|photo: Vik Sharma
Nikita Lalwani is the author of You People (McSweeney's, May 25, 2021), a novel set in a London pizzeria staffed by undocumented migrants. Her first novel, Gifted--the story of a child prodigy of Indian origin growing up in Wales--was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and won the inaugural Desmond Elliott Prize for Fiction. Her second, The Village, was modeled on a real-life "prison village" in northern India, and won a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize. Lalwani contributed to Resist: Stories of Uprising and wrote the opening essay for AIDS Sutra, an anthology exploring the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS in India. She lives in London and is a trustee of the U.K. human rights organization LIBERTY.
On your nightstand now:
The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes. It's hilarious and acrobatic, delighting in its own very razored sentences, super sharp when it comes to the politics.
Favorite book when you were a child:
The Borrowers by Mary Norton--the idea of autonomy was delicious to me in the whole of this series, which is full of uncertainty, magical thinking and the self-preservation requirements of wartime. I'll never forget the Ratcatcher coming to smoke the Borrowers out of their hard-won abodes, the fierce conviction they had under those floorboards.
Your top five authors:
Book you've faked reading:
Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. It's always there, staring at me righteously from the shelf, not really caring that I exist. One day...
Book you're an evangelist for:
The World According to Garp by John Irving. It's such a somersault of feeling and newness. The plot keeps disturbing itself in ridiculous ways. There's a huge mischievous optimism hidden in its seeming endlessness, even though it hugs the tragedy at its center.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Maybe Third Class Superhero by Charles Yu. Spectacular cover which is actually quite distinct in look and feel from the ingenious, wise short stories inside.
Book you hid from your parents:
Probably the double whammy of Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin going full frontal in their various novels and diaries.
Book that changed your life:
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. I discovered it in the local library when I was around 14 and it was a gestalt moment--I could suddenly see out of the window of my life, thus far in Cardiff, and into the large, chuckling universe beyond. It offered hope, solace, an intimation of supernatural forces.
Favorite line from a book:
"Why, oh why must one grow up, why must one inherit this heavy, numbing responsibility of living an undiscovered life?" --from The Rainbow, D.H. Lawrence
Five books you'll never part with:
Collected Stories, Maeve Brennan
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, Daniyal Mueenuddin
Dusk, James Salter
Late in the Day, Tessa Hadley
Tell Me a Riddle, Tillie Olsen
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
I wonder if it might be A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. It had such a huge impact on me at the time, the compassion in it, distilled with such verisimilitude--the cautious respect, the elegance of the prose. I've been fearful of returning, but am about to do so after many years away, will finally read it again in preparation for writing my next book.