Connecting India’s tumultuous 19th and 20th centuries to its distant past and its potentially apocalyptic future, this sweeping tale of rebellion, courage, and brutality reinvents fiction for our time.
Delhi, the near future: Bibi, a low-ranking employee of a global consulting firm, is tasked with finding a man long thought to be dead but who now appears to be the source of a vast collection of documents. The trove purports to reveal the secrets of the Indian government, including detention centers, mutated creatures, engineered viruses, experimental weapons, and alien wrecks discovered in remote mountain areas.
Bhopal, 1984: an assassin tracks his prey through an Indian city that will shortly be the site of the worst industrial disaster in the history of the world.
Calcutta, 1947: a veterinary student’s life and work connect him to an ancient Vedic aircraft that might stave off genocide.
And in 1859, a British soldier rides with his detachment to the Himalayas in search of the last surviving leader of an anti-colonial rebellion.
These timelines interweave to form a kaleidoscopic, epic novel in which each protagonist must come to terms with the buried truths of their times as well as with the parallel universe that connects them all, through automatons, spirits, spacecraft, and aliens. The Light at the End of the World, Siddhartha Deb’s first novel in fifteen years, is a magisterial work of shifting forms, expanding the possibilities of fiction while bringing to life the India of our times.
About the Author
Siddhartha Deb was born in northeastern India and lives in Harlem, New York. He is the author of the novels The Point of Return, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and An Outline of the Republic, longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award. His nonfiction book, The Beautiful and the Damned, was a finalist for the Orwell Prize and received the PEN Open award. Deb’s journalism and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Republic, n+1, The Nation, and Dissent. Visit him online at siddharthadeb.com.
Praise for The Light at the End of the World
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice Library Journal Best Literary Fiction of 2023
“Extraordinary . . . I was in awe of Deb’s imagination and razor-sharp prose. The hallucinatory quality of his narrative reminded me of William Burroughs’s ‘Naked Lunch,’ while its apocalyptic trajectory had echoes of Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Blood Meridian’ . . . That the novel invokes a glorious past, hints at a utopian future and contradicts reality could be the author’s way to protest an authoritarian government skilled in just that . . . Whatever the author’s intent, I felt privileged to have been on an odyssey quite unlike any other.” —Abraham Verghese, The New York Times Book Review
“The Light at the End of the World is full of intriguing puzzles and opacities, but what brings it to life is less its inventiveness than its galvanizing anger, its outraged awareness of exploitation and cruelty. It travels, unbounded, into the past and the future, yet it always meets the reader in the middle of these destinations, the broken world of the present.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“While few authors explicitly set out to record the Modi era, there is a group of Indian writers . . . whose works illuminate the realities of life in the world’s biggest, if beleaguered, democracy . . . Deb [is] brilliant at peeling back the façade of promised prosperity to reveal those shut out from dreams of a shining future.” —Financial Times
“With its liminal characters and phantasmagoric specters, The Light at the End of the World constantly moves between the realms of the technological and the human, the past wounded by colonialism and the bleak biomes of the future. It is an enraged epic but also one full of humanity; its various epochs of bigotry, intolerance, and hate are interspersed with tender moments of solidarity, love, and compassion.” —The Nation
“Deb explores a range of alternative explanations for and ramifications of historical events . . . Working in a speculative mode, Deb imagines a kind of agency for his characters barred to them by historical, and present, realities.” —The New Republic
“Mixing fact and fiction, realism and mythology, Deb offers an unrestrained, inventive, and utterly absorbing re-imagining of India’s history and present day.” —Bustle
“An epic, time-traveling portrait of India featuring spacecraft, spirits and aliens.” —The Recast, POLITICO
“A novel that so brazenly refuses domestication, scorning our grand ideas about what a novel should be, blending realism and mythology, human and machine, the ordinary and the strange, bygone worlds and worlds to come.” —World Literature Today
“An epic story that spans centuries and weaves together in unexpected and thought-provoking ways.” —BookBub
“On paper, Deb’s novel sounds familiar to other decades-spanning novels that blend the historic with the speculative, especially David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Namwali Serpell’s The Old Drift. But Deb’s book throws an element of delirium into the mix—it’s here the ‘reading while sick’ factor came into play—which takes this strange, sprawling novel into a territory of its own . . . A heady trip into the unexpected, and one whose transformations and contradictions make for a searingly effective narrative.” —Tor.com
“Deb constructs an intricate version of an India where the historical present connects to a parallel sci-fi world. Light is an epic that calls to mind David Mitchell, Octavia Butler, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but the author creates his own particularly chilling atmosphere.” —Bethanne Patrick, CultureWag
“STUNNING . . . Deb really wants us to question the truths we accept about India, its future, its past, and the role of the individual.” —The Lakshmi and Asha Show
“Innovative.” —Khabar Magazine
“The Light at the End of the World is one of the most original works of fiction to come out of India these last few years . . . An unforgettable picture of India perpetually under siege but also perpetually rebelling to free itself, whether the adversaries be white-skinned colonizers in the past or brown-skinned CEO robber-barons in the present.” —Reader's Digest India
“Captivating . . . A novel where dystopia meets imperial gothic and colonial historical fiction to breath-taking effect.” —Open Magazine (India)
“Unlike any other recent work of Indian fiction . . . Through its chimaeras and fantasies, The Light at the End of the World illuminates the secret stories under the surface of our lived reality. It leaves you feeling disoriented and thrilled at the same time.” —The Wire (India)
“A sprawling epic spanning centuries, this book is both a pilgrimage and an adventure through India and its history.” —The Hindu (India)
“Deb’s work is a razor-sharp and vast investigation of India’s rich historical fabric, mixing mythology and mysticism with real-world events . . . An innovative and thought-provoking novel that will appeal to those wanting a thorough and immersive investigation of India’s past, present, and future.” —Storizen (India)
“A brave novel that demands brave readers . . . More than anything else, Light is a chronicle of the 21st century intellectual defeated by the forces of modernity, which have been twisted beyond recognition by a capitalism that has shut off all avenues of escape.” —The Markaz Review
“A work of genius—impassioned, singular, hallucinatory, uncanny—Siddhartha Deb has invented a new kind of subcontinental novel.” —Karan Mahajan, author of The Association of Small Bombs
“Big, ambitious, inventive, sweeping, and instantly addictive, The Light at the End of the World announces itself as a new kind of Great Indian Novel—a kind I’ve been craving. I was instantly hooked.” —Sanjena Sathian, author of Gold Diggers
“An ambitious, century-spanning book . . . Myth blends into technology, beast into human, and flesh into machine in Deb’s chilling, precisely rendered prose. An indelible, prophetic novel.” —Madhuri Vijay, author of The Far Field
“Siddhartha Deb has captured the darkness of India today in this ghostly and chilling novel. It is hard to think of finer writers and harder still to think of writers that can match Deb’s grace and talent when writing about this terrifying, turbulent world of ours.” —Fatima Bhutto, author of Songs of Blood and Sword
“In a world where facts have indeed become stranger than fiction and boundaries between the absurd and the real crumble, Siddhartha Deb’s The Light at the End of the World grapples with themes of colonialism, climate change, pandemics, and the unrelenting political turmoil of fascism . . . In blending myths and imaginations, The Light at the End of the World shines a light on the concealed tales beneath our everyday experiences, leaving readers both bewildered and exhilarated.” —Southern Review of Books
“A massive novel filled with conspiracies, uncertainty, madness and marvels, the inability to process the wide array of what is noticed and reported, and, indeed, what counts as reality.” —Asian Review of Books
“An edgy, kaleidoscopic whirlwind of history, politics, culture, and mythology . . . A visionary dreamlike panorama of India.” —Historical Novels Review
“A robust collage that reflects a rich, uncanny imagination. In the wide-ranging, rhapsodic novel The Light at the End of the World, unearthed stories illuminate the coverups in the official versions of history.” —Foreword Reviews, Starred Review
“Deb exquisitely blends India’s past, present, and future in a brilliant, phantasmagoric pilgrimage across time, space, and dimension . . . Combining elements of magical realism and Indian history and mythology, The Light at the End of the World is an imaginative, mind-bending reading experience.” —Booklist, Starred Review “Abundantly and realistically detailed, yet spiked with fantastical elements from mysterious cellphone messages to a ticktock army, the four main sections are so rich and so freighted with ideas that each could stand alone as its own novel. Linking them serves to create a strong sense of life in India and a sink-into-it read for lovers of big books. Highly recommended for readers interested in history, politics, and literary fiction.” —Library Journal, Starred Review “An ambitious and phantasmagoric epic . . . Like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the author uses magic realism to shed new light on historical events. Filled with poetic imagery and dialogue, and subtle connections among the stories, this is a novel to get lost in.” —Publishers Weekly
“A visionary novel . . . Deb has accessed the omnivorous, madcap spirit of Midnight’s Children–era Salman Rushdie.” —Kirkus Reviews
Praise for Siddhartha Deb
“Splendid . . . There is a nuance to even the direst of Deb’s pessimisms—an acknowledgement that India’s lives are newly precarious precisely because they could swing either the way of opportunity or the way of ruin.” —The New York Times “Deb’s touch is sure, his voice pure, his understanding faultless.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Anyone wanting to understand contemporary India’s glaring contradictions, its juxtapositions of glittering boomtowns with horrific slums, should read Deb’s wonderfully researched and elegantly written account.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[An] incisive new look at life on the subcontinent . . . For those who have never been to India, the book will be an eye-opening read. For those more familiar with the country, it will be essential.” —The Daily