The Top 10 Best RK Narayan Books You Should Read Today

Best RK Narayan Books You Should Read Today

One of the sweetest memories of my childhood is watching the Malgudi Days television series on Doordarshan. The beautiful portrayal of human peculiarities by the legendary author RK Narayan was the primary reason that attracted me to English literature as a kid. He is undoubtedly one of the finest English-language Indian authors of his generation. His writings offer a profound glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of India, along with being charmingly entertaining. His works mainly focus on ordinary people and their mundane lives; the magic was his making those everyday situations look so realistically beautiful that readers would instantly relate to them. This celebrated author’s specialty was bringing out the humor in the ironies of routine life while displaying a compassionate philosophical depth. His unique storytelling style has captured the hearts of readers of all ages worldwide. In this article, we will take a comprehensive look at some of the best books by this accomplished author, exploring his literary legacy and the themes he explored throughout his career.

RK Narayan: A brief overview

Rasipuram Krishnaswami Ayyar Narayanswami, famously known as RK Narayan, is one of the leading authors of early Indian literature in English. He was born into a Brahmin family on 10th October 1906 in Madras (current Chennai), Tamil Nadu. He has been an avid reader since his childhood. After graduating from the Maharaja College of Mysore, he started his teaching career in a school that he soon left after realizing his deep passion for writing. He then began writing for local newspapers and magazines. Meanwhile, he continued writing his first novel. In 1934, he got married and started working for a Madras-based paper, The Justice. This job fetched him some great contacts and a new outlook towards life and its routine unavoidable struggles.

His first few books were published with the help of an English writer and journalist, Henry Graham Green, who later became his friend and mentor. He counseled Narayan to shorten his name to become more familiar to English-speaking readers. This is how his journey as a critically acclaimed and later successful author began, and then there was no looking back.

Most of Narayan’s works are often set in the fictional quaint town of Malgudi, which he created to explore the various aspects of the prevailing atmosphere in the country. His writings display the exact image of society with a flavor of humor in it.

Throughout his career, Narayan published 34 books, including novels, short story collections, and memoirs. Let’s explore some of his greatest works together.

A collection of famous RK Narayan books

1. Swami and Friends

Swami and Friends was Narayan’s first novel, published in 1935. This is the first book of his autobiographical trilogy, whose other parts were, The Bachelor of Arts and The English Teacher. This novel remains one of his most famous works. The book tells the story of Swaminathan, a mischievous boy, and his misadventures in the fictional town of Malgudi, situated by the banks of the river Sarayu. Swami goes to a missionary school and has a few friends who are his accomplices in his mischief. Narayan beautifully showcased the country’s then-prevalent dogmas and unrest from the viewpoint of a 10-year-old. Through Swami’s eyes, Narayan explores the complexities of Indian society, including caste, religion, and colonialism. ‘Swami and Friends’ is a captivating coming-of-age story that captures the joys and struggles of childhood in a way that resonates with readers of all ages.

2. The Bachelor of Arts

This is the second book of Narayan’s Swami and Friends trilogy. It was published in the year 1937. The story follows the journey of Chandran, a young man pursuing the last year of his College degree and on the threshold of entering a new phase of life and facing its challenges as an adult. Chandran goes by the rule of hard work but, at the same time, has a rebellious mind like any aspiring youth.

Narayan’s stories and characters are timeless and do not fit into any specific era. While reading, you will feel like reliving your college days and the struggles of the aspiring mind. The book explores the tensions between traditional and modern values as Chandran grapples with issues like love, marriage, and career choices. ‘The Bachelor of Arts’ is an emotional and insightful look at the aspirations and anxieties of the youth of India.

3. The English Teacher

The English Teacher, published in 1945, is the third and final part of the Swami and Friends trilogy. The novel follows the journey of a young English teacher, Krishna, after the traumatizing death of his wife. It explores the themes of loss, grief, the quest for inner peace, and the power of human connection. Narayan intricately weaved a touching story around a tragic incident and depicted Krishna’s transformation and evolution as a single parent and a human being. With its beautiful prose and heartfelt message, ‘The English Teacher’ is a true classic of Indian literature.

4. Malgudi Days

Malgudi Days is a collection of short stories by this master storyteller, published in 1943. The stories are set in a fictional South Indian town named Malgudi and offer a peek into the daily life of its inhabitants. The engaging characters are the ordinary people of any village neighborhood, from innocent village people to shopkeepers and beggars. The varied themes and the graceful prose make the stories so relatable that it feels like we all belong to Malgudi or at least wish to live there. Every story leaves a lasting impression because of the amazing way in which human emotions are showcased. The book is adapted to a television series with the same name, which was one of the best things to watch on television during our childhood days.

5. The Financial Expert

The Financial Expert is another novel set in the backdrop of the quaint town of Malgudi, published in 1952. It is a satirical novel that portrays the theme of lust for money. The story shows the rise and fall of the lead character, Margayya. Narayan once again successfully weaves magic in the story through Margayya’s monologues and the honest portrayal of his mental conflicts. The tone of the story is not judgemental, Narayan just describes a person who is going through different situations and is acting accordingly. With its incisive social commentary and colorful characters, ‘The Financial Expert’ is a must-read for anyone interested in the dark side of the world of capitalism and, of course, who is fond of the ease and honesty of Narayan’s writing.

6. Waiting for the Mahatma

Waiting for the Mahatma is a 1955 novel by RK Narayan set in the backdrop of days of freedom struggle, which explores themes of love, freedom, idealism, and political activism. Narayan has woven an unconventional but realistic story with a romantic angle in his subtle comic style. The highlight of the novel is the participation of Gandhiji as a character. The novel follows the story of a young man, Sriram, who falls in love with a beautiful young woman named Bharati. As the story unfolds, the characters become increasingly involved in the struggle for India’s independence, leading to a dramatic and unforgettable conclusion.

7. The Guide

The Guide by RK Narayan is one of the most loved books of Indian English literature. It was published in 1958 and won Narayan his first major award in 1960, the Sahitya Akademi Award. It follows the story of a young, ambitious boy, Raju, who grows up from being a shopkeeper to a quick-witted charlatan tourist guide. His life turns upside down when he is mistaken for a holy man by the villagers. The book explores the themes of faith, redemption, and the search for meaning in life. ‘The Guide’ is a masterpiece that has been translated into many languages and also adapted into a famous Bollywood film of the same name starring the legendary actor Devanand.

8. The Man-Eater of Malgudi

The Man- Eater of Malgudi, published in 1961, tells the story of Nataraj, a printer in the slumbering town of Malgudi in Southern India. He was leading a contended life with a circle of friends around him until one day, Vasu, a taxidermist with the demonic attributes of the mythological character ‘Bhasmasur,’ arrives in the town searching for wildlife. He is a bully who kills innocent animals, disrespects women, threatens the people of Malgudi, and seeks pleasure out of his wrongdoings. As the story progresses, Nataraj, a seemingly timid person, learns to stand up against the more powerful Vasu, who is the real man-eater of Malgudi.

9. A Tiger for Malgudi

Published in 1983, A Tiger for Malgudi is quite an exciting read as the story’s narrator is the Tiger itself. Raja is the name of the Tiger who is captured and taken to Malgudi to be put on display. Raja recounts his life, beginning from his free life in the wild up to the later part of his life spent in an exhibit in the zoo. As the narration progresses, the readers empathize with the Tiger as they get to know his feelings and thoughts from his point of view. Narayan successfully managed to convey the misery of the wild animals due to human encroachment of their habitats. With its beautiful descriptions of the natural world and its timeless themes of freedom and self-discovery, ‘A Tiger for Malgudi’ is a must-read for anyone who has compassion and love for animals.

10. The Vendor of Sweets

The Vendor of Sweets (1967) by RK Narayan is a biographical novel about a fictional character named Jagan, a sweet vendor in Malgudi. It explores the complex relationship dynamics between a father and a son after the mother’s death. The novel follows the story of a man named Jagan, who sells sweets for a living, and his son Mali, who is struggling to find his place in the world. Exploring the themes of relationship conflicts and self-discovery, ‘The Vendor of Sweets’ is again a classic piece of work from the master storyteller. This novel was critically praised for its nuanced portrayal of family dynamics and beautiful prose. The novel was adapted into an episode of the ‘Malgudi Days’ television series in 1986.


RK Narayan is a master storyteller whose books continue to captivate readers worldwide. The simplicity of his writing makes the readers connect to the India that live in villages; no wonder one gets easily transported to Malgudi while reading his books. We hope this article will help you discover or rediscover the magic of his magnificent but profound writing. Whether you are a long-time fan or a newcomer to his work, these books will leave a lasting impression on you. So why not pick up one of these classics today and start exploring the world of RK Narayan for yourself?

Do let us know if you enjoyed reading this list of RK Narayan Books!

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