These are just some of the new and notable books by writers of South Asian origin for the month of February 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.
Tanaïs’ In Sensorium is a memoir from a writer and perfumer that also offers a critical, alternate history of South Asia from an American Bangladeshi Muslim femme perspective. From stories of their childhood in the South, Midwest, and New York; to transcendent experiences with lovers, psychedelics, and fragrances; to trips home to their motherland, Tanaïs builds a universe of memories and scent: a sensorium. Alongside their personal history, and at the very heart of this work, is an interrogation of the ancient violence of caste, rape culture, patriarchy, war, and the inherited ancestral trauma of being from a lush land constantly denuded, a land still threatened and disappearing because of colonization, capitalism, and climate change. Fragrance has long been used to mark who is civilized and who is barbaric, who is pure and who is polluted, who is free and who is damned. Structured like a perfume, moving from base to heart to head notes, In Sensorium interlaces eons of South Asian perfume history, erotic and religious texts, survivor testimonies, and material culture with memoir. In Sensorium is archive and art, illuminating the great crises of our time with the language of Liberation.
Ramachandra Guha’s Rebels Against the Raj: Western Fighters for India’s Freedom tells the story of seven people who chose to struggle for a country other than their own: foreigners to India who across the late 19th to late 20th century arrived to join the freedom movement fighting for independence from British colonial rule. Of the seven, four were British, two American, and one Irish. Four men, three women. Before and after being jailed or deported they did remarkable and pioneering work in a variety of fields: journalism, social reform, education, the emancipation of women, environmentalism. This book tells their stories, each renegade motivated by idealism and genuine sacrifice; each connected to Gandhi, though some as acolytes where others found endless infuriation in his views; each understanding they would likely face prison sentences for their resistance, and likely live and die in India; each one leaving a profound impact on the region in which they worked, their legacies continuing through the institutions they founded and the generations and individuals they inspired. Through these entwined lives, wonderfully told by one of the world’s finest historians, we reach deep insights into relations between India and the West, and India’s story as a country searching for its identity and liberty beyond British colonial rule.
Vidya Krishnan’s Phantom Plague: How Tuberculosis Shaped History is the definitive social history of tuberculosis, from its origins as a haunting mystery to its modern reemergence that now threatens populations around the world. It killed novelist George Orwell, Eleanor Roosevelt, and millions of others – rich and poor. Desmond Tutu, Amitabh Bachchan, and Nelson Mandela survived it, just. For centuries, tuberculosis has ravaged cities and plagued the human body. In Phantom Plague, Vidya Krishnan, traces the history of tuberculosis from the slums of 19th-century New York to modern Mumbai. In a narrative spanning century, Krishnan shows how superstition and folk-remedies, made way for scientific understanding of TB, such that it was controlled and cured in the West. The cure was never available to black and brown nations. And the tuberculosis bacillus showed a remarkable ability to adapt – so that at the very moment it could have been extinguished as a threat to humanity, it found a way back, aided by authoritarian government, toxic kindness of philanthropists, science denialism and medical apartheid. Krishnan’s original reporting paints a granular portrait of the post-antibiotic era as a new, aggressive, drug resistant strain of TB takes over. Phantom Plague is an urgent, riveting and fascinating narrative that deftly exposes the weakest links in our battle against this ancient foe.
Jaspreet Kaur’s Brown Girl Like Me: The Essential Guidebook and Manifesto for South Asian Girls and Women is an inspiring memoir and empowering manifesto that equips women with the confidence and tools they need to navigate the difficulties that come with an intersectional identity. Jaspreet Kaur unpacks key issues such as the media, the workplace, the home, education, mental health, culture, confidence and the body, to help South Asian women understand and tackle the issues that affect them, and help them be in the driving seat of their own lives. Jaspreet pulls no punches, tackling difficult topics from mental health and menstruation stigma to education and beauty standards, from feminism to cultural appropriation and microaggressions. She also addresses complex issues, such as how to manage being a brown feminist without rejecting your own culture, and why Asian girls – the second highest performing group of students in the country – aren’t seen in larger numbers in universities and head offices. Interviews with brilliant South Asian Women of all walks of life as well as academic insight show what life is really like for brown women in the diaspora. Part toolkit, part call-to-arms, Brown Girl Like Me is essential reading for South Asian women as well as people with an interest in feminism and cultural issues, and will educate, inspire and spark urgent conversations for change.
Rakhshanda Jalil (Author, Editor) and Debjani Sengupta (Author, Editor) bring Bangladesh: Writings on 1971, Across Borders, an anthology tracing the journey of a nation. 1971 was a decisive moment in the history of the subcontinent, one that had profound social, historical and cultural reverberations throughout the region. The birth of Bangladesh, once a part of Pakistan, in many ways overturned the lessons of 1947 and laid bare the ironies and contradictions of history. Like any violent historical moment, the euphoria, nightmares and memories of 1971 have also spawned contested accounts. Tracing the journey of a nation that has celebrated fifty years of its birth, the stories, poems and ‘memory texts’ collected here, from Bangla, Urdu and English, are varied in their understandings of and responses to 1971. This anthology probes the intersection of literature and history through the eyes of writers and poets on both sides of the borders who attempt to capture and recount those turbulent months of euphoria and trauma. It is also an homage to all those who fought and lived through the aftermath, trying to shape modes of reconciliation and peace. Bringing together the most compelling voices from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, many translated into English for the first time, this unique volume will appeal to readers and scholars of Partition and South Asian history, as much as to keen lovers of literature.
Monica Ali’s Love Marriage is a novel about the modern, multicultural family. Yasmin Ghorami has a lot to be grateful for: a loving family, a fledgling career in medicine, and a charming, handsome fiancee, fellow doctor Joe Sangster. But as the wedding day draws closer and Yasmin’s parents get to know Joe’s firebrand feminist mother, both families must confront the unravelling of long-held secrets, lies and betrayals. As Yasmin dismantles her own assumptions about the people she holds most dear, she’s also forced to ask herself what she really wants in a relationship and what a ‘love marriage’ actually means. Love Marriage is a story about who we are and how we love in today’s Britain with all the complications and contradictions of life, desire, marriage, and family. What starts as a captivating social comedy develops into a heart-breaking and gripping story of two cultures, two families and two people trying to understand one another.
Perumal Murugan’s Pyre (tr. Aniruddhan Vasudevan) is a much-loved novel from the author of One Part Woman and The Story of a Goat, both longlisted for the National Book Award for Translation. Saroja and Kumaresan are young and in love. After meeting in a small southern Indian town where Kumaresan works at a soda bottling shop, they quickly marry before returning to Kumaresan’s family village, where they hope to build a happy life together. But they are harboring a terrible secret: Saroja is from a different caste than Kumaresan, and if the villagers find out, they will both be in grave danger. Faced with venom from her mother-in-law and questions from her new neighbors, Saroja tries to adjust to a new lonely and uncomfortable life, while Kumaresan struggles to scrape together enough money for them to start over somewhere new. Will their love keep them safe in a world filled with thorns? In evocative prose, Perumal Murugan masterfully conjures a moving tale of innocent young love pitted against chilling violence.
Manini Nayar’s Being Here is a story collection where readers are introduced to individuals whose existence reveals the “daily miracle” of their inner lives. Nayar brings to the forefront immigrant women making their way in the world as mothers, wives, outliers and rebels. She writes about their insistence on autonomy and the absurdity and triumphs of their struggles. These stories loop and double back across time and locales, connecting characters through memory while illumining lives forever recast by an offhand phrase, an act of will, or an unsought encounter. A girl battles with her eccentric neighbor still pining for the British Raj who prefers cats to daughters. A bride’s untimely death seems to deny a computer salesman his American Dream. A woman arriving in New York soon after 9/11 understands how history spills into the future. While readers will meet a wide array of characters, it is Nina with whom they will become most familiar as she appears throughout the collection: first, as a young wife brought to the US by her husband, Siddharth Vellodi; then as an older sister; and later, as a (divorced) mother whose daughter’s fateful rebellion remains the mysterious and incandescent center of the collection. In poetic and eloquent prose, Being Here provides a compelling and profound voice to lived experiences, and “delights with its humor, passion and pathos.”
Upamanyu Chatterjee’s Villainy is his seventh novel. A meticulously crafted literary thriller, this is a riveting story of crime and retribution, and a meditation on the randomness of evil, death, and redemption. Walkers in a Delhi neighborhood park come upon a body on a mid-winter morning—an unidentified body, unremarkable but for an extraordinary scar right between the eyes. A delinquent teenager—who prefers, to the rest of living, an Ecstasy pill with a beer, and the interior of an expensive car with a gun in his pocket—leaves home one evening for a joyride in his father’s Mercedes. In the nineteen years separating these episodes, five killings take place—and one near-fatal battery—none of which would have happened if a school bus hadn’t been in the wrong lane. Deals are struck between masters and servants, money changes hands, assurances are given and broken. The wheels of justice turn, forward, backwards and sideways, pause and turn again. Old alliances are tested and new ones are formed in prison cells, mortuaries and court rooms. And every life is a gamble, for no one is entirely innocent.
Aliya Ali-Afzal’s Would I Lie to You? is a novel about what happens when you have your dream life and are about to lose it . . . but only if you’re caught. At the school gates, Faiza fits in. It took a few years, but now the snobbish white mothers who mistook her for the nanny treat her as one of their own. She’s learned to crack their subtle codes, speak their language of fashion and vacations and haircuts. You’d never guess, seeing her at the trendy kids’ parties and the leisurely coffee mornings, that her childhood was spent being bullied and being embarrassed of her poor Pakistani immigrant parents. When her husband Tom loses his job in finance, he stays calm. Something will come along, and in the meantime, they can live off their savings. But Faiza starts to unravel. Creating the perfect life and raising the perfect family comes at a cost and the money Tom put aside has gone. Faiza will have to tell him she spent it all. Unless she doesn’t . . . It only takes a second to lie to Tom. Now Faiza has mere weeks to find $100,000. If anyone can do it, Faiza can. She’s had to fight for what she has, and she’ll fight to keep it. But as the clock ticks down and Faiza desperately tries to put things right, she has to ask herself: how much more should she sacrifice to live someone else’s idea of the dream life?
Buddhisagar’s Karnali Blues (tr. Michael Hutt) is the most widely read Nepali novel to have appeared in the last twenty years. As it recounts the evolution of a father-son relationship—a son’s search for approval, a father’s small acts of kindness and forgiveness, a son’s fears for his father’s dignity as his fortunes and faculties begin to fail—the reader is deeply drawn into young Brisha Bahadur’s world. His father is kind and idealistic; his mother, though she is kind too, is often frustrated and irascible. The characters in this book are some of the most carefully drawn and authentic in all of Nepali literature. In a backwater district of a country about to undergo radical social, political and cultural change, Brisha’s dreams, his games and his mischief, his loves, his hopes, and his fears come alive. Translated from the Nepali by Michael Hutt, this highly original piece of work, with the simplicity of its language and its emotional range, holds the power to take your breath away. Its principal themes-the love between a son and his father, the joys and sorrows of childhood, the daily struggle for survival-are universal, and will resonate with readers the world over.
R V Raman’s A Dire Isle is the second novel in a series. Harith Athreya is back, this time to face a centuries old-curse. An archeological team is excavating on the banks of the Betwa River near Jahnsi. A place where, legend has it, a couple forbidden to marry had run away to be together—forever cursing anyone who dares set foot on the island. When the head of the expedition defies the myth, the fallout is swift and deadly, the body found exactly as the ancient stories describe. Is the death a result of the ancient curse, or is it a down-to-earth case of murder? Detective Harith Athreya, an investigator with a vivid imagination, begins to uncover a mystery where the lines between past and present are blurred, reaping a harvest of evidence and motives—theft, plagiarism and a host of other crimes, showing that few of the archaeologists are what or who they appear to be. Will he be able to unravel the truth from legend before the curse strikes again?
Volga (Editor), Sridhar M. (Translator), Alladi Uma (Translator) present Telugu: The Best Stories of Our Times. Edited by Volga, this collection offers to readers a kaleidoscopic vision of the current literary landscape by bringing together the sharpest practitioners writing today. The stories highlight the numerous histories and identities that the writers have been celebrating or challenging in the last three decades. Appearing in English for the first time, these landmark stories form an exhilarating glimpse into contemporary Telugu literature.
SJ Sindu’s Dominant Genes, the new hybrid collection from Stonewall Honor author and Lambda Literary Award finalist SJ Sindu, is equal parts power and astonishing beauty, tenderness and shimmering anger, poetry and lyric essays interwoven in a gorgeous exploration of family, heritage, and the construction of nonbinary and queer identities. “We learn our anger through osmosis,” Sindu writes of the inherited rage of South Asian women, “or maybe it’s in the breast milk, spreading through our veins long before we learn how to look only at the floor and walk without showing our ankles.” There is hope in this collection, and the lead weight of expectation, and warm moments of empathy too. Thematically linked and stylistically nimble, Sindu’s pieces play with the fragmentary nature of memory and identity, her speakers traversing with intelligence and compassion the complexities of mental health, love, and pressurized relationships with the people closest to us—those who love us intensely, even when they understand us the least.
Mir Taqi Mir’s Ghazals: Translations of Classic Urdu Poetry (tr. by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi) is a comprehensive collection of Mir’s finest work, translated by a renowned expert on Urdu poetry. The prolific Mir Taqi Mir (1723-1810), widely regarded as the most accomplished poet in Urdu, composed his ghazals, a poetic form of rhyming couplets, in a distinctive Indian style arising from the Persian ghazal tradition. Here, the lover and beloved live in a world of extremes: the outsider is the hero, prosperity is poverty, and death would be preferable to the indifference of the beloved.
Edited by Jerry Pinto, A Book of New Beginnings: Some Words for Living is an anthology of meditations, consolations and inspirations from a range of voices through history: Rabi’ah, Rumi, Tukaram, Emily Dickinson, Tagore, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Muktabai, Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama, Alice Munro, Shailendra, and unsung, everyday people with an extraordinary gift for hope, compassion, courage and perseverance. Beginnings are all around us, although they are often disguised. The turning of the soil, the blossoming of the buds, a new friendship, a new day with an old familiar – these are all signs that life carries on, and that it may be good despite setbacks. In a world changed and darkened by the pandemic, A Book of New Beginnings reminds us of this eternal truth. Edited and introduced by one of India’s finest and most admired writers, and beautifully designed and produced, this is a timeless book to possess and to gift.
Naveen Kishore’s Knotted Grief is his first book of poems. With this collection, the renowned publisher Naveen Kishore shows us—without holding back, and yet with compassion—grief, deep and bewildering; cruelties, public and private. He lays bare the nature of our outer and inner realities, using striking symbolism to reveal what humans are capable of doing to each other. The early part of the collection, ‘Kashmiriyat’, is a visceral monument to shadows, widows and unlived lives, constructed with one hundred and five stanzas. In the ‘selected griefs’ that follow, the wounds are intimate, everyday, but the images remind us of the world’s brutalities—and what, then, is innocent? By depicting large-scale human tragedies and familiar habits and hurts within the same covers, the poet tests himself, and us.
Translated by Nabina Das and curated by Alam Khorshed, Arise Out of the Lock is an anthology of 50 Bangladeshi women poets translated from the Bangla into English. “So often South Asian poetry feels to me like a body with severed limbs, all inaccessible to each other. This anthology is both healing of that and a recognition; with the very force of its thought and its omnivorous cosmopolitanism, it will defy every stereotype you try to bring to it. A project like this would be essential for any translator to take up, but as a poet Nabina Das goes beyond the call and makes it sing.”— Vivek Narayanan (Author of Life and Times of Mr S & Professor of Creative Writing, George Mason University) “Deftly translated into an English with fittingly South Asian inflections, this timely anthology surprises and delights. Certain themes and imagery traditionally coded feminine, such as flowers and fabric, recur with surprising and thought-provoking variations in their treatment, while frequent references to characters from Islamic and Hindu mythology point to the lived experience of a shared cultural inheritance. Though demonstrating an impressive range, with poets based in Bangladesh and abroad, writing from the full 50 years since the country’s creation, this is clearly only a glimpse at a wealth of literature which, it is to be hoped, other publishers will now be inspired to seek out.”— Deborah Smith (Translator of The Vegetarian by Han Kang)
Kashiana Singh’s Woman by the Door is a collection of poems that crystallized over the last 9 years, starting to take shape when Kashiana moved from India to the US in 2013. These poems are born of necessity and travel in and out of that doorway into many spaces before and after that point in time. Serving as a problem-solving tool, poetry continually helps Kashiana focus and refocus towards a center of gravity. Coming together in this knitted collage are poems rooted in lived experiences and saturated with the poet’s varied sensibilities and influences. The poems flow through three sections: Aperture explores poems of memory and family, Portal opens the door to transition and growth, Detours holds our hand through loss and ache. The woman herself is an intersection, always kneeling by the door—coming, going, waiting, leaning in. Witnessing. Relentlessly she receives and offers lifetimes. Woman by the Door is ultimately preoccupied with paying tribute to that woman.
Indran Amirthanayagam’s Ten Thousand Steps Against the Tyrant encapsulates the full range of emotion surrounding the 2020 U.S. presidential election and subsequent insurrection, taking place against the backdrop of a deadly global pandemic, from terror and outrage to euphoria and hope for “Joe and Kamala,” as he refers to the newly elected president and vice president, this familiarity itself a desire for a return to decency and simple human dignity. There are poems here that treat of politics and lofty affairs of state, a world the poet has experienced as an international diplomat, and of living through pandemic; but for the heart of the collection, look to his tender poem for his mother, and his desire to keep her safe, to hold her forever—”Decline and death are prohibited.” This same love is extended to all mankind throughout these poems. They are a celebration, but also a warning of the fragility of our tenuous step back from the brink of tyranny.
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