No library in the world can be considered complete or even up to the mark without the books of R.K. Narayan. R.K. Narayan remains one of the most famous writers of all time. He is one of the greatest novelists of India, and all of R.K. Narayan’s books will give you a profound reflection on the life of an ordinary man in India.
There is a certain simplicity in R.K. Narayan books that you beautifully makes you relate to the cultural heritage of India. Any person reading his books would instantly get transported to a simpler time. Perhaps this is why all of his books have received such tremendous responses from readers all over the world.
List of R K Narayan Books
Here are the 20 best books of R.K. Narayan that you must read.
- Swami and Friends
Swami and Friends, written by R.K. Narayan in 1935, is his most famous work. This is the first book of the famous trilogy, also called Swami and Friends. In fact, not many people know this, but Swami and Friends was actually the first published book by R.K. Narayan.
Set in British India, in a fictional small town named Malgudi by the banks of the River Sarayu, Swami and Friends tell the story of a ten-year-old boy Swami who goes to a missionary school. He lives with his parents, grandmother, and younger brother, and he has a set of friends he made from the two schools that he got kicked out of. Certain events that take place ultimately force Swami to run away from his house. He gets drawn toward unrest that was heavily prevalent in India at that time. The book beautifully showcases how the ten-year-old of Swami is unable to understand the cause behind such unrest.
While almost all of R.K. Narayan’s books dealt with the everyday life of the common man, it was the authentic portrayal of the complexities faced by the Indian middle class portrayed in this book that made this such a huge success. Upon reading this book, you cannot help but feel the humanity present in the people of India. This is one book that everybody must read to feel and understand the very soul of India.
Such was the success of this trilogy that it was made into an equally successful TV series named Malgudi Days.
- The Man-Eater of Malgudi
This book once again takes the reader back to the tiny village of Malgudi. The Man-Eater of Malgudi tells the story of Nataraj, who makes his living as a printer. The story follows Nataraj and his close friends, who are a journalist and a poet, and how their lives get shaken up by the arrival of a stranger, Vasu, who is a taxidermist.
This is the story of how Nataraj clashes with Vasu when the life of a temple elephant (who is also Nataraj’s friend) comes under threat. Narayan has beautifully weaved the transformation of Nataraj, a quiet and often spineless man, to go up against the much more powerful Vasu. As is common in all other R.K. Narayan books, you will find that in The Man-Eater of Malgudi also, the story remains untouched by the western world.
- The Bachelor of Arts
The Bachelor of Arts is another top-rated R.K. Narayan book. The Bachelor of Arts is about a normal boy who is in the last years of college, poised on the threshold of entering the life of an adult. The main character of the book, Chandran, completes his college but is shown to have no plans for the future. When you read this book, it will be sure to bring back many memories of your own college days. It will definitely make you remember the many things about life that you held to be true during your college days.
The book beautifully shows the life of every aspiring youth, who has a passion for wanting many things in life, but at the same time, there is a rebellious streak that does not allow him to conform to what is expected. The Bachelor of Arts was the second book in the etiology of Swami and Friends.
The Bachelor of Arts is best known for showcasing a fantastic description of middle class life and the ambitions of youth during the British rule in India.
- The English Teacher
The English Teacher is another great book from the mind of R.K. Narayan. Written in 1945, this book was the third and final book in the Swami and Friends trilogy. The English Teacher followed the journey of an English professor named Krishnan, who lived in Malgudi and was married to Sushila. Very soon after the marriage, the couple is blessed with a daughter.
However, the story suddenly changes track when Krishnan’s wife Sushila dies due to typhoid, leaving behind Krishnan and their baby daughter. The transformation that Krishnan undergoes as he takes on the dual role of being a mother and a father to his daughter forms the crux of this book.
- The Guide
It won’t be wrong to say that The Guide has a special place amongst all of R.K. Narayan’s books. This novel is different in that it was written for a more mature audience instead of seeing the world through the eyes of young adults or children in his other books.
The Guide explored many different periods in the life of Raju, the protagonist. This exploration of the various phases of life is what makes this story so beautiful, not to mention the twists and turns of the story are very relatable even today. You will feel the pinch when Raju is just an inch away from achieving success but fails.
Again set in the fictional village of Malgudi, the beauty of this story is further amplified by the brilliant portrayal of the innocence of a child who is struggling to come to terms with his lack of luck.
- The Dark Room
The Dark Room was first published in 1938 in Great Britain. Based on a feministic issue, the book will take you back to your childhood days.
The story of The Dark Room revolves around the issues faced between a husband and a wife, which is commonly seen all around the world even today. Throughout this book, R.K. Narayan also inserts many snippets of the beautiful and traditional culture of India.
- Mr. Sampath
Another enchanting tale from the village of Malgudi, Mr. Sampath, was written in 1949. The book is a lively take on the highly exciting social lives of Indians and beautifully portrays the mental agony of men who are trying to achieve some creativeness in their life. Mr. Sampath is one of the rare R.K. Narayan books where the story is not very personal, and this shift in his writing style is visible as the importance given to each character changes rapidly with each chapter. The naming of the book after the central character is also somewhat out of the box.
- The World of Nagaraj
This was R.K. Narayan’s 14th book to be set in the beautiful but imaginary village of Malgudi. The book follows the life of Nagaraj, who is living a quiet and comfortable life with his wife, Sita. His world gets turned upside down when Tim, his nephew, comes to live with them. Forced to take up the responsibility of this boy, Nagaraj finds his world suddenly filled with turbulence and complexities. The book takes you through Nagaraj’s struggle to solve the mysteries associated with Tim and his attempts to return back to his quiet and aimless life.
- The Vendor of Sweets
Once again, set in Malgudi, The Vendor of Sweets tells the tale of Jagan, who is trying to get past the invisible barrier between him and his son, Mali, who is the apple of his eye. With Mali suddenly dropping the shocking news of leaving school to go to America, Jagan’s fatherly feelings are wrapped up in confusion about how to stop his son from pulling away from the family. How Jagan escapes from the chains of paternal love is brilliantly written with many twists and turns in this story.
- The Financial Expert
If you are a fan of R.K. Narayan books, The Financial Expert should be a staple in your collection. This book is all about the ups and downs of the life of an ordinary man who is an expert in the field of finance. Weaved in between the story are many gems of financial wisdom that one must read.
- Talkative Man
Avid readers of R.K. Narayan books will immediately be able to identify that this novel is slightly different from his regular stories that are primarily written about the conflict of human nature. Anyone who likes the humor in R.K. Narayan’s books will be delighted to read this book.
The story is about a man who speaks a lot, which prompted people to name him TM, or Talkative Man. The tale takes you through the many bizarre happenings in the beautiful village of Malgudi after the arrival of a stranger on a train from Delhi. Taking up residence at the station’s waiting room, much to the dismay of the station master, what happens next is what Talkative Man is all about.
- The Painter of Signs
Another gem from the mind of R.K. Narayan, The Painter of Signs, is about Raman, a young painter of signboards who is a bachelor and loves his independence. His work takes him all across Malgudi, and he hobnobs with the who’s who of the city as well.
With the entry of Daisy, a very attractive but ruthless young woman in Raman’s life, begins this bittersweet tale of love set in modern India. Through this book, R.K. Narayan has successfully portrayed the best and worst of India.
- Waiting for the Mahatma
Waiting for the Mahatma follows the story of a girl called Bharati, who is very fond of Mahatma Gandhi. She takes on Gandhi as her guardian, mentor, and spiritual master. Enter Sriram, a guy who loves Bharati and her ideology. What follows next is the love story of Sriram and his love for Bharati and what happens as their lives collide.
- A Tiger for Malgudi
A Tiger for Malgudi is an exciting novel indeed for the fans of R.K. Narayan. You will always find this book being mentioned as one of the most magical works of R.K. Narayan, as the tiger himself narrates the story. You get to know the tiger’s thoughts, feelings, and insight into every matter. The story is about the miserable and cruel life of animals in the circus in India.
- Grandmother’s Tale
It can be said that the book Grandmother’s Tale was an ode to Narayan’s great-grandmother. The story is about how his great-grandmother is forced to travel to great distances in search of her husband. The story is told as being narrated to Narayan by his grandmother.
- A Writer’s Nightmare
Unlike the other books on this list, this book is actually a collection of essays written and compiled by R.K. Narayan. In this collection, he has showcased essays on a wide variety of topics, including the Indian caste system, bridegrooms, coffee, love, mathematics, and many more. Perhaps the best part of this book is that all these essays are written within a time period of 30 years. So you really get to see the time changing in front of you as you keep reading. The changing times with the world losing its innocence will help you understand the real essence of India, portrayed beautifully through these essays.
- My Days
This beautiful book is a memoir written by Narayan and published in 1974. It can be best described as an autobiography of the master storyteller himself, in which Narayan tells his readers about the many intricacies of his life. It follows his journey from the time he used to live with his grandmother in Chennai to his college life in Mysore.
The description of his life’s ups and downs are beautifully described in this book, and it is a must-read for all those who love R.K. Narayan books.
- God, Demons, and Others
In a shift from his usual writing style, R.K. Narayan donned his writer’s hat in this book to assume the character of a wise village storyteller to bring us some of the greatest legends and myths of India.
- The Abduction of Sita
This book tells the all-time famous story of how Sita was captured by the demon king Ravana and how her beloved husband, Rama, must struggle through all odds to get her back. This is a retelling of the famous epic Ramayana by R.K. Narayan and even though everyone knows the story well, it is the flair of Narayan’s writing that makes this spectacular.
- Malgudi Days
Perhaps the most famous R.K. Narayan book of all time, Malgudi Days, is a collection of short stories that follows a common theme of being set up in the tiny village of Malgudi and having a variety of characters that showcase all shades of human nature. In all the short stories included in this collection, you will find a certain charm and honesty that will be sure to touch your heart.