Santanu Bhattacharya picks 10 books that influenced One Small VoiceBy Santanu Bhattacharya
Santanu Bhattacharya is the author of One Small Voice, an Observer Best Debut for 2023, published by Penguin Fig Tree. Here he discusses books that inspired him and those that he learnt from while writing his novel.
Santanu Bhattacharya£14.99 £14.24
MOHSIN HAMID£9.99 £9.49
This is the novel that dared me to dream of becoming an author one day, showed me that there was a place for our stories. The journey of a young Pakistani man Changez in America against the backdrop of the 9/11 attacks, it is a fascinating deep-dive into the character's struggle to carve out an identity for himself in a world programmed to put labels on him.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie£9.99 £9.49
This is the book that showed me the power of literature in helping to keep alive our histories. Set in the 1960s leading up to the Biafran War, something I'd never come across in history textbooks, it made me question - if we don't write this down, how will future generations know that this happened?
Vikram Chandra£9.99 £9.49
Since most of One Small Voice is set in Mumbai, I was looking for a book that could take me back to the city again and again. This book came to me at exactly the right time. Written as five interconnected short stories, every page smells and breathes of Mumbai in all its chaos and calm.
Elena Ferrante£12.99 £12.34
In this second book of the My Brilliant Friend quartet, Elena Greco leaves her working class neighbourhood in Naples to attend university in Florence, and goes on to become a writer and a mother. I read this when I was struggling to tell a story that spans three decades - how do I keep the characters real while allowing them to change and go their own ways? This quartet showed me that people change and un-change, but who we are is essentially what remains when it's all said and done.
Tsitsi Dangarembga£8.99 £8.54
The third in the trilogy, this book is about Tambudzai when she is a middle-aged woman. She isn't necessarily likeable, she has very little agency over her life, she is making wrong choices - but she is someone the reader wants to stay with. It also struck me that Tambudzai might be a metaphor for Zimbabwe itself, and where she finds herself is not different to the country a few decades after its independence.
Ben Fergusson£9.99 £9.49
This is one of my most favourite books. It has the tenderness of youth, the warmth of friendships, the headiness of first love, all set in a momentous time for the country (the fall of the Berlin Wall).
Madhuri Vijay£8.99 £8.54
Shalini travels from Bangalore to Kashmir to track down someone her mother knew, and gets embroiled in the military conflict of the region. A strong story, an uncertain protagonist, and the messiness of trying to make things better for others.
Rebecca Makkai£9.99 £9.49
Moving back and forth between 1980s Chicago and 2015 Paris, this is a big-hearted novel that shows us what the AIDS crisis did to the gay community, and the toll it has taken on those who survived.
Tan Twan Eng£9.99 £9.49
The protagonist Teoh Yun Ling is a survivor of Japanese prisoner camps in Malaysia during World War II, and later a judge tasked to oversee war crime cases. The book moves seamlessly between past and present, from the swampy torture camps to the misty Cameron Highlands and onward to Japan itself. It beautifully evokes a strong sense of place and time, and gives us an unforgettable protagonist who says very little but carries the story on her shoulders.
Zadie Smith£9.99 £9.49
This funny joyful book about life in North-West London is full of vibrant characters of all backgrounds, their lives intricately overlapping. With a very light touch, it explores race, class, colonialism and community. Smith was in her early twenties when she wrote this novel, and her early mastery and youthful vivacity shine through on every page.