Hello and welcome to Episode 23 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 Syed Masood in the #DesiCraftChat segment. He’ll be discussing his new novel, The Bad Muslim Discount. We also have Farzana Doctor in the #FiveDesiFaves segment. Her latest novel is titled Seven. She’ll be sharing five terrific books by Canadian desi writers.
In the last episode, I’d mentioned a virtual Desi Books in Translation club. This is still in the works so it won’t be kicking off in March. But please stay tuned for updates.
Now please sit back and enjoy.
NOTABLE NEW BOOKS FOR FEBRUARY
You can find most of the titles mentioned in this “New Books” segment at bookshop.org, which benefits local, independent booksellers directly. Go to bookshop.org/lists/desi-books-2021 for the US OR https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/desi-books-uk-2021/ for the UK.
These are US and UK based so my apologies to listeners from other countries. But you can still see the list of all the books that have come out in 2021 and been mentioned on the podcast.
I know I don’t always catch all new books by writers of South Asian origin. So, if you’ve got a new book coming out, please tag the Desi Books account on Twitter or Instagram to let me know. You can also send an email to email@example.com. The social media links will also be in the transcript and they’re always on the website.
1) Kololo Hill by Neema Shah is just out in the UK now. Starting in 1972 Uganda, it describes the expulsion of South Asians during Idi Amin’s regime. Many of them went to the UK as refugees as do the characters of this novel. This story is about a part of South Asian history that’s still not known well enough.
2) Midnight Doorways by Usman T Malik is a set of Pakistani fables beautifully illustrated by several artists. Malik is an award-winning speculative fiction writer so this should be a treat.
3) How to Feel: The Science and Meaning of Touch by Sushma Subramanian is a debut nonfiction exploring how it might be if we were as aware of our touch faculty as we are of our sight faculty. The book is partly a memoir of self-discovery and partly a scientific investigation.
4) Who Killed the King of Bagan by James DiBiasio is both an ancient murder mystery and a story about the founding of Myanmar. Quite fascinating and dating from the 11th century.
5) An Introduction to Indian Aesthetics: History, Theory, and Theoreticians by Mini Chandran and Sreenath V. S. is a historical and conceptual overview of all the major schools in Sanskrit poetics—one of the most sophisticated and long-standing traditions of literary criticism in the ancient world.
6) Dialogue on Partition: Literature Knows No Borders by Syrrina Ahsan Ali Haque looks at how Indo-Pak novels focused on the Partition do or don’t extend and evolve the dialogue around this most defining historical event in the birth of both nations. [NOTE: nows says it will ship March 2021.]
7) The World of Agha Shahid Ali by Tapan Kumar Ghosh and Sisir Kumar Chatterjee is an essay anthology with critical appraisals and personal reflections on the life and work of the transnational poet Agha Shahid Ali. The book also has close formal analyses of most of Shahid’s poems and poetry collections.
8) Jungle Nama by Amitav Ghosh is a verse adaptation of an episode from the legend of Bon Bibi, a tale popular in the villages of the Sundarban, which also lies at the heart of Ghosh’s popular novel, The Hungry Tide. It’s also the writer’s first book in verse form.
9) The Good Girls by Sonia Faleiro is about the tragedy of two teenage cousins in Uttar Pradesh who were found hanging from a tree, dead, in 2014. Describing the many challenges of a patriarchal society in rural India, Faleiro’s deep investigation and research show how many socio-political obstacles drive women’s fates throughout their lives.
10) Classical Sanskrit Tragedy: The Concept of Suffering and Pathos in Medieval India by Bihani Sarkar is, arguably, the first study of tragedy in classical Sanskrit literature, Sarkar draws on a wide range of Sanskrit dramas, poems and treatises to provide a complete history of the tragic in Indian literature from the second to the tenth centuries.
11) The Orders Were To Rape You: Tigresses in the Tamil Eelam Struggle by Meena Kandasamy is about the female fighters of the liberation tigers of Tamil Eelam. Having survived the Sri Lankan camps, they’re now refugees. Kandasamy pieces their lives together for us and translates some of their poetry here.
12) Karachi Vice by Samira Shackle is out in the UK now. Another important book of narrative nonfiction, this one reveals the city through the lives of a handful of characters and spans the critical time when the Taliban entered Pakistan. I hope it will be out in the US too.
13) After Death Comes Water: Selected Prose Poems by Joy Goswami and translated from the Bengali by Sampurna Chatterjee. Goswami is one of the most important Bengali poets so this is an important work for its genius and innovation.
14) Bollywood Does Battle: The War Movie and the Indian Popular Imagination by Samir Chopra is out now in India. Rarely do we get Bollywood books that go beyond the usual celebrity biography or how-the-movie-got-made story. This is an accessible but scholarly work about how Indians look at themselves and the nation through cinematic representations of war.
15) Diary of a Film by Niven Govinden is out in the UK now. It’s a novel about cinema, storytelling, queer love, creativity, and more. It’s set during an Italian film festival so, you know, if you’re looking for vicarious travel through northern Italy, this might be just the ticket.
#DESICRAFTCHAT WITH SYED MASOOD — INTRODUCTION
Syed Masood grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, and currently lives in Sacramento, California. He’s been a citizen of three different countries and lived in nine cities. Living among different people in different countries at fascinating times in their histories has shaped both his view of the world and his writing. He graduated from the University of Toronto, where he studied English Literature, and the William and Mary School of Law. A practicing attorney, he is also the author of the Young Adult novel, More Than Just a Pretty Face, which was out in 2020.
His latest, The Bad Muslim Discount, follows two families from Pakistan and Iraq in the 1990s to San Francisco in 2016, It’s a comic novel about Muslim immigrants finding their way in America. The book explores questions of identity, faith (or lack thereof), and belonging through the lens of Muslim Americans. In particular, the Pakistani-American, Anvar, and the Iraqi-American, Safwa.
I spoke with Syed about the interesting narrative structure of the novel and his writing process. Here’s our conversation.
#DESICRAFTCHAT WITH SYED MASOOD
#FIVEDESIFAVES WITH FARZANA DOCTOR
Farzana Doctor is a writer, activist, and psychotherapist. She studied social work in the early nineties and has been a social worker ever since. She worked in a variety of community agencies and a hospital before starting a part-time private practice, where she sees individuals and couples. Currently, she volunteers with WeSpeakOut, a global group that is working to ban female genital cutting in her Dawoodi Bohra community.
Seven is her fourth novel and focuses on this practice of genital cutting still practiced in this community in India. This is a novel about community, marriage, family, friendships, religion, tradition, survivorship, and more. The publisher has a promo code for the book on their website (DOCTOR25.)
Farzana shares five works next by Canadian desi writers and how they’ve been important to her. All the links will be in the transcript. Enjoy.
#FIVEDESIFAVES WITH FARZANA DOCTOR
Keepers of the Faith by Shaukat Ajmeri
All of Us In Our Own Lives by Manjushree Thapa
The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya
The Lost Sister by Andrea Gunraj
Outside People and Other Stories by Mariam Pirbhai
You’ve been listening to episode 23 of Desi Books — news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt.
The transcript will be up in a few days on the website, http://desibooks.co.
Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.