#DesiCraftChat: Sanjena Sathian on writing beyond the usual immigrant fiction tropes

Desi Books Ep 27 w/ Sanjena Sathian & Gayatri Sethi 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 27 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 Sanjena Sathian in the #DesiCraftChat segment. She’ll be discussing her debut novel, Gold Diggers. And we have Dr. Gayatri Sethi covering a selection of books in the #DesiKidLit segment.

Before we get started, as May is also Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the US, I’d like to pass on some information about a project being done by some writer friends through CityLit Project, a nonprofit operating out of Baltimore, Maryland. They’ve got a host of virtual literary events featuring Asian American writers, editors, and other publishing folks throughout this month. You can check them out at @CityLitProject on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The aim is to bring the community together by celebrating the art of literature, in a space where communities can unpack our own narratives past, present, and beyond to better imagined futures.

Please sit back and enjoy.



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-2021. There’s also a new UK-based list at uk.bookshop.org/lists/desi-books-uk-2021. My apologies to non-US listeners but I always mention/note desi books from other parts of the world on these episodes as well, of course. I just don’t have a bookshop list for them.

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 hellodesibooks@gmail.com. The social media links will also be in the transcript and they’re always on the website.

I missed mentioning an April book in the last episode so let’s start with that before we get to the new and notable books out in the first half of May:

1) Curb by Divya Victor is a hybrid book of prose and poetry. I reviewed it at NPR last month and will share the link in the transcript. A book that looks at the everyday lives of South Asian immigrants and, particularly, five who were killed by white nationalists. This is, so far, one of my favorite reads of the year.

2) Waves Across the South: A New History of Revolution and Empire by Sujit Sivasundaram is a book about environmental history, the consequences of historical violence, the legacies of empire, the extraction of resources, and the indigenous futures that Western imperialism cut short.

3) A Military History of India Since 1972 by Arjun Subramaniam is about how the Indian nation-state and its armed forces have coped with the changing contours of modern conflict in the decades since 1972 and looks at the conflicts with or in Pakistan, China, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Punjab, and more. He’s going to be on an upcoming episode on the #FiveDesiFaves segment.

4) The Color of God by Ayesha S Chaudhry is her memoir about the joys and sorrows of growing up in Canada in a fundamentalist, puritanical Muslim household.In revisiting the beliefs and ideals she was raised with, Chaudhry invites us to reimagine our ideas of self and family, state and citizenship, love and loss. She’ll be on our next episode with a reading from the book.

5) The Marvelous Mirza Girls by Sheba Karim is a Delhi-based novel. Witty and thoughtful, this is more than a teen romance story. It’s also about finding meaning in one’s roots and heritage.

6) The Parted Earth by Anjali Enjeti is a sweeping Partition-based novel covering multiple geographies and periods through the lives of three generations of women. Like the previously-mentioned novel, this one is also about finding meaning and purpose through discovering our roots and heritage.

7)  Cyclopedia Exotica by Aminder Dhaliwal is a graphic novel that was first serialized on Instagram. Through the lives of the cyclops community, Dhaliwal explores the microaggressions and xenophobia faced by immigrants. With this parallel universe, Dhaliwal comments on race, difference, beauty, and belonging, touching on all of these issues with a deadpan humor steeped in millennial references.

8) How to Kidnap the Rich by Rahul Raina is another Delhi novel that covers a wide range of themes and plot points: conmen, reality television, capitalism, and more. It’s a social satire, a love story, and a thriller. It’s out in the UK now but I believe it will be out in the US soon too.

9) I’m closing this with a fascinating book I missed in March by Shrabani Basu, the historian. The Mystery of the Parsee Lawyer is a true story about how Arthur Conan Doyle tried to get a pardon for the first Indian, the Parsee Edalji, to have a parish in England.



Sanjena Sathian was raised in Georgia by Indian immigrant parents. She’s a  graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, an alumna of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, and a former Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow. She has also worked as a journalist in San Francisco and in Mumbai. And she has taught creative writing to high school, college, graduate, and post-graduate level students in Iowa, Alaska, India, and New Zealand.

Gold Diggers is a magical realist coming-of-age story, It skewers the model minority myth to tell a hilarious and moving story about immigrant identity, community, and the underside of ambition. A floundering second-generation teenager growing up in the Bush-era Atlanta suburbs, Neil Narayan is funny and smart but struggles to bear the weight of expectations of his family and their Asian American enclave. He tries to want their version of success, but mostly, Neil just wants his neighbor across the cul-de-sac, Anita Dayal. When he discovers that Anita is the beneficiary of an ancient, alchemical potion made from stolen gold—a “lemonade” that harnesses the ambition of the gold’s original owner—Neil sees his chance to get ahead. But events spiral into a tragedy that rips their community apart. Years later in the Bay Area, Neil still bristles against his community’s expectations—and finds he might need one more hit of that lemonade, no matter the cost.

Here she is now.





Dr. Gayatri Sethi’s back with some new book recommendations. Look up Episode 24 for her previous recommendations and the introduction to her own work. This selection is ideal for holiday gifting so they’re somewhat light-hearted, as Gayatri explains. Have a listen.



Resource Mentioned: https://darshanakhiani.com/

Books List:

  1. Amira’s Picture Day by Reem Faruqi (illustrated by Fahmida Azim)
  2. Unsettled by Reem Faruqi
  3. Samira Surfs by Rukhsanna Guidroz (illustrated by Fahmida Azim)
  4. Misfit in Love by S. K. Ali
  5. How to Wear a Sari by Darshana Khiani (illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff)


You’ve been listening to episode 27 of Desi Books — news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt.

Episode 28 will be up in a couple of weeks. Follow on Twitter @desibooks or Instagram @desi.books and tag the accounts if you have requests or suggestions. Email at hellodesibooks@gmail.com.

The transcript will be up in a few days on the website, http://desibooks.co.

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.

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