• Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Arts and Culture

Top 10 novels of 2021



THE pandemic hasn’t been able to prevent this from being a strong literary year filled with brilliant books by great British authors. What made 2021 special was the range of genres that were tackled and the number of unique protagonists that filled up engrossing page-turners.

Eastern Eye went back through an action-packed year to present the top 10 fiction novels, in no particular order, along with the book of the year, which stood out above the rest.

Kololo Hill by Neema Shah: 2021 was filled with fabulous debut novels and the first to make a big impact was this story of a Gujarati family who is forced to leave their beloved home in 1972 violence-stricken Uganda and move to London with whatever they can carry. The talented first-time author told a compelling story that takes readers back in time to a painful moment in history and explored relatable human emotions. The skilful writing is more in tune with a seasoned author, with vivid descriptions and deep exploration of very real emotions.

I Know What I Saw by Imran Mahmood: The talented author had announced himself with his great debut novel You Don’t Know Me and followed it up with another distinctive thriller that had its own uniqueness. The story of a once successful and highly educated man, living on the streets of London for a very long time, who witnesses a murder and then starts to question his own sanity is cleverly written. The author masterfully combines a murder mystery with the journey of a forgotten man in a story that keeps readers guessing. It is another triumph for a talented crime writer, who has become an original voice in the genre.

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri: The fantasy fiction author followed up her Mughal-India inspired debut novel Empire Of Sand with a fiercely feminist story in the same genre. The story of a long-imprisoned princess, who teams up with a maidservant and sets off on a journey to transform an empire, is original on multiple levels. It combines Indian historical setting with a larger-than-life fantasy world and morally grey characters. The first part of the Burning Kingdoms trilogy is scattered with beauty, violence, and many surprises. If subsequent books in this series are like The Jasmine Throne, then it will undoubtedly be a special trilogy.

The Dying Day by Vaseem Khan: The talented author followed up his excellent book Midnight at Malabar House with another story centred around India’s first female police detective, Persis Wadia of the Bombay police. The 1950s-set story sees her trying to find a priceless manuscript with the help of an English forensic scientist and having to contend with unexpected obstacles. The acclaimed author’s free-flowing writing style transports the reader to an interesting era of a newly independent India. The meticulously researched story is filled with plenty of twists and the unique lead protagonist will make you want to see what the next instalment in this fascinating series will offer.

Would I Lie To You? by Aliya Ali-Afzal: One of this year’s big sleeper hits took everyone by surprise. The dynamic debut novel revolves around a woman whose perfect life is turned upside down when her husband loses his job and it emerges she has secretly spent the family’s £75,000 in savings, which she has six weeks to replace. The gripping, funny, relatable page-turner mixed up a multitude of emotions and interesting layers that includes an exploration of a mixed-race marriage. There were also plenty of unexpected surprises in what turned out to be one of this year’s most accomplished debut novels.

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams: This beautiful book by a first-time novelist is an extraordinary celebration of literature and reminds readers why stories are important. The story revolves around an elderly widower named Mukesh Patel, who forms an unlikely friendship with a troubled teenager at the library after they find a reading list that is left in a book by a stranger. The subjects of loneliness, mental health and grief are skilfully and sensitively handled in what is a relatable novel, which makes you appreciate the beauty of books and feel a multitude of emotions.

How To Kidnap The Rich by Rahul Raina: The writer, who divides his time between Oxford and Delhi, delivered a delightful debut novel that deservedly received incredible reviews. The book, which has been optioned by HBO, has an original storyline high on entertainment value. It revolves around an intelligent young man devising a get-rich-quick scheme involving the education system and getting caught up in a complicated web. The engagingly written story with investigators, media, blackmail, kidnap and unlikely individuals being the centre of attention, weaves together satire, crime, human emotion and observations of important social issues.

Anisha Accidental Detective – Granny Trouble by Serena Patel: There have been some great children’s books this year like the wonderful Ruby Ali’s Mission Break Up by Sufiya Ahmed. The author leading the way is Serena Patel, with her Anisha Accidental Detective series. She delivered another fun adventure centred around the young protagonist, which involves saving her granny, who is arrested for stealing a valuable diamond. The latest instalment continued to build on the impressive momentum generated by the first two books and was another page-turning story that skilfully combined an adventure with relatable family dramas. The entertaining story has a great protagonist and will likely carry on for many more books.

Next Of Kin by Kia Abdullah: The gripping third novel from the acclaimed London-born author is a simple, but complex story that has many different layers. On one side this gripping story throws the protagonists into a nightmare scenario that could happen to anyone, but at the same time it is a legal thriller and an exploration of human relationships. The enthralling courtroom drama triggered by a tragedy is a bravely written book by a fearless author who isn’t afraid to tackle a difficult subject and has developed a reputation for telling original stories.


The Khan by Saima Mir: The crime genre is red-hot right now and the book that burned the brightest was the scorching debut from Saima Mir. The fearless story of a successful British Muslim female lawyer, who reconnects with a dark past when her crime-boss father is murdered and takes on a misogynist male-dominated underbelly took everyone by surprise. The stereotype-smashing protagonist who sets fire to weak images of Muslim females is breathtakingly brilliant and lights up a gripping thriller that had readers hooked. It was no surprise when The Khan was optioned for a potential drama series and that Saima signed a deal to write a sequel to it.


Empireland – How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain by Sathnam Sanghera: Eastern Eye’s non-fiction book of the year is an utterly fascinating read told in Sanghera’s unique, witty voice. It impressively succeeds in providing a better understanding of our shared history and illustrates how the past is everywhere; from how we think, live and travel to racism and the government’s response to the pandemic. Sanghera takes the reader on an eye-opening journey through Britain’s colonial past with a focus on India, exploring power structures, origins of racism, imperial wealth, and major events like the Bengal famine, and his own relatable experiences as a child of immigrants. Loaded with fascinating facts, the important book exposes things you will wish you had learnt at school and how the past impacts the present.


A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam: Eastern Eye’s best international book of 2021 was short-listed for the prestigious Booker Prize. The talented Sri Lankan writer’s second novel returns to the same setting as his acclaimed debut The Story Of A Brief Marriage and is another deeply personal journey. When Colombo-based Tamil Krishan gets word his grandmother’s carer has died violently, he travels to the funeral and at the same time returns to the past trauma of a brutal war. The thought-provoking story told in a unique style details the aftermath of a bloody war, annihilation of Tamils and how the seemingly peaceful land is haunted by past ghosts.


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