitation of the openings that liberalizing India offers to the unscrupulous and greedy.
Best of all, both books will be available in India first - well before the rest of the world gets to read them.