These are just some of the new and notable books by writers of South Asian origin for the month of December 2021. 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.
Hasanthika Sirisena’s Dark Tourist is her nonfiction debut. Dark tourism—visiting sites of war, violence, and other traumas experienced by others—takes different forms in Sirisena’s stunning excavation of the unexpected places (and ways) in which personal identity and the riptides of history meet. The 1961 plane crash that left a nuclear warhead buried near her North Carolina hometown, juxtaposed with reflections on her father’s stroke. A visit to Jaffna in Sri Lanka—the country of her birth, yet where she is unmistakably a foreigner—to view sites from the recent civil war, already layered over with the narratives of the victors. A fraught memory of her time as a young art student in Chicago that is uneasily foundational to her bisexual, queer identity today. The ways that life-changing impairments following a severe eye injury have shaped her thinking about disability and self-worth. Deftly blending reportage, cultural criticism, and memoir, Sirisena pieces together facets of her own sometimes-fractured self to find wider resonances with the human universals of love, sex, family, and art–and with language’s ability to both fail and save us. Dark Tourist becomes then about finding a home, if not in the world, at least within the limitless expanse of the page.
Nilofer Afridi Qazi’s Culinary Tales From Balochistan is more than a sum of recipes and food stories. Travelling solo across Pakistan’s Balochistan province, the author takes us on a wonderful series of journeys. Food as a leitmotif as Balochistan’s north, south and coastal parts are explored. This is a collection of thirteen stories with recipes representing Balochistan’s vast palate and documented for the first time. It opens up windows into this remote part of Pakistan. The reader is invited to feast, feel, taste, and enjoy Balochistan’s cuisine and more. Many of these recipes are obscure for Pakistanis and are absent from the imagination of what is considered Pakistani food, expanding our understanding of what constitutes the cuisine of the country.
Rahat Kurd’s and Sumayya Syed’s co-written The City That Is Leaving Forever: Kashmiri Letters is a unique twenty-first-century time capsule: an instant-message exchange between Kashmir and British Columbia spanning more than five years in the lives of two Muslim Kashmiri women poets. In 2016, as India’s military carries out extrajudicial killings and imposes a lengthy curfew in Srinagar, Kurd is forced to cancel her family trip to Kashmir. Syed and Kurd confide in each other as the weeks and months pass, working through drafts of new poems, reading each other’s work, discussing multilingual poetics, the challenges of translation, and the contrasts of daily life in their two cities. The result is a rigorously feminist record of thinking through trauma as it unfolds and a document of life under military lockdown, “a book like a cluster of thorns with some few fragrant petals caught in them.”
Neel Patel’s Tell Me How to Be is a darkly funny and heartbreaking debut novel about an Indian American family confronting the secrets between them. Renu Amin always seemed perfect: doting husband, beautiful house, healthy sons. But as the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death approaches, Renu is binge-watching soap operas and simmering with old resentments. She can’t stop wondering if, thirty-five years ago, she chose the wrong life. In Los Angeles, her son, Akash, has everything he ever wanted but, as he tries to kickstart his songwriting career and commit to his boyfriend, he is haunted by the painful memories he fled a decade ago. When his mother tells him she is selling the family home, Akash returns to Illinois, hoping to finally say goodbye and move on. Together, Renu and Akash pack up the house, retreating further into the secrets that stand between them. When their pasts catch up to them, Renu and Akash must decide between the lives they left behind and the ones they’ve since created, between making each other happy and setting themselves free. By turns irreverent and tender, filled with the beats of ’90s R&B, Tell Me How to Be is about our earliest betrayals and the cost of reconciliation. But most of all, it is the love story of a mother and son each trying to figure out how to be in the world.
Amin Ahmad’s This Is Not Your Country is a story collection. It won the G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize from BkMk Press, selected by Stephanie Powell Watts. America has upended the lives of these Indian immigrants: a doctor addicted to the adrenaline rush of the ER, a genius computer programmer who always gets fired, a high-level bureaucrat outshone by his young wife, a teenage runaway, and a lonely livery driver who befriends a troupe of street acrobats. As they desperately seek solace in love, sex, and status, they discover that the journey to real belonging is much stranger than they had ever imagined. Stories in This Is Not Your Country have appeared in such places as The Missouri Review, Slice, and Asian American Literary Review.
Meeti Shroff Shah’s A Mumbai Murder Mystery is set among the rarefied circles of Mumbai’s posh (fictitious) Temple Hill. Radhi returns home to Mumbai to lick her wounds after a failed relationship and a bout of writer’s block, but she soon gets caught up in the tangled mystery surrounding the death of her best friend’s father. Radhi’s pregnant best friend Sanjana’s father is found dead in his study. Everyone says it’s suicide. And yet, just hours before, he was telling Sanjana that he couldn’t wait to hold his grandchild in his arms. Something feels off to Radhi. Her suspicions are further raised by the surly cook and timid maid’s odd behavior. And who did the second cup of tea on his desk belong to? Radhi is determined to uncover the truth. But the deeper she digs beneath the diamond-studded prayer meetings and the lavishly catered ‘pure-veg’ brunches, the faster she finds herself drawn into a web of festering grievances, hidden agendas and long-buried secrets. As the intense Indian summer draws to an end and the monsoon sets in, Radhi risks everything to find out the truth.
S. Hareesh’s Adam, translated by Jayasree Kalathil from Malayalam into English is a collection of nine unusual stories about ordinary people, their passions, and their diverse destinies in a world where humans, animals, and nature collide and conflict, but also console each other. Four Belgian Malinois puppies raised by an ex-serviceman, N. K. Kuruppu, who end up in four different life situations; an old man and a younger man who play a game made out of death notices cut out from newspapers; two men who argue about the inexplicable change of character of an old-time rowdy with fatal consequences; a nurse and her boyfriend who travel to Kerala with the body of her father who died in Bangalore; a man who exploits his friend’s disability to satisfy his own bestial needs; a man who finds himself stranded in a supernatural space between life and death; a government employee who is intoxicated by the taste of wild meat and sinks deeper and deeper into the toxic world of hunting; two buffaloes who break away from their butcher and an entire village that chases after them; an old man who rejoices in the death of a sworn enemy who was once his friend.
Wajida Tabassum’s Sin, translated by Reema Abbasi, showcases Tabassum’s boldest short stories, alongside the story of her own life, translated for the first time into English. Set in Hyderabad’s old-world aristocratic society of the 1950s, this stellar collection of stories resurrects and explores the work of Wajida Tabassum, one of the most prominent names in Urdu literature, an iconoclast and non-conformist often referred to as the “female Manto”. In her lifetime, Tabassum’s fearless portrayal of the realities of the society she lived in met with severe criticism from the so-called custodians of culture of the time, and she was reviled to the point that mobs set out to torch her publishers’ offices. Here, she she captures, in riveting prose, the spectrum of depravity among Hyderabad’s elite, middle-class compulsions in the mid-twentieth century, and blurred lines of decency and decorum. Featuring lascivious nawabs, lustful begums, cunning servants, and unfulfilled marriages marked by peculiar rituals and customs, this volume will surprise, intrigue and entertain readers in equal measure.
Vaasanthi’s Ganga’s Choice and Other Stories, translated from the Tamil by the author, reflects the range and depth of Vaasanthi’s writing and shows how humanity redeems the individual and provides hope, even in the midst of adversity. How free are women to make their own choices in the circumstances in which they find themselves? How do ordinary citizens become caught in communal divisions and migrant laborers cope with despair during the pandemic? These are some of the queries posed by the poignant and thought-provoking tales in this book. Set in various parts of India and abroad, this collection by one of India’s well-known writers powerfully captures slices of life to showcase the courage and strength of ordinary people. A young woman derided as a freak chooses to live her life on her own terms; women from different backgrounds struggle against gender roles that are defined by rigid and oppressive social conventions; two migrant workers—rendered jobless during a lockdown—try to return to their village and maintain a bond of solidarity, despite different religious identities; a Sikh farmer living near the Line of Control loses his family to cross-border shelling but looks after the orphaned son of his neighbor from a different community.
TBA throughout the month
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