***UPDATED ON TUESDAYS***
These are just some of the new and notable books by writers of South Asian origin for the month of April 2022. The list is updated throughout the month.
For a more complete list in the US, go to the Desi Books Bookshop (US.) For a UK list, go to the Desi Books Bookshop (UK.) Currently, there isn’t a single location to list books recently published within South Asia although several such books do get included in the lists below. [Until July 2021, these books were listed within monthly podcast episodes.]
Note: The descriptions are mostly from publisher-provided text.
Nariman Karkaria’s The First World War Adventures Of Nariman Karkaria: A Memoir (tr. Murali Ranganathan) is about a young Parsi from Gujarat who had always wanted to see the world. So he left home as a teenager with fifty rupees in his pocket to do just that. After working in Hong Kong and Peking for a few years, in 1914, when war was in the air, he decided to volunteer for the British Army. Passing through China, Manchuria, Siberia, Russia and Scandinavia, he reached London early in 1915 and managed to register as a private with the 24th Middlesex Regiment. He was now a Tommy. Incredibly, Karkaria saw action on three major fronts in the next three years. In 1916, he was in the trenches at the Battle of the Somme. After convalescing from an injury, he was sent off to the Middle Eastern Front where he fought in the Battle of Jerusalem in 1917. He was then transferred to the Balkan Front in 1918, where he served in Salonika. After being discharged, he returned to India and wrote a book in Gujarati about his years of travel and adventure, which was published in 1922.
K. Raju’s (Editor) The Dalit Truth (Rethinking India series) contains a symphony of Dalit voices as they call out to the future. A multitude of Dalit truths and their battles against the lies perpetrated by the caste system are reflected in the pages of this book, pointing towards a future filled with promise and prospects for the coming generations. This eighth volume in the Rethinking India series, published in collaboration with the Samruddha Bharat Foundation, probes the pathway to be followed by the Dalits as articulated by Ambedkar’s Constitution. The authors featured in the volume come from various fields and bring narratives of different colors, not just stories of dismay but also of possibilities. The essays offer deeper insights into social, educational, economic and cultural challenges and opportunities faced by the Dalits, the varied strategies of political parties for their mobilization and the choice to be made by the Dalits for attaining social equality. Contributing authors: Sukhadeo Thorat; Raja Sekhar Vundru; Kiruba Munusamy; Suraj Yengde; Bhanwar Meghwanshi; Badri Narayan; Jignesh Mevani; Sudha Pai; PA. Ranjith; R.S. Praveen Kumar; Priyank Kharge; Neeraj Shetye; Budithi Rajsekhar.
Gita Ramaswamy’s Land, Guns, Caste, Woman: The Memoir of a Lapsed Revolutionary begins in the 1980s. Ibrahimpatnam, Telangana, South India. The landless dalits are caught between a reddy and a hard place. The wealthy reddys are like movie villains, brandishing whips and guns. Enter Gita Ramaswamy, thirty years old. In her teens, Gita had escaped the brahmanical clutches of her family that tries to cure her of naxalism with shock treatment and sedation. She has endured the horrors of the Emergency. She is disillusioned. But not without hope. Gita starts living with the agricultural laborers. They are in bondage, cheated out of land and all rights. They are in the mood to fight. Together, they take on the tyrannical landlords who have brutalized the villages for generations. A revolution without a gun is in the making. Gita writes with relentless self-reflexivity. This is as much a story of struggles and victories as it is a testimony of personal failings and regrets.
Jyoti Thottam’s Sisters of Mokama: The Pioneering Women Who Brought Hope and Healing to India is the never-before-told story of six intrepid Kentucky nuns, their journey to build a hospital in the poorest state in India, and the Indian nurses whose lives would never be the same. New York Times editor Jyoti Thottam’s mother was part of an extraordinary group of Indian women. Born in 1946, a time when few women dared to leave their house without the protection of a man, she left home by herself at just fifteen years old and traveled to Bihar—an impoverished and isolated state in northern India that had been one of the bloodiest regions of Partition—in order to train to be a nurse under the tutelage of the determined and resourceful Appalachian nuns who ran Nazareth Hospital. Like Thottam’s mother’s journey, the hospital was a radical undertaking: it was run almost entirely by women, who insisted on giving the highest possible standard of care to everyone who walked through its doors, regardless of caste or religion. Fascinated by her mother’s story, Thottam draws upon twenty years’ worth of research to tell this inspiring story for the first time. She brings to life the hopes, struggles, and accomplishments of these ordinary women—both American and Indian—who succeeded against the odds during the tumult and trauma of the years after World War II and Partition. Pain and loss were everywhere for the women of that time, but the collapse of the old orders provided the women of Nazareth Hospital with an opening—a chance to create for themselves lives that would never have been possible otherwise.
Devi Sridhar’s Preventable: How a Pandemic Changed the World & How to Stop the Next One tells the extraordinary story of COVID-19 and how global politics shape our health. Professor Devi Sridhar highlights lessons learned from outbreaks past and present in a narrative that traces the COVID-19 pandemic, including her personal experience as a scientist, and sets out a vision for how we can better protect ourselves from the inevitable health crises to come. In gripping and heartfelt prose, Sridhar exposes the varied realities of those affected (from the jailed doctor in Wuhan who sounded the alarm, and the bored passengers marooned on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, to the daily nightmares of exhausted healthcare workers), and puts you in the room with key decision makers at crucial moments (from over-confident heads of states and their hesitant scientific advisors, to the beleaguered leaders of global health organizations). Sridhar vibrantly conveys the twists and turns of a plot that saw: deadlier variants emerge (contrary to the predictions of social media pundits who argued it would mutate to a milder form); the Pyrrhic victory in many countries of the false narrative of health versus the economy (those countries which controlled the virus, like Taiwan and Denmark, had a steadier recovery); countries with weak health systems like Senegal and Vietnam fare better than countries like the US and UK (which were consistently ranked as the most prepared); and the quickest development of game-changing vaccines in history (and their unfair distribution). Combining science, politics, ethics and economics, this definitive book dissects the global structures that determine our fate, and reveals the deep-seated economic and social inequalities at their heart.
Madhushree Ghosh’s Khabaar: An Immigrant Journey of Food, Memory, and Family is a food memoir and personal narrative that braids the global journeys of South Asian food through immigration, migration, and indenture. Focusing on chefs, home cooks, and food stall owners, the book questions what it means to belong and what does belonging in a new place look like in the foods carried over from the old country? These questions are integral to the author’s own immigrant journey to America as a daughter of Indian refugees (from what’s now Bangladesh to India during the 1947 Partition of India); as a woman of color in science; as a woman who left an abusive marriage; and as a woman who keeps her parents’ memory alive through her Bengali food.
Sharan Dhaliwal’s Burning My Roti: Breaking Barriers as a Queer Indian Woman is part-memoir, part-guide and essential reading for a new generation of South Asian women. With chapters covering sexual and cultural identity, body hair, colorism and mental health, and a particular focus on the suffocating beauty standards South Asian women are expected to adhere to, Sharan Dhaliwal speaks openly about her journey towards loving herself, offering advice, support and comfort to people that are encountering the same issues. This provocative book celebrates the strides South Asian women have made, whilst also providing powerful advice through personal stories by Sharan and other South Asian women from all over the world.
Chitra Ramaswamy’s Homelands is about two unlikely friends. One born in 1970s Britain to Indian immigrant parents, the other arrived from Nazi Germany in 1939, fleeing persecution. This book is about common ground . It is a story of migration, anti-Semitism, racism, family, belonging, grief and resilience. This book is about the past and the present. It is about the state we’re in now and the ways in which we carry our pasts into our futures.
Anuradha Kumar’s One Man, Many Lives: Bhagwan Singh and the Early South Asians in America is about two men, their near-identical names, and their intertwined lives. On one side is Bhagwan Singh, an itinerant religious preacher, a rebel on the run, poet, writer, and even a self-help guru. On the other is Bhogwan Singh, turban-wrapper, occasional actor, and one of the first Indians in Hollywood. When one appears on historical records, the other goes off the radar. This is a story of their journeys, intersecting, meshed, and melded mysteriously with each other. Anuradha Kumar plays armchair detective as she courses through books, newspapers, pamphlets and films to uncover the trajectories of these two lives and the times they inhabited. As much as it is about Bhagwan and Bhogwan Singh, this book tells the larger and more remarkable story of how the first South Asians adapted, adjusted and remade themselves to a life in the New World.
Sejal Mehta’s Superpowers on the Shore is a look at some of the creatures with whom we share our world, our water, our monsoons, our beaches, and the sandcastles therein. Our coasts are large, vast wildernesses that have given us monsters and myths, they are fathoms deep and full of whispers, home to unknown creatures and sprawling ecosystems. They are chasms of beauty and frontiers of possibility. From the space between land and sea, revealed only at low tide, comes a coruscating kaleidoscope of colors and brilliance: the intertidal zone. And the marine lifeforms of these zones are capable of superpowers. Yes, superpowers! Of the kind that comic book characters can only dream of. The Indian coastline hosts some magnificent intertidal species: solar-powered slugs, escape artist octopuses, venomous jellies, harpooning conus sea snails, to name just a few. It is as biodiverse as a forest wildlife safari, and twice as secretive. From bioluminescence and advanced sonic capabilities to camouflage and shapeshifting, these cloaked assassins are capable of otherworldly skill.
Maliha Abidi’s Rise: Extraordinary Women of Color who Changed the World celebrates the inspirational stories of 100 remarkable women of color. From the entrepreneur with a homemade marmalade business who went on to found Women’s World Banking, to the educator who built the first university in the world; and from the athlete who fled civil war on a sinking boat and then swam in the Olympics, to the first Black female astronaut, these trailblazers have risen above challenges to reach dizzying heights. These scientists, entertainers, sportswomen, artists and activists hail from more than forty countries. Past and present, famous and forgotten, they have worked both behind the scenes and under public scrutiny to make our world a better place. Featuring stunning portrait illustrations by noted artist Maliha Abidi, Rise reveals the creativity and courage of these pioneers, and is essential for all.
Uzma Ali Khan’s The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali is set in the Andaman Islands over the course of oppressive imperial regimes. It is a complex, gripping homage to those omitted from the collective memory. Nomi and Zee are Local Borns—their father a convict condemned by the British to the Andaman Islands, their mother shipped off with him. The islands are an inhospitable place, despite their surreal beauty. In this unreliable world, the children have their friend Aye, the pet hen Priya and the distracted love of their parents to shore them up from one day to the next. Meanwhile, within the walls of the prison, Prisoner 218 D wages a war on her jailers with only her body and her memory. When war descends upon this overlooked outpost of Empire, the British are forced out and the Japanese move in. Soon the first shot is fired and Zee is forced to flee, leaving Nomi and the other islanders to contend with a new malice. The islands—and the seas surrounding them—become a battlefield, resulting in tragedy for some and a brittle kind of freedom for others, who find themselves increasingly entangled in a mesh of alliances and betrayals.
Aamina Ahmad’s The Return of Faraz Ali is about a man finding himself in an unexpected reckoning with his past when he’s sent back to his birthplace—Lahore’s notorious red-light district—to hush up the murder of a girl. In the Mohalla, Lahore’s walled inner city, women continue to pass down the art of courtesan from mother to daughter. But Faraz still remembers the day he was abducted from the home he shared with his mother and sister there, at the direction of his powerful father, who wanted to give him a chance at a respectable life. Now Wajid, once more dictating his fate from afar, has sent Faraz back to Lahore, installing him as head of the Mohalla police station and charging him with a mission: to cover up the violent death of a young girl. It should be a simple assignment to carry out in a marginalized community, but for the first time in his career, Faraz finds himself unable to follow orders. As the city assails him with a jumble of memories, he cannot stop asking questions or winding through the walled city’s labyrinthine alleyways chasing the secrets—his family’s and his own—that risk shattering his precariously constructed existence.
Gurnaik Johal’s We Move is a debut story collection that brings together the past and the present, the local and the global, to show the surprising ways we come together. Here, beneath the planes circling Heathrow, various lives connect. Priti speaks English and her nani Punjabi. Without Priti’s mum around they struggle to make a shared language. Not far away, Chetan and Aanshi’s relationship shifts when a woman leaves her car in their drive but never returns to collect it. Gujan’s baba steps out of his flat above the chicken shop for the first time in years to take his grandson on a bicycle tour of the old and changed neighborhood. And returning home after dropping out of university, Lata grapples with a secret about her estranged family friend, now a chart-topping rapper in a crisis of confidence. Mapping an area of West London, these stories chart a wider narrative about the movement of multiple generations of immigrants.
Vaishnavi Patel’s Kaikeyi reimagines the life of the infamous queen from the Indian epic the Ramayana, weaving a tale of fate, family, courage, and heartbreak—and an extraordinary woman determined to leave her mark in a world where gods and men dictate the shape of things to come. The only daughter of the kingdom of Kekaya, she is raised on tales of the gods: how they churned the vast ocean to obtain the nectar of immortality, how they vanquish evil and ensure the land of Bharat prospers, and how they offer powerful boons to the devout and the wise. Yet she watches as her father unceremoniously banishes her mother, listens as her own worth is reduced to how great a marriage alliance she can secure. And when she calls upon the gods for help, they never seem to hear. Desperate for some measure of independence, she turns to the texts she once read with her mother and discovers a magic that is hers alone. With this power, Kaikeyi transforms herself from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat, and most favored queen, determined to carve a better world for herself and the women around her. But as the evil from her childhood stories threatens the cosmic order, the path she has forged clashes with the destiny the gods have chosen for her family. And Kaikeyi must decide if resistance is worth the destruction it will wreak–and what legacy she intends to leave behind.
Dalpat Chauhan’s Vultures (tr. Hemang Ashwinkumar) is set in Gujarat, 1964. The agrarian system of renewable annual contract mandates fulltime labor on the houses and farms of landlords. In these bleak circumstances, Iso, a tanner by birth, graduates from being a child laborer to an adult serf on the estate of Mavaji. His life is one of humiliation, hunger and drudgery, and the only respite comes in the form of Diwali, Mavaji’s daughter. Between them exists a physical relationship that is shrouded in secrecy, shame and fear. Even as Iso creates distance between them, a chance encounter turns to violence and tragedy, and he faces the brutal sword of caste patriarchy. Based on the blood-curdling murder of a Dalit boy by Rajput landlords in Kodaram village in 1964, Vultures portrays a feudal society structured around caste-based relations and social segregation, in which Dalit lives and livelihoods are torn to pieces by upper-caste vultures. The deft use of dialect, graphic descriptions and translator Hemang Ashwinkumar’s lucid telling throw sharp focus on the fragmented world of a mofussil village in Gujarat, much of which remains unchanged even today.
Nirmal Ghosh’s Blue Sky, White Cloud is actually three novellas—stories from the perspectives of man and beast showing us that, much like us, animals also have extraordinary stories to tell. A defenseless male elephant calf, born on the grasslands of the great Brahmaputra River, grows into a formidable tusker, journeying through the verdant green hills of northeastern India and Burma. With him, we walk through the vastness of the Indo-Malayan rainforests as he attempts to understand the humans who have irretrievably changed the jungles he roams. Hira Singh, a forest guard in the Nadhia Wildlife Sanctuary, crosses paths with a female leopard who is facing shrinking forests in the hills that are her home. Their lives closely mirror each other’s, following similar patterns of love and loss, as fate resolves to bring the two together, perhaps for the last time. Nadia, a wildlife biologist researching geese, travels to Mongolia, where she tags two geese: Blue Sky and White Cloud. As the birds fly southwards over the Himalayas, she meets Vivek, India’s Minister of State for Environment. Their instantaneous friendship soon takes Vivek to a lush valley at the base of the soaring Himalayas, where he must make a decision that will impact the lives of all around him.
Amitav Ghosh’s The Living Mountain is a cautionary tale of how we have systematically exploited nature, leading to an environmental collapse. Recounted as a dream, this is a fable about Mahaparbat, the Living Mountain; the indigenous valley dwellers who live and prosper in its shelter; the assault on the mountain for commercial benefit by the Anthropoi, humans whose sole aim is to reap the bounty of nature; and the disaster that unfolds as a result. The Living Mountain is especially relevant today when we have been battling a pandemic and are facing a climate catastrophe: both of which are products of our insufficient understanding of mankind’s relationship with nature, and our sustained appropriation and abuse of natural resources. This is a book of our times, for our times, and it will resonate strongly with readers of all ages.
Tarun K. Saint’s (editor) New Horizons: The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction showcases the epic scope of science fiction from the South Asian subcontinent. Offering a fresh perspective on our hyper-global, often alienating and always paranoid world, New Horizons brings together tales of masterful imagination where humanity and love may triumph yet. The citizens of Karachi wake up and discover the sea missing from their shores, the last Parsi on Earth must escape to other worlds when debt collectors come knocking, and a family visiting a Partition-themed park gets more entertainment than they bargained for.
Rahman Abbas’ Rohzin (tr. Sabika Abbas Naqvi) is set in Mumbai, when it was almost submerged on the fatal noon of 26 July 2005, with a merciless downpour and cloudburst that had spread utter darkness and horror in the heart of the city. River Mithi was inundated, and the sea was furious. At this hour of torturous gloom, Rohzin begins declaring in the first line that it was the last day in the life of two lovers, Asrar and Hina. The novel’s protagonist, Asrar, comes to Mumbai, and through his eyes the author describes the hitherto-unknown aspects of Mumbai, unseen colors and unseen secrets of the city’s underbelly. The love story of Asar and Hina begins abruptly and ends tragically. It is love at first sight which takes place at Haji Ali Dargah. The arc of the novel studies various aspects of human emotions, especially love, longing and sexuality as sublime expressions. The emotions are examined, so is love as well as the absence of it, through a gamut of characters and their interrelated lives: Asrar’s relationship with his teacher, Ms Jamila, a prostitute named Shanti and, later, with Hina; Hina’s classmate Vidhi’s relations with her lover and others; Hina’s father Yusuf’s love for Aymal; Vanu’s indulgence in prostitutes. Rohzin dwells on the plane of an imagination that takes readers on a unique journey across the city of Mumbai, a highly intriguing character in its own right.
Madi Sinha’s At Least You Have Your Health is about Dr. Maya Rao, a gynecologist trying to balance a busy life. With three young children, a career, and a happy marriage, she should be grateful—on paper, she has it all. But after a disastrous encounter with an entitled patient, Maya is forced to walk away from the city hospital where she’s spent her entire career. An opportunity arises when Maya crosses paths with Amelia DeGilles at a school meeting. Amelia is the owner and entrepreneur behind Eunoia Women’s Health, a concierge wellness clinic that specializes in house calls for its clientele of wealthy women for whom no vitamin infusion or healing crystal is too expensive. All Eunoia needs is a gynecologist to join its ranks. Amid visits to her clients’ homes, Maya comes to idolize the beautiful, successful Amelia. But Amelia’s life isn’t as perfect as it seems. When Amelia’s teenaged daughter is struck with a mysterious ailment, Maya must race to uncover the reason before it’s too late. In the process, she risks losing what’s most important to her and bringing to light a secret of her own that she’s been desperately trying to keep hidden.
Sonya Singh’s Sari, Not Sari follows the adventures of a woman trying to connect with her South Asian roots and introduces readers to a memorable cast of characters in a veritable feast of food, family traditions, and fun. Manny Dogra is the beautiful young CEO of Breakup, a highly successful company that helps people manage their relationship breakups. As preoccupied as she is with her business, she’s also planning her wedding to handsome architect Adam Jamieson while dealing with the loss of her beloved parents. For reasons Manny has never understood, her mother and father, who were both born in India, always wanted her to become an “All-American” girl. So that’s what she did. She knows next to nothing about her South Asian heritage, and that’s never been a problem—until an image of Manny that’s been Photoshopped to make her skin look more white appears on a major magazine cover. Suddenly, the woman who built an empire encouraging people to be true to themselves is having her own identity crisis. When an irritating client named Sammy Patel approaches Manny with an odd breakup request, the perfect solution presents itself: if they both agree to certain terms, he’ll give her a crash course in being “Indian” at his brother’s wedding. What follows is days of dancing and dal, masala, and mehndi as Manny meets the lovable, if endlessly interfering, aunties and uncles of the Patel family, and, along the way, discovers much more than she could ever have anticipated.
Karichan Kunju’s Hungry Humans (tr. Sudha G. Tilak) is a translation of the groundbreaking Tamil novel Pasitha Manidam, first published in 1978. It offers deep insight into the conservative and caste-conscious temple town of Kumbakonam, viewed here with dispassionately cold clarity as a society that utterly fails its own. Ganesan returns, after four decades, to the town of his childhood, filled with memories of love and loneliness, of youthful beauty and the ravages of age and misfortune, of the promise of talent and its slow destruction. Seeking treatment for leprosy, he must also come to terms with his past: his exploitation at the hands of older men, his growing consciousness of desire and his own sexual identity, his steady disavowal of Brahminical morality and his slowly degenerating body. He longs for liberation-sexual, social and spiritual-but finally finds peace only in self-acceptance. Sudha G. Tilak deftly builds upon Karichan Kunju’s prose to expose this world, raw, real, without frills or artifice. The themes of masculinity, desire and sexuality, caged within caste and repression, all combine to give readers front-row seats to the many acts we put on for and as a community.
Jeet Thayil’s (Editor) The Penguin Book of Indian Poets is the definitive anthology of Indian poetry in English. This monumental undertaking, two decades in the making, brings together writers from across the world, a wealth of voices—in dialogue, in soliloquy, in rhetoric, and in play—to present an expansive, encompassing idea of what makes an ‘Indian’ poet. Included are lost, uncollected, or out of print poems by major poets, essays that place entire bodies of work into their precise cultural contexts, and a collection of classic black and white portraits by Madhu Kapparath. These images, taken over a period of thirty years, form an archive of breathtaking historical scope. They offer the viewer unparalleled intimacy and access to the lives of some of India’s greatest poets.
Anita Pati’s Hiding to Nothing is her debut collection and explores the destabilizing effects of violence, particularly empire’s aftermath, on a psyche. Threaded with internal dialogue, this multi-layered work witnesses how unbelonging can unsettle perceptions of the brown female body within an unwelcoming, even hostile, environment. From ‘exotic’ dodos punished for not being doves to Greenface, on whom blonde girls birth natterjack toads, marginal presences tell their stories. Hiding to Nothing suggests that complex and damaging legacies in all their forms can create shockwaves that reverberate over a lifetime, stopping lives from reaching their full potential. And the trauma experienced through centuries of colonial history continues to be embodied and enacted. These perceptions of body-image and self-worth are picked up in the central documentary sequence, Bloodfruit , which is based on interviews with women about the lesser-known narratives of infertility and difficult trajectories towards becoming, or not becoming, a ‘mother’. Here, the often-fraught notions of womanhood and motherhood are also shown to feed into ideas on who is able to mother.
Jhani Randhawa’s Time Regime is a collection of experiments, mechanical dream logs, epistolaries, and field notes. Time Regime assembles an emergent mutant body intent on interrupting neoliberal imperialism’s rhythms and expectations. Disassembling and reassembling the (marginalized) body through the intersecting lenses of ecofeminism and necrosociality, the poems in Time Regime form a poetic fugue that defies regimes of purity and correctness, in an historical epoch demarcated by violence, discipline, and erasure. Reflecting Jhani Randhawa’s distinct post-deconstructionist impulse, Time Regime navigates the multiplicities of history, time, embodiment, and language to explore queer* phenomenology; postindustrial longing; ritual; and economic, ecological, and spiritual precarity. Time Regime traces the lives, ecological contexts, and dreams of multiple beings—rice germ, red ticks, a grandmother’s skin cells, limestone deposits, machine intelligence, shaggy language, the poet, no-self, or the mythological winged cow Surabhi—as they collide and float in parallel vectors. Displaced and seeking, these spectral and material bodies erode and recombine at the edges of domestic ruin, ecological collapse, and state-sanctioned death, delivering an image of presence that seeks communion with mess.
Join the Conversation