***UPDATED ON TUESDAYS***
These are just some of the new and notable books by writers of South Asian origin for the month of July 2022.
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 published within South Asia although several are included below. Note: The descriptions are mostly from publisher-provided text.
Spanning the nineteenth century to the present day and the Indian subcontinent to the global diaspora, these works of nonfiction are about language, politics, history, culture, heritage, and more.
Govardhanram Tripathi’s Lilavati: A Life (tr. Tridip Suhrud) is an exemplar of Indian literature-the only and heart-rending biography of a daughter by her father. In a moment of rare passion Govardhanram Madhavram Tripathi, author of Sarasvatichandra, exclaimed ‘I only want their souls’. He was referring to the souls of his countrymen and women, which he sought to cultivate through his literary writings. Lilavati was his and Lalitagauri’s eldest daughter. Her education and the writing of Sarasvaticandra were intertwined. She was raised to be the perfect embodiment of virtue, and died at the age of twenty-one, consumed by tuberculosis. In moments of ‘lucidity’ , she spoke of her suffering and that challenged the very foundations of Govardhanram’s life. In 1905, he wrote her biography, Lilavati Jivankala. This is a rare work in biographical literature, a father writing about the life of a deceased daughter. Despite Govardhanram’s attempts to contain Lilavati as a unidimensional figure of his imagination, she goes beyond that, sometimes by questioning the fundamental tenets of Brahminical beliefs, and at others by being so utterly selfless as to be unreal even to him. Lilavati: A Life is a cross between literature in translation, social and political history, and women’s studies. Tridip Suhrud’s introduction dwells on the themes of the cultivation of selfhood, of nation and the ideal of sacrifice, which is sure to resonate with contemporary readership, especially women.
Rahul Sagar’s To Raise a Fallen People: The Nineteenth-Century Origins of Indian Views on International Politics brings to light pioneering writing on international politics from nineteenth-century India. Drawing on extensive archival research, it unearths essays, speeches, and pamphlets that address fundamental questions about India’s place in the world. In these texts, prominent public figures urge their compatriots to learn English and travel abroad to study, debate whether to boycott foreign goods, differ over British imperialism in Afghanistan and China, demand that foreign policy toward the Middle East and South Africa account for religious and ethnic bonds, and query whether to adopt Western values or champion their own civilizational ethos. Rahul Sagar’s detailed introduction contextualizes these documents and shows how they fostered competing visions of the role that India ought to play on the world stage. This landmark book is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the sources of Indian conduct in international politics.
Violent Phenomena: 21 Essays on Translation is a new anthology edited by Kavita Bhanot and Jeremy Tiang. Frantz Fanon wrote in 1961 that ‘Decolonization is always a violent phenomenon,’ meaning that the violence of colonialism can only be counteracted in kind. As colonial legacies linger today, what are the ways in which we can disentangle literary translation from its roots in imperial violence? Twenty-four writers and translators from across the world share their ideas and practices for disrupting and decolonizing translation. Contributors include Gitanjali Patel, Nariman Youssef, Kaiama L. Glover, Aaron Robertson, Khairani Barokka, Anton Hur, Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi, Eluned Gramich, Sofia Rehman, Layla Benitez-James, Mona Kareem, Lúcia Collischonn, Sawad Hussain, Yogesh Maitreya, Sandra Tamele, Hamid Roslan, Onaiza Drabu, Shushan Avagyan, Monchoachi (tr. Eric Fishman), Elisa Taber, M. NourbeSe Philip, Barbara Ofosu-Somuah, and Madhu Kaza.
What We Inherit: Growing Up Indian is an anthology out of Singapore, edited by Shailey Hingorani and Varsha Sivaram. It is a celebration of the slippages, strife and secret histories that make us—for better or worse—who we are. A woman faces off against a xenophobic stranger across a supermarket turnstile. A young girl mistakes her first period for strawberry yoghurt and endures an embarrassing puberty ceremony. At the funeral of her cruel and prejudiced dadhi, a granddaughter reflects on the confusions of grief and the trauma passed through family lines. A follow-up to the best-selling anthology Growing Up Perempuan (AWARE, 2018), What We Inherit tells the stories of Indian women (and a few men) in Singapore entirely in their own words. They question the expectations foisted upon them, discover new avenues into old traditions and carve out spaces for joy amid anger and sorrow. At a time when the bonds between us seem at constant risk of breaking, What We Inherit turns our attention towards community in all its complexities. It’s a reminder of how we honor, betray and ultimately bear witness to each other… and ourselves. Featuring contributions by: Akshita Nanda, Balli Kaur Jaswal, Constance Singam, Kelly Kaur, Mandakini Arora, Matilda Gabriel Pillai, Pooja Nansi, Prasanthi Ram, Ranjana Raghunathan, Sharul Channa, and more.
Akshaya Mukul’s Writer, Rebel, Soldier, Lover: The Many Lives of Agyeya is a biography about Sachchidanand Hirananda Vatsyayan or ‘Agyeya’, who is unarguably one of the most remarkable figures of Indian literature. From his revolutionary youth to acquiring the mantle of a (highly controversial) patron saint of Hindi literature, Agyeya’s turbulent life also tells a history of the Hindi literary world and of a new nation-spanning as it does two world wars, Independence and Partition, and the building and fraying of the Nehruvian state. The book is a journey into Agyeya’s public, private, and secret lives. Based on never-seen-before archival material—including a mammoth trove of private papers, documents of the CIA-funded Congress for Cultural Freedom and colonial records of his years in jail—the book delves deep into the life of the nonconformist poet-novelist. Mukul reveals Agyeya’s revolutionary life and bomb-making skills, his CIA connection, a secret lover, his intense relationship with a first cousin, the trajectory of his political positions, from following M.N. Roy to exploring issues dear to the Hindu right, and much more. Along the way, we get a rare peek into the factionalism and pettiness of the Hindi literary world of the twentieth century, and the wondrous and grand debates which characterized that milieu. Writer, Rebel, Soldier, Lover features a formidable cast of characters: from writers like Premchand, Phanishwarnath Renu, Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand, and Josephine Miles to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, revolutionary Chandra Shekhar Azad, and actor Balraj Sahni. And its landscapes stretch from British jails, an intellectually robust Allahabad and modern-day Delhi to monasteries in Europe, the homes of Agyeya’s friends in the Himalayas and universities in the US.
Akkai Padmashali’s A Small Step In A Long Journey is more than an autobiography or memoir. It is a powerful and passionate account of one woman’s battle to claim her identity and place in society. In A Small Step in a Long Journey, Akkai Padmashali, a trans rights activist and campaigner, thinker, writer, poet, and actor, throws out a challenge to society, demanding not sympathy or pity but acceptance, recognition, and respect. Brutally honest and self-critical, Akkai’s writing is a political act in which she lays bare the hurt, humiliation, confusion, insult, love, solidarity and joy that went into making her who she is today. Time and again Akkai asserts that her story is not just her story. What we call gender and sexuality, she says, ‘is a journey we all travel’, one that connects our personal and political lives, and one that helps us to face difficult, disturbing questions about prejudice and privilege.
Ira Mathur’s Love the Dark Days centers on a privileged but dysfunctional Indian family, with themes of empire, migration, race, and gender. Set in India, England, Trinidad, and St Lucia, Love the Dark Days follows the story of a girl, Poppet, born of mixed Hindu-Muslim parentage in post-independence India. When she lives with her grandmother, member of an elite Muslim family, whose history is one of having colluded with the brutality of the British rule in India, Poppet unconsciously imbibes her grandmother’s prejudices of class and race. As the darker child in her family, this makes her feel that she does not belong, leading to an over-anxiety to please the adults around her. That feeling of unbelonging is repeated when her family migrates to multicultural Trinidad, made up of people from many continents, where she encounters Indian people, several generations away from India, who have a very different sense of themselves, who appear critical of what they perceive as her airs and graces. She begins writing about her experiences as a way of trying to make sense of them. In her darkest hour, she meets Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, who encourages her, when she visits him in St Lucia over a weekend, to leave the past behind and reinvent herself. All this takes place in a society suffering a crisis of order: an attempted coup by Muslim extremists and a rising crime rate with reported incidents of spectacular brutality. Can she, through her writing, examine each broken shard of her shattered family relations and reassemble it into a new shape in a new world? Can she make sense of herself in relation both to her own family and the Trinidadian family she marries into, and grow enough to achieve the courage it takes simply to be human?
Khwaja Hasan Nizami’s Tears of the Begums: Stories of Survivors of the Uprising of 1857 (tr. Rana Safvi) is the first ever English translation of Nizami’s invaluable Urdu book Begumat ke Aansoo and chronicles the turning of the wheel of fortune in the aftermath of India’s first war of independence. Apart from the fifteen years that Sher Shah Suri snatched upon defeating Humayun, the flag of the grand Mughal Empire flew over Delhi undefeated for over 300 years. But then, 1857 arrived and the mighty sword fell helpless in the face of a mightier British force. After the fall of Delhi and Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar’s tragic departure from the Red Fort in 1857, members of the royal Mughal court had to flee to safer places. Driven out from their palaces and palanquins onto the streets in search of food and shelter, the dethroned royals scrambled to survive. Some bore their fate with a bitter pride, others succumbed to the adversity. Through twenty-nine accounts of the survivors of the Uprising of 1857, Khwaja Hasan Nizami documents the devastating tale of the erstwhile glorious royalty’s struggle with the hardships thrust upon them by a ruthless new enemy. In vivid and tragic stories drawn from the recollection of true events, Nizami paints a picture of a crumbling historical era and another charging forward to take its place.
B. M. Zuhara’s The Dreams of a Mappila Girl: A Memoir (tr. by Fehmida Zakeer) is a narrative about a traditional Muslim family in Kerala. As a young Muslim girl growing up in the 1950s in a small South Indian village, B. M. Zuhara had simple dreams—to go to the newly opened ‘talkies’ in town and watch a movie, play with her brothers in the rice fields, learn the ancient martial art of Kalari Payatu with them, stand on the bridge and listen to the songs sung by the farmhands as they worked. But she soon realized that even being the pampered, youngest child of her family would not help her in realizing some of her dreams because of her gender. Set at the time when Independent India was embracing its new identity as a free nation, this book provides a wide lens for the reader to view life in a semi-rural Kerala village. Zuhara recounts the social mores of the society she lived in and offers glimpses into the secluded lives of Muslim girls and women who, despite obstacles, made the best of their circumstances and contributed positively to their communities.
Simran Jeet Singh’s The Light We Give: How Sikh Wisdom Can Transform Your Life is an inspiring approach to a happier, more fulfilling life through Sikh teachings on love and service. As a boy growing up in South Texas, Simran Jeet Singh and his brothers confronted racism daily: at school, in their neighborhood, playing sports, and later in college and beyond. Despite the prejudice and hate he faced, this self-described “turban-wearing, brown-skinned, beard-loving Sikh” refused to give in to negativity. Instead, Singh delved deep into the Sikh teachings that he grew up with and embraced the lessons to seek the good in every person and situation and to find positive ways to direct his energy. These Sikh tenets of love and service to others have empowered him to forge a life of connection and a commitment to justice that have made him a national figure in the areas of equity, inclusion, and social justice. The Light We Give lays out how we can learn to integrate ethical living to achieve personal happiness and a happier life. It speaks to those who are inspired to take on positive change but don’t know where to begin. To those who crave the chance to be empathetic but are afraid of looking vulnerable. To those who seek the courage to confront hatred with love and compassion. Singh reaches beyond his comfort zone to practice this deeper form of living and explores how everyone can learn the insights and skills that have kept him engaged and led him to commit to activism without becoming consumed by anger, self-pity, or burnout. Part memoir, part spiritual journey, The Light We Give is a transformative book of hope that shows how each of us can turn away from fear and uncertainty and move toward renewal and positive change.
Between Heaven and Earth: Writings on the Indian Hills, edited by Ruskin Bond and Bulbul Sharma is an anthology with over forty writers—from a daughter of the Tagore family and a British colonial officer in the 19th century, to a young poet and an Adivasi daily-wage worker in the 21st century. They show us the many reasons that we’re drawn to these hills again and again: green hillsides glowing in the sun; the scent of pine and mist; the wind soughing in the deodars; the song of the whistling thrush; a ritual of worship; a picnic, a party, an illicit affair. They show us, too, the complex histories of hill stations built for the Raj and reshaped in free India; the hardship and squalor behind the beauty; the mixed blessings of progress. Rich in deep experience and lyrical expression, and containing some stunning images of the hills, Between Heaven and Earth is a glorious collection put together by two of India’s finest writers, both with a lifelong connection with the hills. Among the writers you will read in it—who write on the hills in almost every region of India—are Rumer Godden, Rabindranath and Abanindranath Tagore, Emily Eden, Francis Younghusband, Jim Corbett, Jawaharlal Nehru, Khushwant Singh, Keki Daruwalla, and, of course, the two editors themselves. Together, they make this a book that you will keep returning to for years to come.
Those age-old tussles between the east and the west, religion and identity, repression and resistance, capitalism and creativity, fantasy and reality—this month’s novels and story collections have all of them and then some more.
Akhil Sharma’s An Obedient Father is a revised version of Sharma’s first novel and features a new foreword by the author. Set in Delhi in the 1990s, it tells the story of an inept bureaucrat enmired in corruption, and of the daughter who alone knows the true depth of his crimes. Decried in India for its frank treatment of child abuse, the novel was widely praised elsewhere for its compassion, and for a plot that mingled the domestic with the political, tragedy with farce. Yet, as Akhil Sharma writes in his foreword to this new edition, he was haunted by what he considered shortcomings within the book: almost twenty years later, he returned to face them.
Anuradha Roy’s The Earthspinner is about the struggle for creative achievement in a world consumed by growing fanaticism and political upheaval. One night, Elango has a dream that consumes him, driving him to give it shape. The potter is determined to create a terracotta horse whose beauty will be reason enough for its existence. Yet he cannot pin down from where it has galloped into his mind. The Mahabharata? The Trojan horse legend? His anonymous potter-ancestors? Once it’s finished, he does not know where his creation will belong. In a temple compound? Gracing a hotel lobby? Or should he gift it to Zohra, the woman he loves, yet despairs of ever marrying. The astral, indefinable force driving Elango toward forbidden love and creation has unleashed other currents. He unexpectedly falls into a complicated relationship with a neighborhood girl who is beginning her bewildering journey into adulthood. He is suddenly adopted by a lost dog who steals his heart. While Elango’s life is changing, the community around him is as well, but it is a transformation driven by inflammatory passions of a different kind. Here, people, animals, and even the gods live on a knife’s edge and the consequences of daring to dream are cataclysmic. Moving between India and England, The Earthspinner reflects the many ways in which the East and the West’s paths converge and diverge in constant conflict.
Sam Selvon’s Those Who Eat the Cascadura is his latest Trinidad novel. The village obeahman Manko foresees trouble when an Englishman Garry Johnson comes to stay in the cacao estate of his friend Roger Franklin in Trinidad. Before long, his prophecy is fulfilled when the visitor falls in love with the lovely Indian, Sarojini. What had been a carefree atmosphere quickly evaporates, replaced with a tension-filled air of jealousies, rivalries, and intrigues as three races interact in post-independence Trinidad.
Taymour Soomro’s Other Names for Love is a charged, hypnotic debut novel about a boy’s life-changing summer in rural Pakistan: a story of fathers, sons, and the consequences of desire. At age sixteen, Fahad hopes to spend the summer with his mother in London. His father, Rafik, has other plans: hauling his son to Abad, the family’s feudal estate in upcountry, Pakistan. Rafik wants to toughen up his sensitive boy, to teach him about power, duty, family—to make him a man. He enlists Ali, a local teenager, in this project, hoping his presence will prove instructive. Instead, over the course of one hot, indolent season, attraction blooms between the two boys, and Fahad finds himself seduced by the wildness of the land and its inhabitants: the people, who revere and revile his father in turn; cousin Mousey, who lives alone with a man he calls his manager; and most of all, Ali, who threatens to unearth all that is hidden. Decades later, Fahad is living abroad when he receives a call from his mother summoning him home. His return will force him to face the past. Taymour Soomro’s Other Names for Love is a tale of masculinity, inheritance, and desire set against the backdrop of a country’s troubled history.
Ali Rohila’s The Whispering Chinar is a debut collection of interlinked stories. In Charbagh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, a short detour from the Grand Trunk Road that leads towards Afghanistan, stands a chinar tree in the garden of Khan Mohammad Usman Khan. Legend has it that it was planted by a saint known to the grandfather of the Khan, who had told him that the family would prosper till this tree survived. The tree has stood for generations, a silent witness to the many stories of Charbagh, its grounds held sacred until the day a bullet fired by the oldest son of the Khan hit one of its branches. Rohila recounts the stories as seen by the chinar tree. In Charbagh, a village where modernity slowly creeps in, there are tales of unrequited love, of family honor and religious persecution, of patriarchy and breaking its shackles, and of what it means to belong to Charbagh in tumultuous times. Here, Fahad Khan falls in love with Saad Bibi, but it is a dangerous affair that threatens to uproot social norms. An imam competes with another for devotees, and an air-crash survivor-turned-teacher is charged with the crime of blasphemy. In Charbagh, Nazo learns why she has been sent away from her family, and Ali finds out how far friendship and trust can go. A banker struggles to make sense of his misfortunes, while Farid Khan must acquaint himself with a woman’s rejection. Beginning from the 1970s, when the Indus was dammed near Charbagh, these stories chronicle a time and a place of belonging, of nostalgia, and of relationships and friendships.
Mithu Sanyal’s Identitti is a darkly comedic tour de force that showcases the outsized power of social media in the current debates about identity politics and the power of claiming your own voice. Nivedita (a.k.a. Identitti), a well-known blogger and doctoral student is in awe of her supervisor—superstar postcolonial and race studies South-Asian professor Saraswati. But her life and sense of self are turned upside down when it emerges that Saraswati is actually white. Nivedita’s praise of her professor during a radio interview just hours before the news breaks—and before she learns the truth—calls into question her own reputation as a young activist. Following the uproar, Nivedita is forced to reflect on the key moments in her life, when she doubted her identity and her place in the world. As debates on the scandal rage on social media, blogs, and among her closest friends, Nivedita’s assumptions are called into question as she reconsiders the lessons she learned from her adored professor. In her thought-provoking, genre-bending debut, Mithu Sanyal solicited the contributions and commentary of public intellectuals as if Saraswati were a real person.
Nilopar Uddin’s The Halfways is a debut novel about two sisters, Nasrin and Sabrina, who on the face of things live successful and enviable lives in London and New York. When their father, Shamsur suddenly dies, they rush to be with their mother at the family home and restaurant in Wales, but reluctantly step back into the stifling world of their childhood. When Shamsur’s will is read, a devastating secret is revealed that challenges all that people thought and loved about him. It also profoundly changes the lives and identities of the sisters, and creates an irreparable family rift. Moving between London, Wales, New York and Bangladesh, this is an epic family drama that spans over four decades. A story of mothers and daughters, of fathers and daughters, of sisterhood, it is a tale that explores belonging, family and what makes forgiveness and redemption possible.
Zain Khalid’s Brother Alive is a debut novel about family, sexuality, and capitalist systems of control, following three adopted brothers who live above a mosque in Staten Island with their imam father. In 1990, three boys are born, unrelated but intertwined by circumstance: Dayo, Iseul, and Youssef. They are adopted as infants and share a bedroom perched atop a mosque in one of Staten Island’s most diverse and underserved neighborhoods. The three boys are an inseparable trio, but conspicuous: Dayo is of Nigerian origin, Iseul is Korean, and Youssef indeterminately Middle Eastern. Youssef shares everything with his brothers, except for one secret: he sees a hallucinatory double, an imaginary friend who seems absolutely real, a shapeshifting familiar he calls Brother. Brother persists as a companion into Youssef’s adult life, supporting him but also stealing his memories and shaking his grip on the world. The boys’ adoptive father, Imam Salim, is known in the community for his stirring and radical sermons, but at home he often keeps himself to himself, spending his evenings in his study with whiskey-laced coffee, reading poetry or writing letters to his former compatriots back in Saudi Arabia. Like Youssef, he too has secrets, including the cause of his failing health and the truth about what happened to the boys’ parents. When, years later, Imam Salim’s path takes him back to Saudi Arabia, the boys, now adults, will be forced to follow. There they will be captivated by an opulent, almost futuristic world, a linear city that seems to offer a more sustainable modernity than that of the West. But this conversion has come at a great cost, and Youssef and Brother too will have to decide if they should change to survive, or try to mount a defense of their deeply-held beliefs.
Dhumketu’s The Shehnai Virtuoso and Other Stories (tr. Jenny Bhatt) brings together the first substantial collection of Dhumketu’s work to be available in English. A legend of Gujarati literature, Dhumketu (1892-1965) revolutionized the Gujarati short story in India. Characterized by a fine sensitivity, deep humanism, perceptive observation, and an intimate knowledge of both rural and urban life, his fiction has provided entertainment and edification to generations of Gujarati readers and speakers. Beautifully translated for a wide new audience by Jenny Bhatt, these much-loved stories—like the finest literature—remain remarkable and relevant even today.
Sheela Tomy’s Valli (tr. Jayasree Kalathil) is set high in the Western Ghats in northern Kerala, a land of mist and mystery, of forests and folklore, rich with the culture of its indigenous people, the Adivasis. Its old name was Bayalnad—land of the paddy fields—but it would come to be known as Wayanad. Its resources attracted outsiders—traders, colonialists, migrants from the lowlands, and eventually, the timber and tourist industries. Exploitation of the forest led to the exploitation and enslavement of its people, and as the forest dwindled, so did the Adivasis’ culture, their way of life, even their language. But these were not changes quietly and willingly accepted; Wayanad became a key center of direct action and uprising, and a stronghold for the Naxalite movement. Spanning the time between the 1970s and the present, Valli is a tale of four generations who made this land their home. It is told through a diary that Susan—the daughter of two teachers, Thommichan and Sara, who eloped to Wayanad so that they could live together—leaves for her own daughter, Tessa. And in telling their story, Valli tells us stories of the land and its people, of interdependence and abuse, repression and resistance, despair and contentment—stories as vast and magical as the forest itself once was.
Navtej Sarna’s Crimson Spring is about the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. On 13 April 1919, about twenty-five thousand unarmed Indians had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, an open area enclosed by the high walls of flat-roofed houses in a densely populated part of the city. Many in the crowd was listening to speakers denouncing the iniquities of the Rowlatt Act, which had recently been imposed on the country by the British, while others, including several children, were simply there to rest, relax, and catch up with friends. A little after five in the evening, a detachment of soldiers, led by Brigadier General R. E. H. Dyer, entered the Bagh. Without warning the crowd to disperse, Dyer ordered his troops to open fire. At least 1,650 rounds were fired. Several hundred died and several hundred more were injured. The massacre was universally condemned by all Indians and even shocked many Britons, who thought it one of the worst outrages in all of British history. Sarna brings the horror of the atrocity to life through the eyes of nine characters—Indians and Britons, ordinary people and powerful officials, the innocent and the guilty, whose lives are changed forever by the events of that fateful day. Set against the epic backdrop of India’s freedom struggle, World War I, and the Ghadar movement, Crimson Spring is not just a powerful, unsettling look at a barbarous act, but also a wider meditation on the costs of colonialism and the sacrifices and heroism of ordinary men and women at a time of great cruelty and injustice.
Richa S. Mukherjee’s The Curse of Kuldhara takes us back to the charming and colorful lanes of Gwaltoli to revisit Prachand Tripathi, our favorite desi detective and owner of Kanpur Khoofiya Pvt Ltd. While he has progressed from locating lost pets and garments to problems of gravitas, their moderate fame doesn’t impress wife and CFO Vidya Tripathi who still complains about wasted potential and the tepid life they lead. As if on cue, an unusual but promising proposal comes their way, one they simply cannot refuse. It’s an invitation to oversee a film shoot based on their lives, whisking them away to the resplendent deserts of Rajasthan. What follows is an unbelievable and spine-chilling adventure that will drag them through a morass of inexplicable events, dangerous secrets and a cursed, abandoned village that wreaks havoc on the living and dead alike.
Arjun Raj Gaind’s The Anatomy of Loss is set in Punjab in 1984. Separatists fight for a free Khalistan, clashing violently with the police. Eight-year-old Himmat is visiting his grandparents in Amritsar when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated. As riots against Sikhs engulf the nation, devastating Himmat’s family in their wake, an unforgivable act of cowardice leaves the boy permanently estranged from his grandfather. Thirty years later, Himmat lives in London still grappling with the memory of the events he witnessed in Amritsar as a boy. Unable to sustain any lasting relationships, he drowns his regrets in alcoholism. When his grandfather’s illness forces Himmat to return to India, he finally begins a journey towards redemption. Based on real events, The Anatomy of Loss is a deeply personal narrative chronicling the impact of Operation Blue Star and the assassination of Indira Gandhi on contemporary Punjab and the Sikh diaspora.
Anees Salim’s The Bellboy is about a young boy, Latif, whose life changes when he is appointed bellboy at the Paradise Lodge, a hotel where people come to die. After his father’s death, drowned in the waters surrounding their small Island, it is the seventeen-year-old Latif’s turn to become the man of the house and provide for his ailing mother and sisters. Despite discovering a dead body on his first day of duty, Latif finds entertainment spying on guests and regaling the hotel’s janitor, Stella, with made-up stories. However, when Latif finds the corpse of a small-time actor in Room 555 and becomes a mute-witness to a crime that happens there, the course of Latif’s life is irretrievably altered. The Bellboy is as much a commentary on how society treats and victimizes the intellectually vulnerable as it is about the quiet resentment brewing against religious minorities in India today. With a mix of wry humor and heart-wrenching poignancy, the book narrates a young boy’s coming-of-age on a small island, and his innocence that persists even in the face of adversity and inevitable tragedy.
Nev March’s Peril at the Exposition is the latest mystery in the Jim Agnihotri series. Newlyweds Captain Jim Agnihotri and Diana Framji are settling into their new home in Boston, Massachusetts, having fled the strict social rules of British Bombay. It’s a different life than what they left behind, but theirs is no ordinary marriage: Jim, now a detective at the Dupree Agency, is teaching Diana the art of deduction he’s learned from his idol, Sherlock Holmes. Everyone is talking about the preparations for the World’s Fair in Chicago: the grandeur, the speculation, the trickery. Captain Jim will experience it first-hand: he’s being sent to Chicago to investigate the murder of a man named Thomas Grewe. As Jim probes the underbelly of Chicago’s docks, warehouses, and taverns, he discovers deep social unrest and some deadly ambitions. When Jim goes missing, young Diana must venture to Chicago’s treacherous streets to learn what happened. But who can she trust, when a single misstep could mean disaster?
Shameem Patel Papathanasiou’s The Last Feather is a threat-and-danger, hidden-world fantasy novel. Twenty-two-year-old Cassia’s sister is dying, and she doesn’t know why. Cassia wakes up in another realm to find her missing best friend, Lucas, who knows how to save her sister. Lucas is part of a community of Reborns, people who were born on earth and after death, were reborn in this realm with magical abilities. The original beings of the realm, the Firsts, rule over them. To keep the Reborn numbers manageable, the king of the Firsts releases a curse to cull them. Cassia needs to break the curse before her time runs out and she is trapped there forever.
Future Library: Contemporary Indian Writing, edited by Anjum Hasan and Sampurna Chattarji, is an anthology that brings together one hundred contemporary Indian poets and fiction writers working in English as well as translating from other Indian languages. Located anywhere from Michigan to Mumbai, the sources of their creativity range from the ancient epics to twentieth-century world literature, with themes suggesting a modernist individuality and sense of displacement as well as an ironic, postmodern embracing of multiple disjunctions. The editors present a historical background to the various Englishes apparent in this collection, while also identifying the shared traditions and contexts that hold together their uniquely diverse selection. In aiming at coherence rather than unity, Hasan and Chattarji reveal that the idea of Indianness is as much a means of exploring difference as finding common ground.
Nadir Ali’s Hero and Other Stories (tr. by Amna Ali and Moazzam Sheikh) is a collection of the first ever translations of short stories by the noted writer of Punjabi Nadir Ali, rendered into modern English by a San Francisco based team of librarians, Amna Ali and Moazzam Sheikh. Fourteen short stories chosen by the translators from Nadir’s Ali three collections deal with his primary concerns: the partition of India, human desire for beauty and longing for intimacy, man’s moral decline due to industrialization and modernity’s corroding effect on nature, human relationships and values.
Aruna Chakravarti’s The Mendicant Prince is a fictional retelling of the Bhawal sanyasi case. In the winter of 1909, Ramendranarayan Roy, the ailing second prince of the Bhawal zamindari, proceeds to Darjeeling with his wife Bibhavati, brother-in-law Satyendranath and a retinue of officials and servants, after being advised a change of air by his physicians. Three weeks later, a telegram from Satyendranath arrives at the Bhawal estate, carrying news of the prince’s demise and subsequent cremation. Soon peculiar rumors start circulating around Bhawal and the surrounding town. Some say that the prince was poisoned, while others suspect that his body was taken to the burning ghat but not actually cremated. There are also whispers about an incestuous relationship between Bibhavati and her brother. The story takes a bewildering turn when, twelve years later, a mendicant comes to Bhawal, claiming to be the long-lost prince and the heir to the estate. With no resolution in sight, matters reach the court, where the so-called prince and some family members face off against Bibhavati and her brother, aided by the British Court of Wards who are keen on maintaining ownership of the zamindari. The breathless legal drama that ensues will culminate in an incredible series of events, permanently altering the course of the estate’s history. Inspired by the legendary Bhawal sannyasi case and evocative in its recreation of pre-Partition Bengal, The Mendicant Prince is an intriguing tale of dual identity and the inexplicable quirks of fate.
We’ll be adding more poetry through the month. If you know of a desi poet with a collection out, please let us know here.
Vivek Narayanan’s After is a vibrant collection of poems, each of which acts as a persuasive encounter between English poetry and Indian myth. It is inspired by Valmiki’s Ramayana, one of Asia’s foundational epic poems and a story cycle of incalculable historical importance. But After does not just come after the Ramayana. On each successive page, Vivek Narayanan brings the resources of contemporary English poetry to bear on the Sanskrit epic. In a work that warrants comparison with Christopher Logue’s and Alice Oswald’s reshapings of Homer, and Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, Narayanan allows the ancient voice of the poem to engage with modern experience, initiating a transformative conversation across time.
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