Book Review: 99 Unforgettable Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry and Humour

Title: 99 Unforgettable Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry and Humour
Author: Khushwant Singh
Pages: 423
Price: Rs. 699

99 Unforgettable Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry and Humour by Khushwant Singh, in the editors’ words, “is intended to be a lasting tribute to an iconic and much loved writer.”

It is a collaborative effort by Mala Dayal, his daughter; Naina Dayal, his granddaughter; Ravi Singh and David Davidar. Mala and David chose the final 99 pieces featured in this book, one for every year of his life.

The book, divided into the following fifteen sections, showcases Singh’s finest fiction, journalism, essays, translations, historical writings, etc.:

  • Non-fiction
    • Family Matters
    • My Beloved Country
    • The Sikhs
    • The Uses and Abuses of Religion
    • Passage to Pakistan
    • Singular People
    • The Ferocity and Flamboyance of Nature
    • Sex on My Mind
    • A Merry Heart
    • Enthusiasms, Rants and Soliloquies
    • How to Live, How to Die
  • Fiction and Poetry
    • The Novels
    • The Portrait of a Lady and Other Stories
    • Toba Tek Singh: Fiction in Translation
    • A Passion for Poetry

99 has been put together with much love and care, including a complete list of the notes at the book, indicating the source of each piece.

David writes a delightful introduction to the book, highlighting Singh’s three lives as a writer: a novelist, a journalist and a historian. New-age writers would do well to note the discipline and dedication with which Singh wrote.  The introduction highlights Singh’s indifference and perhaps nonchalance over how his books would fare after his death. “He told one interviewer: ‘How many of my books will be read fifty years after I am gone, I have no idea. And quite frankly, I would not give a damn.’”

I enjoyed reading 99. Thoroughly. Some pieces I was unfamiliar with, the others I was revisiting. With delight, with a smile. The pieces were mostly short, extending to a few pages at the most. However, the mind kept seeking a chronology of sorts. I was often left wondering at the end of a piece, when did he write this? Because so many of his observations and comments would still be very relevant even today! Therefore, dating some of the pieces would have provided greater clarity, particularly his columns on cities, people and certain incidents.

The pieces under fiction were equally fabulous. They make me want to pick up the whole novels for a quick reread.

Singh’s works as a translator and a historian, particularly the History of the Sikhs, were a revelation to me. I had often spotted its copies in the many libraries that I’ve frequented but I never gave them a second thought.

Do not miss 99. At the face of it, it is just a compilation, nothing that is not already available in the public domain. But it also represents the best of Singh’s writings. The kind you want to proudly display on your bookshelf.

I leave you with some advice from his daughter, Mala, “99 can be read sequentially or can be dipped into at random.” Go on, take your pick.

Learn more about 99 Unforgettable Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry and Humour.


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