#DesiCraftChat: Sunjeev Sahota on braided narratives in historical fiction; #FiveDesiFaves: Gayatri Sethi on her favorite desi books by women writers

Desi Books Ep 31 w/ Sunjeev Sahota & Gayatri Sethi Desi Books

(available at Anchor.fm, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, Breaker, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Overcast)

Hello and welcome to Episode 31 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in.

In today’s episode, we have Sunjeev Sahota in the #DesiCraftChat segment. He’ll be discussing his latest Booker-longlisted novel, China Room, And we have Dr. Gayatri Sethi discussing her five favorite books in the #FiveDesiFaves segment. Her new hybrid memoir is out now titled Unbelonging.

It’s been a busy month at Desi Books so I wanted to share some quick updates before we get started.

First, as you may know, in the past month, there’s been a new weekly text interview series published on Fridays. This was started because, quite frankly, I cannot read all the amazing new books out there and interview all their terrific writers. But I still want to spotlight a number of books each month because they deserve more attention. So this text interview series, called #DesiBooks10QA, is a set of ten questions where the author discusses their own latest book and some of their favorite desi books. Please head on over to the website to read these.

Second, there is now a Facebook page for those who’d prefer to get their weekly updates there. Look for DesiBooksFB, one word, and like the page, share it, comment on it.

Third, the monthly new+notable books segment that I used to do at the beginning of the podcast is moving to text format as well. Again, this is because, given the volume of new books I’d like to spotlight, this segment was making the podcast episodes longer. So you’ll be able to see these books monthly on the website as well. As always, you can see the entire lists of 2021 US and UK books on bookshop.org, which benefits local, independent booksellers directly. You’ll find these lists on the website right there on the main menu and in the sidebar. And here’s my usual request: if you’ve got a new book coming out, please tag the account on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook to let me know. You can also send an email to hellodesibooks@gmail.com. The social media links will also be in the transcript and they’re always on the website.

Fourth, as a community service to desi writers, starting in September, there will be a roundup of desi author events, called #DesiBooksCalendar, on the website. This is because, as with desi books, it’s not easy to find these events and, as a result, they don’t always get the attendance they deserve. So, if you’re an author with upcoming events from September onwards, please head on over to the website to enter your event on a quick and easy Google form and it will be added and promoted via social media. There are some basic instructions there too so please take a look.

Finally, the Desi Books in Translation (#DBiT) Book Club is getting closer to launch. I announced this in episode 22 and I’ve been gathering inputs and suggestions from listeners, translators, publishers, and others. So stay tuned for more details about this very soon. I’m excited for us to read some amazing literary translations because some of our best literature is truly being written in these regional languages and deserves more attention.

Now, please enjoy the rest of the episode.



Sunjeev Sahota is the author of Ours Are the Streets and The Year of the Runaways, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Dylan Thomas Prize, and was awarded a European Union Prize for Literature. In 2013, he was named one of Granta’s twenty Best of Young British Novelists of the decade. He lives in Sheffield, England, with his family.

China Room, Sahota’s third novel, is historical fiction with dual narratives: one takes place in 1929 Punjab from the viewpoint of a young bride, Mehar. And the other is in 1990s Punjab and England with a young narrator known simply as S. He’s Mehar’s great grandson. Mehar is one of three new wives of three brothers. None of the women knows who her husband is because of some rather unusual circumstances. As Mehar tries to solve this husband mystery, unexpected events arise, leading to a heartbreaking turning point. In the second story, S. is trying to recover from an addiction, which is linked to a difficult childhood in England where he dealt with racism, violence, and estrangement as the son of immigrant shopkeepers. Finding himself in the china room where Mehar and her two sister-wives had lived, S. begins to piece himself back together again. The novel weaves back and forth through these two stories to illuminate certain common themes and differences. And, while the historical story is partly inspired by Sahota’s own family history–and he talks about that in the interview coming up—there are no easy endings here for anyone. Because, well, life’s not like that, is it?

Here’s Sunjeev Sahota now. 

NOTE: This interview was recorded before the Booker longlist announcement.





Dr. Gayatri Sethi is an educator, writer, and independent consultant based in Atlanta, Georgia. She’s also known widely as @DesiBookAunty on social media, which is how I learned of her. She’s a champion of desi children’s literature and a co-founder of the DesiKidLit community.

Unbelonging is her hybrid memoir and out now. It interweaves verse, memoir, and a call to action as she recounts her experience searching for home in the diaspora.  Drawing on her life story as a Tanzanian-born Punjabi and an American educator and mother of biracial children, Sethi tells an intimate tale of stepping into her power while confronting misogyny, racism, and empire. Spanning decades and continents—from the India-Pakistan Partition to the Black Lives Matter movement, South Africa to Atlanta—Unbelonging is about facing certain truths with critical self-reflection. It calls on readers to pursue radical forms of justice, compassion, and solidarity.

Here she is now.



Books Mentioned:

1. Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance, and Social Change by Anjali Enjeti

2. Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism by Harsha Walia

3. If I Tell You the Truth by Jasmine Kaur

4. Where Hope Comes From by Nikita Gill

5. Antiman by Rajiv Mohabir


You’ve been listening to episode 31 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt.

Episode 32 will be up at the end of August. Follow on Twitter @desibooks, Instagram @desi.books, Facebook @desibooksfb. And tag the accounts if you have requests or suggestions. Email at hellodesibooks@gmail.com.

The transcript will be up shortly on the website.

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.


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