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Hello and welcome to Episode 36 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in.
Today, in the #FiveDesiFaves segment, we have Sara Nisha Adams, who has a debut novel out now titled The Reading List. She’s sharing her five favorite desi books.
The transcript of this segment is also up on the website.
#FIVEDESIFAVES WITH SARA NISHA ADAMS — INTRODUCTION
Sara Nisha Adams is a writer and editor. She lives in London and was born in Hertfordshire to Indian and English parents. Her debut novel, The Reading List, is partly inspired by her grandfather, who lived in Wembley and immediately found a connection with his granddaughter through books.
Widower Mukesh lives a quiet life in Wembley, in West London. He shops every Wednesday, goes to Temple, and worries about his granddaughter, Priya, who hides in her room reading while he spends his evenings watching nature documentaries.
Aleisha is a bright, anxious teenager working at the local library for the summer when she discovers a crumpled piece of paper in the back of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a list of novels that she’s never heard of. Intrigued, and a little bored with her slow job at the checkout desk, she decides to read every book on the list, one after the other. As each story gives up its magic, the books transport Aleisha from the painful realities she’s facing at home.
When Mukesh arrives at the library, desperate to forge a connection with his bookworm granddaughter, Aleisha passes along the reading list with the hope that it will be a lifeline for him too. Slowly, the shared books create a connection between two lonely souls, as fiction helps them escape their grief and everyday troubles and find joy again.
By the way, Aleisha’s found list includes these books: The Time Traveler’s Wife, To Kill A Mockingbird, Rebecca, The Kite Runner, Life of Pi, Little Women, Pride and Prejudice, Beloved, and A Suitable Boy.
And now, here’s Sara Nisha Adams with her #FiveDesiFaves.
#FIVEDESIFAVES WITH SARA NISHA ADAMS
Hello, I’m Sara Nisha Adams, the author of The Reading List, which published in July this year. I’m really excited to be sharing my #FiveDesiFaves with you today.
These include a selection of new and old favorites; books that I’ve read over again and books I know I will read over and over again.
In no particular order, the list includes:
- A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
- China Room by Sunjeev Sahota
- A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
- Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier
Sara Nisha Adams’ debut novel is ‘The Reading List’. Catch up with her #FiveDesiFaves by other desi writers: Vikram Seth; Sunjeev Sahota; Rohinton Mistry; Arundhati Roy; Tanuja Desai Hidier. .@desibooksTweet
First of all, A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth will always be one of the books I’m so glad I read. I remember when I was growing up, I had one friend whose mum is a big reader and I saw this book on her shelf, spine out, every time I went to visit. The image of a woman in a sari stuck in my mind but the spine was so thick, I wondered if I’d ever read it. But in my summer holidays in between my second and third year of university, I decided then was the time. I spent the whole week sitting with the book. It never left my side. It felt like I was learning so much about the characters—Lata, first of all, and her search for a suitable boy—as well as all the intricacies of her family and a newly independent India. It’s vast in its scope, with a huge cast of characters, but the writing makes everything clear. For a novel that’s over 1,000 pages long, I found I couldn’t put it down—I needed to know what was going to happen next. I needed to know how these characters’ stories would pan out.
“For a novel that’s over 1,000 pages long, I found I couldn’t put it down—I needed to know what was going to happen next.” Sara Nisha Adams on A Suitable Boy for #FiveDesiFaves .@DesiBooksTweet
I recently read China Room by Sunjeev Sahota at a point during lockdown when it didn’t feel like any book could capture my attention. But China Room is written with such delicacy and tenderness, it drew me in entirely and I read it all within a day. It follows one woman, in 1929, who marries one of three brothers, and starts life in their family. With her sister-in-laws, they try to work out which brother is married to which sister-in-law, having never spoken to them in daylight. It’s interspersed with a present-day story of a young man, trying to recover from heroin addiction, who travels to remote India, and to a house where his great-grandmother lived. It’s beautifully written, with characters I cared for deeply. The story didn’t go where I hoped it might for each of the characters, but for me that made it even more heartrending—I wanted to step in, I wanted to help, I wanted to show each character the truth. But I couldn’t. Because life isn’t like that. But it’s a quietly yet intensely beautiful novel and I’d recommend it to everyone.
“But [Sunjeev Sahota’s] China Room is written with such delicacy and tenderness, it drew me in entirely and I read it all within a day.” ~Sara Nisha Adams discussing one of her #FiveDesiFaves .@desibooksTweet
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is my next pick. I bought this book when I was probably a little too young to read it, I just adored the cover, but the font was too small for me at the time. A few years later, I read it over a long period of time, savoring it, living with the characters and the storylines for months. It’s another epic story about India during the 1975 State of Emergency, a time of huge political turmoil that affected the lives of everyone in the country in various ways. Rohinton Mistry’s novel follows myriad characters, with different lives and backgrounds, different classes and castes, demonstrating the vastly different fortunes for each of them. It’s a deeply human novel, and while it has a vast scope, it feels incredibly personal—each character comes alive on the page. I haven’t read it again yet because I can still picture scenes from the book so vividly, and the heartache still feels very raw even though I read it fifteen years ago. Now, I’m pretty sure that’s masterful storytelling.
“. . . the heartache still feels very raw even though I read it fifteen years ago. Now, I’m pretty sure that’s masterful storytelling.” Sara Nisha Adams on A Fine Balance for #FiveDesiFaves .@DesiBooksTweet
Next up is Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, which is a book I talk about all the time because it captivated me from the first line. It’s the story of fraternal twins Rahel and Estha, who view the world around them, including family heartache, political turbulence, discrimination and heartbreak, through their childlike eyes. We also see Rahel and Estha, in the present day, looking back on their lives. So it’s interesting to see the comparison between the two. The writing in Arundhati Roy’s debut is incredible. It is so vivid and visual, and it taught me the importance of rhythm, of capturing a scene not just through the image you convey but through the lyricism of the lines you write too. On a line by line basis, this book is one of a kind but, similarly, the humor and darkness in this novel are incredibly done. It’s a difficult balance to strike. But, for me, it’s done perfectly. I adore this book. I’ve read it over ten times; sometimes lines from it pop up in my head still, years after I last read it.
“[The God of Small Things] taught me the importance of rhythm, of capturing a scene not just through the image you convey but through the lyricism of the lines you write too.” Sara Nisha Adams on #FiveDesiFaves .@DesiBooksTweet
And finally, this is a blast from the past for me. Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier was a book I picked up in a bookshop when I was twelve or thirteen, shopping with my mum. Mum let me buy two books and even though I had no idea what this one was about, the cover had a girl wearing a chanlo, and I so rarely saw brown girls on covers, and I knew I needed to read it. It’s a coming of age story about Dimple, growing up in America, stuck, she thinks, between what her parents want for her and what she wants to fit in with her friends at school. Dimple really connected with me because it was the first time all the small worries I’d had about not fitting in, of not being enough, where my friends didn’t quite understand everything about me, was written on paper by someone else. And Dimple loved to carry a camera around with her everywhere, which was my thing at the time. I loved, and still do love, photography. This was the best Young Adult novel teenage Sara could have asked for back in the 2000s.
“. . . the first time all the small worries I’d had about not fitting in, of not being enough, where my friends didn’t quite understand everything about me, was written. . .” Sara Nisha Adams on Born Confused for #FiveDesiFaves .@DesiBooksTweet
So, there are five of my favorite desi books for you. I could have written a list as long as my arm but I hope you enjoy these. They’re all wonderful and have really inspired me as a reader and writer in various ways.
Thank you for having me. And happy reading!
You’ve been listening to episode 36 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Today’s #FiveDesiFaves was from Sara Nisha Adams sharing her favorite books by desi writers. Her own debut novel, The Reading List, is out now.
Episode 37 will be up shortly. Follow on Twitter @desibooks, Instagram @desi.books, Facebook @desibooksfb. Please tag the accounts if you have requests or suggestions. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And please go to the website if you’d like to sign up for the free, weekly newsletter. You’ll get all the updates you might have missed as well as some new stuff.
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