Book Box: Gifts for Brothers, Sisters, and Friends


Dear Reader,

When I was growing up, I had an impossible item on my wish list.

I wanted an elder brother. To be there, in an inspiring way like Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird, to take me on adventures like Jack in The Adventure series by Enid Blyton or to be a pal like Peter in The Circus Shoes by Noel Streatfeild.

Along the way, I envied friends who made close platonic connections with older boys and anointed them, rakhi brothers. But then my baby brother grew up, and became all the things I wanted in an elder brother — taking me on skiing adventures to Gulmarg, giving me investing advice and generally being there!

This week is the perfect time to celebrate bonds like these. Rakhi Day (Raksha Bandhan) is on Aug 11 and Friendship Day on August 7. Here are seven heartwarming gift books to share and discuss with these close connections.

Sibling Book 1 of 3: Sister Love

Pather Panchali. 
Pather Panchali. 

Being married to a Bengali book lover, I am lucky to be introduced to gems of Bengali literature, I might not otherwise pick up. Of these, Pather Panchali by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, is the most stunning. The brother-sister protagonists in the book, Apu and Durga, are just so vivid, they forage for wild berries, steal mangoes from their neighbours, get lost and discover trains. Elder sister Durga, never gets as much food because she is a girl, she is constantly scolded and beaten, but her intense love for her brother is incredibly moving. I won’t say more, this is a family story you have to read. The book has been filmed by Satyajit Ray, but reading this book, is an entirely different experience and totally recommended.

Sibling Book 2 of 3: An Elder Brother to Follow

Becoming. 
Becoming. 

You have been my protector since the day I was born. You have made me laugh more than any other person on this earth. You are the best brother a sister could ask for…” says Michelle Obama of her elder brother Craig in her memoir Becoming.

The siblings grew up in South Side Chicago, in a poor Black neighbourhood. Life was tough, but one can see how Michelle was constantly inspired by the example of her elder brother, following in his footsteps to Princeton before becoming a lawyer.

Sibling Book 3 of 3: A Bad Brother and a Good One

Educated. 
Educated. 

Educated is the incredible true life survival story of a young girl growing up in rural Idaho, with a dictatorial and paranoid bipolar father. The girl has 5 older brothers ; the two she talks most about are bad brother Shawn and good brother Tyler. The most touching scenes in the book are when young Tara seeks refuge in Tylers room, listening to music. Tyler is the first to go to college, inspiring Tara who educates herself to go to college and then to Cambridge.

Moving from siblings to friends, here are four fabulous books festooning friendship.

Friendship Book 1 of 4: Can Friends Save You?

A Little Life. 
A Little Life. 

Four friends move to New York to start their lives in this 800-page novel — the architect Malcolm, the actor Wilhelm, the artist JB and the brilliant and brilliantly flawed Jude. If this seems like four friends in the city, trying to make it a male Sex and the City — the novel changes very quickly into something weirder and darker. A Little Life becomes a novel about Jude — easily the most magnetic — beautiful, a saint, brilliant at his job as a ruthlessly terrifying litigator. Everyone loves him — yet, he is also a tortured character, with terrible trauma hidden in his past. Read this riveting book for the power and hope of friendships in it, as the three friends try gamely to pull Jude back into life and living, spending time conversing and cooking together, experiencing life in its small pleasures.

Friendship book 2 of 4: Unlikely friendships in Korea

If I Had Your Face. 
If I Had Your Face. 

Five women in Seoul tell their stories in this fascinating book — Ara is a hairstylist, Miho an American-educated artist, Kyuri, a high-end salon girl, Sujin a low-end salon girl who is desperate to have plastic surgery, and Wonna, a married woman yearning for a baby.

It’s hard for these women to be friends in the ‘scarcity mentality’ patriarchal Korean culture and Frances Cha does a great job of bringing out their individual struggles, from K-Pop obsessions to the pain of plastic surgery. What I found most uplifting about If I Had Your Face was the tenuous friendships that emerged among these different women, and how strong and nurturing these friendships came to be.

Friendship book 3 of 4: Besties in a Brit humour tale

Ghosts. 
Ghosts. 

If you are a fan of wry humour, you will love Ghosts. The story of 32-year-old cookbook writer Nina Dean, who is looking for love on a dating app, it also features her friends — childhood “smug married” frenemy Katherine and bestie Lola, who is the kind of late night friend you can call on to dissect the real meaning of a text from a potential boyfriend.

And if you like Ghosts, try Sally Rooney. This bestselling Irish American author captures millennial friendships in such a warm way, from the late night chit chat in Conversations with Friends or the email exchanges between Alice and Eileen in Beautiful World, Where Are You. Also read Wahala by Nikki May, a fast paced book about the intrigue between 4 friends. It’s been described as a British-Nigerian version of Sex and the City.

Friendship Book 4 of 4: A Love-Hate friendship in Italy

The Neapolitan Quartet. 
The Neapolitan Quartet. 

The Neapolitan Quartet by Italian writer Elena Ferrante has achieved worldwide fame, with its depiction of a complicated friendship between its two lead characters -Elena and Lila. Being ambitious women in a patriarchal society, makes for an uneasy friendship and the two women’s intense yet fiery friendship is symptomatic of the larger social order. The quartet stretches over a lifetime, from 6 to 66, following the two friends in their search for dolls, trips to the sea, their purchase of Little Women to their becoming brides and then mothers.

On that intensely friendly note, it’s a wrap for this week. What are your favourite books on friendship and on brothers and sisters? Do write in, with recommendations.

Next week, I bring you stories of independence movements, from all over the world, to celebrate India’s 76th Independence Day.

Until then, Happy Reading!

Sonya Dutta Choudhury is a Mumbai-based journalist and the founder of Sonya’s Book Box, a bespoke book service. Each week, she brings you specially curated books to give you an immersive understanding of people and places. If you have any reading recommendations or suggestions, write to her at sonyasbookbox@gmail.com

The views expressed are personal

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