#DesiCraftChat: Soniah Kamal on literary adaptations and the empire writing back

Desi Books Ep 13 w/ Soniah Kamal Desi Books

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

Hello and welcome to Episode 13 of DesiBooks — 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, in addition to the usual roundup of new notable desi books, short stories, poems, essays, interviews, awards, and more, we have Soniah Kamal discussing the art and craft of the literary adaptation. Soniah’s latest novel, Unmarriageable, is a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Given the long holiday weekend in the US, there’s no #DesiBooksGiveaway for this week. And I’m having a bit of a rethink about this segment as I want to make sure that it’s accomplishing the reader-writer connection it’s meant to do. I might move it to a monthly thing rather than a weekly thing to allow more people to enter.

So settle in for a listen.



You can find all the titles mentioned in this “New Books” segment at bookshop.org, which benefits local, independent booksellers directly. Go to bookshop.org/lists/desi-books-2020. This is a US-based site so my apologies to non-US listeners.

In notable new books, I’m highlighting only two this week. We’ll have more later on.

1) First up, we have a book by Tara Kaushal. It’s titled Why Men Rape: An Indian Undercover Investigation.

2) The second book is Sameer Pandya’s novel titled Members Only. About an exclusive club where the Indian-American protagonist is embroiled in a racism scandal. Stay tuned for Sameer doing a reading of an excerpt from his book coming up later this month.



Here are some new notable poems, stories, and essays from literary magazines and websites. I know I’m not getting them all so, if you know of new stories, poems, or essays published online by South Asian writers, please share them by tagging the @desibooks twitter account. Thank you.

Meher Manda has a poem titled ‘Pillow Talk’ about adolescence and a woman’s rites of passage at Parentheses Journal

Shome Dasgupta has a poem titled ‘Wander Through’ also at Parentheses Journal. It’s about things that bind us together and yet keep us apart.

Jonaki Ray has a poem at The Rumpus as part of their ‘Enough’ series. It’s titled ‘Normal Acts’ and is about acid attacks incidents in India. 

Tara Isabel Zambrano has a flash fiction story up at Forge Literary Magazine. It’s titled ‘One Milky Window’ and it’s about relationships, impending motherhood, Delhi, and more.

Reshma Ruia has a story at Cabinet of Heed titled ‘The Well-fed Peacock’ and it’s about how the eponymous bird changes the relationship of a married couple. 

Bela Desai has a translated story by the Gujarati writer, Ramanlal Vasantlal Desai, up at India Currents. Titled ‘Elder Love’, it’s a story about the dignity and pathos of later-life love.

Namrata Poddar has a story in the latest issue of The Kenyon Review. It’s titled ‘Help Me Help You’. You can read and listen to an excerpt here. 

Pooja Makhijani has an essay up at the New York Times about how to handle a mom-friend breakup.

Nishant Batsha has a lovely essay titled ‘Curry Before Columbus’ at Contingent Magazine. It’s about the history of certain Indian spices and their cultural significance in our cuisine today. 

Amia Srinivasan has a fascinating essay up at the London Review of Books about the usage history of pronouns. 

Karthik Venkatesh writes, at Scroll.in, about how the word “plague” entered the vocabulary of Indian languages a 100 years ago and speculates how or whether “coronavirus” will do the same. 

Also at Scroll.in, Murali Ranganathan writes about a Gujarati language publisher and printer who died in the Mumbai plague. 

Chaya Bhuvaneswar has an essay up at Salon.com about how we all need to see the humanity of essential care workers beyond the life-risking work they do of saving our lives. 

Iqbal Ahmed has an essay titled ‘Rumble in the Himalayas’ at 3AM Magazine. And it’s about traveling through Ladakh as a Kashmiri. 

Jaya Wagle has an essay titled ‘Homeland’ up at Pithead Chapel. It’s about celebrating Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, in India and the US. 

Bishakh Som has an illustrated panel at Publishers Weekly introducing their new graphic memoir, Spellbound. 

Hanif Kureshi writes at The Guardian about growing up with racism as a mixed-race person in the London suburbs. 

Sejal Shah has an essay up at The Texas Review titled ‘Come Back to Me’ and it’s about how she realized what her new book, This Is One Way to Dance, being out in the world really means. 

Jaswinder Bolina has an essay titled ‘American, Indian’ up at The Paris Review. He has a new memoir out called Of Color. 

Dr. Naazir Mahmood has a profile of the fiery Urdu poet, Kishwar Naheed, at Dawn.com as she turns 80.

Shranya Gambhir makes the case for diversity in children’s literature at TheWire.in

Arunava Sinha writes about ten translated books from India we should all read now. It’s over at Words Without Borders

Prashant Kidambi recommends the best books on cricket over at Five Books



Suchitra Vijayan talks with Annie Zaidi at The Polis Project about how we think, act, and react in an age of violence when even a thought can be seen as an act of treason. Annie has a new memoir out titled Bread, Cement, Cactus

Anand Giridharidas talks with Paul Holdengraber about speaking out against corruption and more on The Quarantine Tapes podcast

Madhuri Sastry interviews Megha Majumdar at Guernica Magazine about her debut novel, A Burning

Jaswinder Bolina is interviewed by Amanda Uhle at McSweeney’s about his memoir, Of Color. 

Rishi Reddi was interviewed by J R Ramakrishnan at Electric Literature about her latest novel, Passage West. 

Zia Haider Rahman talks about a word of advice he’s received often from his white friends over at BBC’s A Point of View

Kritika Pandey wins the overall 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for her lovely story ‘The Great Indian Tee and Snakes’. 



Sumita Chakraborty’s upcoming poetry collection, Arrow, is the selection for The Rumpus’ poetry book club. Details about the reasons for the selection and how to sign up are here.



Soniah Kamal is an award-winning novelist, essayist, and public speaker. Her novel, Unmarriageable: Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan was featured on PBS Books. Publishers Weekly hailed it as a “must read for devout Austenites” and Shelf Awareness said that “if Jane Austen lived in modern-day Pakistan, this is the version of Pride and Prejudice she might have written.”  Accolades for Unmarriageable include a  Financial Times Readers’ Best Book of 2019, an NPR Code Switch and New York Public Library 2019 Summer Read Pick, a People’s Magazine pick, a Library Reads Pick, a 2019 ‘Books All  Georgians Should Read’. A 2020 Georgia Author of the Year for Literary Fiction nominee, it’s shortlisted for the 2020 Townsend Award for Fiction, and more. Soniah’s novel, An Isolated Incident, forthcoming in the UK, was a finalist for the Townsend Award for Fiction and the KLF French Fiction Prize and an Amazon Rising Star Pick. Soniah’s work has appeared in critically-acclaimed anthologies and publications including The New York Times, The Guardian,  TEDx stage, The Georgia Review, and more. She is on Twitter and Instagram @soniahkamal.

About Unmarriageable:

Told with wry wit and colorful prose, Unmarriageable is a charming update on Jane Austen’s beloved novel and an exhilarating exploration of love, marriage, class, and sisterhood.

Alys Binat has sworn never to marry—until an encounter with one Mr. Darsee at a wedding makes her reconsider.

A scandal and vicious rumor concerning the Binat family have destroyed their fortune and prospects for desirable marriages, but Alys, the second and most practical of the five Binat daughters, has found happiness teaching English literature to schoolgirls. Knowing that many of her students won’t make it to graduation before dropping out to marry and have children, Alys teaches them about Jane Austen and her other literary heroes and hopes to inspire the girls to dream of more.

When an invitation arrives to the biggest wedding their small town has seen in years, Mrs. Binat, certain that their luck is about to change, excitedly sets to work preparing her daughters to fish for rich, eligible bachelors. On the first night of the festivities, Alys’s lovely older sister, Jena, catches the eye of Fahad “Bungles” Bingla, the wildly successful—and single—entrepreneur. But Bungles’s friend Valentine Darsee is clearly unimpressed by the Binat family. Alys accidentally overhears his unflattering assessment of her and quickly dismisses him and his snobbish ways. As the days of lavish wedding parties unfold, the Binats wait breathlessly to see if Jena will land a proposal—and Alys begins to realize that Darsee’s brusque manner may be hiding a very different man from the one she saw at first glance.

Let me apologize for the few tiny bits of voice overlap we had. I tried to edit most of them out but the app I’m using for the moment has a time lag which makes it sound like we’re talking over each other when we’re not.



Links to articles, essays, and books mentioned:

Minute on Education (1835) by Thomas Babington Macaulay

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

A True Novel: A Remaking of Charlotte Brontë’s Wuthering Heights by Minae Mizumura (tr. by Juliet Winters Carpenter)

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

Sunlight on a Broken Column by Attia Hosain

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

Sparkling and Shade in Soniah Kamal’s Unmarriageable, Ploughshares Essay by Yohanca Delgado

‘Khol Do’ by Saadat Hasan Manto

Mahalakshmi ka Pul‘ by Krishan Chander (in Hindi)

Angaarey by Ahmed Ali; Mahmud-uz-Zafar; Rashid Jahan; Sajjad Zaheer (Vision of Heaven); Snehal Shingavi, Editor and Translator

NBCC Blog Post about Angaarey by Soniah Kamal


You’ve been listening to episode 13 of DesiBooks — news and views about desi literature from the world over.

Tune in next week for Episode 14. Follow on Twitter @desibooks or Instagram @desi.books and tag the account if you have requests or suggestions. Email at hellodesibooks@gmail.com.

The transcript will be up in the next 24 hours on the website http://desibooks.co.

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.


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