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Abir Mukherjee: ‘Frederick Forsyth and Jeffrey Archer were my gateway drugs into reading for pleasure’

Abir Mukherjee: ‘Frederick Forsyth and Jeffrey Archer were my gateway drugs into reading for pleasure’

My earliest reading memory
An Enid Blyton – the Famous Five or the Sadistic Seven or whatever. I must have been about six. We were on holiday in Kolkata from Scotland for what felt like eternity. All I remember was the gang solving the crime du jour and returning home for tea with toast and crumpets and jam. I’d gone many weeks without toast and jam at that point and the thought of them had a deep effect on me.

My favourite book growing up
I want to say something profound like The Communist Manifesto, but while I did read that as a teenager, I got bored. The truth is, I was much more into thrillers – Frederick Forsyth and Jeffrey Archer were my gateway drugs into reading for pleasure. Back in the 80s, they seemed impossibly exotic, transporting me to Monte Carlo and LA and Hong Kong, a world away from Glasgow on a dank weekend.

The book that changed me as a teenager
Donald Woods’s Biko, the story of the life and murder of the South African freedom leader Stephen Biko by the apartheid-era state, affected me in a way few books have.

The writer who changed my mind
Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great. I read this in my mid 20s. I hadn’t been sure about God for a while by then. Hitchens did Him in for me.

The book that made me want to be a writer
Ian Rankin’s Doors Open, a tale of the perfect heist gone wrong.

The book or author I came back to
Oh man. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. I first tried reading this at university, because it seemed the sort of intellectual thing I should be reading. I gave up after 50 pages. I tried again in my 20s and gave up again. Then in my 40s, I gave it another shot because all the writers I admire seem to love it, and promptly gave up again. I hate myself for this.

The book I reread
I first tried George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1984 and couldn’t understand that much of it. To be fair, I was 10. I tried again at 15 and was hypnotised. Love story, warning, prophecy, political treatise – it’s all that and so much more. I’ve read it more times than I can count. I can probably recite long passages verbatim.

The book I could never read again
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. It’s brilliant, but damn is it long. Who’s got the time in their life to read that twice? Instead I’d suggest another of Seth’s books – An Equal Music, which I adore. The story of love lost and found and lost again, it’s beautiful … and significantly shorter.

The book I discovered later in life
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. I was introduced to this tale of Indian immigrants to the US by my then girlfriend. It’s the book that has had the most emotional impact on me. There were so many parallels between that family’s experiences and my own in the UK that it just floored me. It was the first book I read that encapsulated the experiences of my life. Oh, and that girlfriend became my wife.

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The book I am currently reading
The Second Murderer by Denise Mina. Mina is, in my opinion, the greatest author of crime fiction working today. She was tasked by the estate of Raymond Chandler to write a new Philip Marlowe novel and it’s utterly brilliant. It’s true to Chandler, the voice is perfect, but it’s been updated for the 21st century. This may be sacrilegious, but I think it’s better than the originals.

Source: theguardian.com