***UPDATED ON TUESDAYS***
These are just some of the new and notable books by writers of South Asian origin for the month of June 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.
From the colonial era to the Partition to postcolonial reckonings, this month’s nonfiction books cover perennial themes in striking, new ways. With scholarly studies, heartfelt memoirs, and historical accounts, there’s something for everyone.
Editors Amrita Ghosh and Elizabeth Brewer Redwine give us Tagore and Yeats: A Postcolonial Re-Envisioning, a comparative exploration of two iconic Nobel Prize winning writers, W.B. Yeats and Rabindranath Tagore, focusing on the theme of postcolonial translation, politics of friendship, decolonializing art and Irish-Indian nationalism through poetry and literature. The Yeats-Tagore friendship and the eventual curious fallout between the two remain a mystery. The focus of this volume is a postcolonial reading of the two writers’ friendship, the critical reception of Tagore in 1912 England, and Tagore’s erasure from Western literary discourse. The essays in this volume take a decolonial turn to critically analyze the two writers in the discourse of power that is a part of their larger story.
Tushar Gandhi’s The Lost Diary of Kastur, My Ba is a reproduction of a deteriorating and damaged diary found a couple of years ago at the Kasturba Ashram, Indore by the staff of Gandhi Research Foundation of Jalgaon. This 135-page diary was written by Kasturba Gandhi from January to September 1933. Somewhat like Kasturba, her diary lay forgotten and neglected. This book is a reproduction of the diary, accompanied by a transcription of what she has written in Gujarati, along with an English translation by her great-grandson, Tushar Gandhi. All her life, Kasturba was considered uneducated and unlettered. Initially, when Tushar Gandhi spoke about the diary to family members, they refused to believe that there could be such a thing: ‘She was illiterate. She could not write.’ As Tushar read Kasturba’s diary, this assumption was dispelled. It provided a glimpse into who she was—an individual, a companion and a satyagrahi in her own right, unlettered but astute. In The Lost Diary of Kastur, My Ba, the reader gets to hear from Kasturba, in her own words, for the first time. Through day-to-day activities, it provides a peek into what it was like to be married to the ‘Mahatma’. Here was a woman who was witnessing history being made, observing and understanding the process and participating in it, too. It also tells of her two imprisonments that year, not because she was Bapu’s spouse but because she was offering satyagraha herself. A century and a half after her birth, this book finally presents Kasturba as her own person, a woman of substance.
Sister Lucy Kalapura’s In the Name of the Lord : A Nun’s Tell-All (tr. Nandakumar K.) was a bestseller in Malayalam when it was first published in 2019 as Karthavinte Namathil, In the Name of the Lord is a harrowing account of Sister Lucy Kalapura’s life as a nun and her spirited fight for justice. Cast out for writing a poem, for owning a car, for talking about the sexual harassment that nuns face in the Church, Sr Lucy reveals what it was like for her to join a nunnery hoping to lead a life of faith and service but to instead be confronted with unexpected and bone-chilling realities. She presents an unsettling narrative about nuns who have no choice but to surrender to the lechery of their male counterparts, as well as about issues such as corruption within the Church, the distorted faces of authority, the partisanship of the state, and the much-talked-about recent sexual assault case involving the Bishop of Jalandhar. At a time when women continue to hesitate to report the sexual misconduct they face at home, at their workplaces and in society, this no-holds-barred memoir of a nun who has taken on the all-powerful Catholic Church by herself will inspire many to speak up for themselves as well as to think about how India treats its women.
Raghu Palat’s Destiny’s Child: The Undefeatable Reign of Cochin’s Parukutty Neithyaramma is an intimate account of the extraordinary life of Parukutty Nethyaramma, who went on to become one of the most powerful rulers of the Kingdom of Cochin. At the tender age of fourteen, her marriage thrust her into a hostile world. Taking on her detractors, Parukutty stubbornly and fearlessly forged ahead to become a voice none could gainsay. Despite a seventeen-year age gap, she had built a special, unshakable bond with her husband. When he was crowned the sovereign ruler of Cochin, she vowed to support and protect his position throughout her life. Theirs was an enviable partnership of two incredible equals who together went on to break many traditional norms. At a time when women were relegated to the shadows, Parukutty travelled with her husband, participated in important discussions, and even went on to rule as his proxy. She became a force to be reckoned with in her own right. Unafraid to break norms, she often floated radical reforms that, though lauded by the citizens, riled the conservative and powerful elite. Parukutty deployed her sharp wit, acumen, and diplomacy to stand up to a host of adversaries and naysayers, including the British, who choreographed intricate maneuvers to overthrow the royal family. Narrated by Parukutty’s own great-grandson and his wife, Raghu and Pushpa Palat, this deeply personal chronicle paints a vivid picture of a woefully understated icon from the twentieth century.
Sudhir Venkatesh’s The Tomorrow Game: Rival Teenagers, Their Race for a Gun, and a Community United to Save Them is a gripping account of a Chicago community coming together to save a group of teenagers from gun violence. In the tradition of works like Random Family and Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Sudhir Venkatesh’s The Tomorrow Game is a deeply reported chronicle of families surviving in a Southside Chicago community. At the heart of the story are two teenagers: Marshal Mariot, an introverted video gamer and bike rider, and Frankie Paul, who leaves foster care to direct his cousin’s drug business while he’s in prison. Frankie devises a plan to attack Marshall and his friends—it is his best chance to showcase his toughness and win respect for his crew. Catching wind of the plan, Marshall and his friends decide they must preemptively go after Frankie’s crew to defend their honor. The pressure mounts as both groups of teens race to find a gun and strike first. All the while, the community at large–a cast that includes the teens’ families, black market gun dealers, local pastors, a bodega owner and a veteran beat cop–try their best to defuse the conflict and keep the kids alive. Based on Venkatesh’s three decades of immersion in Chicago’s Southside, and as propulsive as a novel, The Tomorrow Game is a nuanced, timely look at the toll that poverty and gun violence take on families and their communities.
Tania Roy’s Adorno and the Architects of Late Style in India: Aesthetic Form after the Twentieth-century Novel examines works by Rabindranath Tagore, Mulk Raj Anand, Vikram Seth and the photography of Dayanita Singh to consider the delayed claims of literary and artistic modernity in India through Adorno’s category of late-style. In striking readings of Adorno and his interlocuters, the book extends a poetics of lateness toward a speculative history of the twentieth-century novel in India. Comprised of critically neglected selections from the oeuvres of canonical writers, Adorno and the Architects of Late Style in India proposes that under conditions of advanced capitalism, logics of redundancy overtake the novel’s foundational reference point in the nation to produce altered frames of thought and sensibility—and therein, a reader who might encounter, anew, the figures of an unfulfilled twentieth century.
Laila Woozeer’s Not Quite White is a memoir that unpacks and examines the unique experience of growing up mixed race in the UK, where ‘mixed’ is the fastest growing census category and yet mixed race people find themselves outside of the broader conversation about race and representation. What is it like learning from a mother who is privy to a completely different type of privilege than you? When was the first time you realized your boyfriend was dating you to satisfy some weird fetish? How demoralizing was it to find out that Princess Jasmine, your sole claim to Disney royalty, was based on a white model? Part autobiography and part critical commentary, join Laila Woozeer as she blends together stories from her own life, looking specifically at the impact pop culture and media representation has on non-white people and the way they understand themselves, charting a narrative about being mixed race that stems from the 90s until the present day. Her book examines the multi-racial experience: the personal, emotional and psychological impact of being mixed, without being reduced to two separate representations of a person. Laila shares with you the cruelest and funniest moments of her life for your delectation. The book is routed in her own specific journey and introduces concepts as she chronologically learned of them. She incorporates child psychology, academic texts, and race theory without losing the personal connection, using anecdotes and experience to truly get to the core of the issues explored.
Fariha Róisín’s Who Is Wellness For? explores the commodification and appropriation of wellness through the lens of social justice, providing resources to help anyone participate in self-care, regardless of race, identity, socioeconomic status or able-bodiedness. Growing up in Australia, Fariha Róisín, a Bangladeshi Muslim, struggled to fit in. In attempts to assimilate, she distanced herself from her South Asian heritage and identity. Years later, living in the United States, she realized that the customs, practices, and even food of her native culture that had once made her different, everything from ashwagandha to prayer, were now being homogenized and marketed for good health, often at a premium by white people to white people. This thought-provoking book, part memoir and part journalistic investigation, explores the way in which the progressive health industry has appropriated and commodified global healing traditions. She reveals how wellness culture has become a luxury good built on the wisdom of Black, brown, and Indigenous people while ignoring and excluding them. Deeply intimate and revelatory, Who Is Wellness For? forces us to confront the imbalance in health and healing and carves a path towards self-care that is inclusionary for all.
Farah Ahamed’s Period Matters: Menstruation in South Asia is an anthology about the diverse experiences of menstruation in South Asia. Menstruation, despite being a healthy and fundamental bodily process, is often buried in fear and shame and its discussion is even taboo in many societies. But a worldwide effort to bring conversations about menstruation and menstrual health into the open is now firmly underway. Period Matters carries this important endeavor forward by bringing together a breadth of perspectives from well-known figures as well as those whose voices are missing from the mainstream. Essays, artwork, stories, and poems from policymakers, entrepreneurs, artists, academics, activists, as well as interviews with those at the margins, such as the homeless and those living with disabilities, explore myriad aspects of how menstruation is experienced in South Asia. While activist Granaz Baloch narrates how she defied traditional notions of tribal honor and conducted the first-ever menstrual health workshop in Balochistan, Radha Paudel writes about her mission to have menstrual dignity acknowledged as a human right in Nepal. Shashi Tharoor relays his radical Menstrual Rights Bill which was tabled in the Lok Sabha in the Indian parliament. We hear from Erum about the challenges of getting one’s period when incarcerated, as Farzana and Chandan relate how mimicking the rituals of menstruation helps them feel more feminine as transwomen. Tishani Doshi breaks new ground with a poem about her uterus. Ayra Indrias Patras describes how some poor women in Pakistan managed their period during the Covid-19 pandemic. Aditi Gupta reflects on promoting menstrual literacy among young children across India through the Menstrupedia comic books. In a personal essay, Lisa Ray reveals how her illness triggered an early onset of menopause. The book also showcases menstrala, or art inspired by menstruation, ranging from Rupi Kaur’s iconic photo essay, Anish Kapoor’s oil paintings, Shahzia Sikander’s neo-miniaturist art, photographs of wall murals made by young people in Jharkhand, to Sarah Naqvi’s embroidery. Amna Mawaz Khan offers a perspective through the choreography of her menstrual dance. A collection of breathtaking scope and significance, Period Matters illustrates with power, purpose, and creativity both the variances and commonalities of menstruation.
Nationalist coups, military occupations, post-pandemic dystopias, immigrant lives, and, yes, the colonial era and the Partition. While some are written in inventive styles and some are newly translated from other Indian languages, these books merge the political and the personal and showcase both classic and contemporary storytellers.
Nishant Batsha’s Mother Ocean Father Nation follows a brother and sister whose paths diverge—one forced to leave, one left behind—in the wake of a nationalist coup in the South Pacific. On a small Pacific island, a brother and sister tune in to a breaking news radio bulletin. It is 1985, and an Indian grocer has just been attacked by nativists aligned with the recent military coup. Now, fear and shock are rippling through the island’s deeply-rooted Indian community as racial tensions rise to the brink. Bhumi hears this news from her locked-down dorm room in the capital city. She is the ambitious, intellectual standout of the family—the one destined for success. But when her friendship with the daughter of a prominent government official becomes a liability, she must flee her unstable home for California. Jaipal feels like the unnoticed, unremarkable sibling, always left to fend for himself. He is stuck working in the family store, avoiding their father’s wrath, with nothing but his hidden desires to distract him. Desperate for money and connection, he seizes a sudden opportunity to take his life into his own hands for the first time. But his decision may leave him vulnerable to the island’s escalating volatility. Spanning from the lush terrain of the South Pacific to the golden hills of San Francisco, Mother Ocean Father Nation is an entrancing debut about how one family, at the mercy of a nation broken by legacies of power and oppression, forges a path to find a home once again.
Nandita Dinesh’s This Place That Place is about people earnestly searching for a way to preserve their friendship across seemingly insurmountable political divides. This Place That Place centers on two characters from opposing sides of an unnamed war. On the day of a family wedding, a stunning announcement dramatically shifts the relationship between This Place and That Place, sparking a government-imposed curfew that locks everyone inside. Suddenly finding themselves sharing the same isolated space, the two grapple with unexplored attraction, their deep and abiding admiration for each other’s work, and a bond they hope to save from being another casualty of war. Interwoven throughout are documents and past correspondence between the two, laying out their history and how each sees in the other hope for mending the rift between This Place and That Place. This Place That Place is a dialogue-driven, evocative, and inventive debut that functions as an allegory for Kashmir/India, Palestine/Israel, or any instance of occupied and occupier. But more than that, it offers a new way to think about the intersection of the personal and the political, a new way to reconcile nationalism and activism, and a new way to talk about conflict and two-sidedness.
Ru Freeman’s Sleeping Alone: Stories is a collection of rich and textured stories about crossing borders, both real and imagined, Sleeping Alone asks one of the fundamental questions of our times: What is the toll of feeling foreign in one’s land, to others, or even to oneself? A cast of misfits, young and old, single and coupled, even entire family units, confront startling changes wrought by difficult circumstances or harrowing choices. These stories span the world, moving from Maine to Sri Lanka, from Dublin to Philadelphia, paying exquisite attention to the dance between the intimate details of our lives and our public selves. Whether Ru Freeman, author of the novel On Sal Mal Lane, is capturing secrets kept by siblings in Sri Lanka, or the life of itinerants in New York City, she renders the nuances of her characters’ lives with real sensitivity, and imbues them with surprising dignity and grace.
Shashi Bhat’s The Most Precious Substance on Earth is a sharp, darkly comic, and poignant story about a high school student’s traumatic experience and how it irrevocably alters her life. Bright, hilarious, and sensitive fourteen-year-old Nina spends her spare time reading Beowulf and flirting with an internet predator. She has a vicious crush on her English teacher, and her best friend Amy is slowly drifting away. Meanwhile, Nina’s mother tries to match her up with local Indian boys unfamiliar with her Saved by the Bell references, and Nina’s worried father has started reciting Hindu prayers outside her bedroom door. Beginning with a disturbing incident at her high school, the collection tells stories of Nina’s life from the ’90s to present day, when she returns to the classroom as a high school teacher with a haunting secret and discovers that the past is never far behind her. Darkly funny, deeply affecting, unsettling, and at times even shocking, Shashi Bhat’s irresistible novel-in-stories examines the relationships between those who take and those who have something taken. The book is a sharp-edged and devastating look at how women are conditioned to hide their trauma and suppress their fear, loneliness, and anger, and an unforgettable portrait of how silence can shape a life.
Amit Majmudar’s The Map and the Scissors is about two intense, inflexible personalities who duel over a question that will decide the fate of millions: one nation—or two? Jinnah, the consummate, ruthlessly analytical gentleman in a tailored suit, starts out skeptical of those who come to his door proposing a ‘Land of the Pure’, but ends up founding exactly such a country. Gandhi, the religious visionary in homespun khadi, experiments with Truth in his quest for one India—only to witness, in anguish, the bloody birth of two nations. The Map and the Scissors is a novel about the epic origin story of modern South Asia, brought to life by two London-educated lawyers, mirror-image rivals who dreamt the same dream of freedom-in catastrophically incompatible ways.
Vaasanthi’s Breaking Free (tr. N Kalyan Raman) is set against the rising clamor for India’s independence. It is a nuanced and thought-provoking story of three generations of women and the effects that history and, memory, and secrets have on their lives. Kasturi and Lakshmi are born into the devadasi clan. While Kasturi thinks of nothing other than the joy she experiences when she’s dancing before the deity in the temple, Lakshmi is troubled by the treatment dasis receive from society, the secretive manner of her father’s visits to their house, and his reluctance to acknowledge her publicly as his daughter. To the surprise of those around her, instead of learning to dance, a frustrated and angry Lakshmi insists on getting an education, and becomes a doctor. As their paths diverge, the differences in their opinions cause a rift in Kasturi and Lakshmi’s relationship. But when tragedy strikes, Kasturi’s faith in tradition is shaken and she finds herself turning to Lakshmi once again. Brilliantly translated by N. Kalyan Raman, this novel brings Vaasanthi’s Tamil masterpiece to an entirely new readership.
Debarati Mukhopadhyay’s Chronicles of the Lost Daughters (tr. Arunava Sinha) is a new translation of the bestselling Bengali novel, Narach. When unspeakable tragedy befalls Bhubonmoni, a young widow, she must leave her village along with her brother, Krishnoshundor, and his family. Ensnared by the wily entrepreneur Nobokishore Dutta, they end up in an overcrowded depot near a port, soon to be packed into a ship sailing to Surinam, where they will be sold as sugarcane plantation slaves. But Fate has other plans. Bhubonmoni finds herself being led away from the port and her family to be stowed away in a secret location in Calcutta. Not too far away, a young rebel Shourendro is swept up by the ideas of the Brahmo Samaj. Meanwhile in Metiabruz, a shy musician Chondronath impresses the exiled Nawab of Lucknow with his art. None of them know it yet, but the stars are aligning despite overwhelming odds for them to meet under curious circumstances. Set against the vibrant background of late nineteenth-century Bengal, Debarati Mukhopadhyay’s beautifully woven novel brings together the glory and the decadence of colonial times. Fast-paced and thrilling, with a lively cast of characters including historical figures such as Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, Rabindranath Tagore, and Dr Kadambini Ganguly, Chronicles of the Lost Daughters is an unforgettable saga.
Priya Hajela’s Ladies’ Tailor is the story of Gurdev and his cohort, a group of refugees who travel east from Pakistan after Partition. It is a tale of falling apart and coming together as the world burns around them. Will Gurdev be successful in his new business of making garments for women? Will he find love after his wife and children leave his side? There may be uncertainty here, but there is also relentless hope. Journey back in time and experience the refugee spirit as Ladies’ Tailor captures you with all its romance, adventure, and one man’s iron will to not just survive, but to thrive with new beginnings.
Satya Vyas’ Banaras Talkies (tr. Himadri Agarwal) was first published in Hindi in 2015 and has remained on the bestseller list since then. Bhagwandas Hostel at Banaras Hindu University can be mistaken as being like any other college hostel, but that would be a gross error. For, among the corridors of BD Hostel roam never-before-seen characters: Suraj the narrator, whose goal is to woo a girl, any girl; Anurag De, for whom cricket is life, literally, and Jaivardhan, whose melancholia gets him to answer every query with ‘ghanta’. Follow the adventures of the three friends and others as they navigate undergraduate life in one of India’s most vibrant colleges, plan to steal exam papers, struggle to speak to women, find friends in corridors lined with dirty linen, and forge lifelong bonds amid bad mess food. A slice-of-life novel, it captures college life with all its twists and turns. Written with the idiomatic flourish that is the hallmark of Banarasi colloquialism, this comic novel is one of India’s great coming-of-age novels.
Tabish Khair’s The Body by the Shore is a novel of suspense and intrigue set in the post-pandemic world. Harris Maloub, a killer with an erased official past, now in his fifties, is visited by someone who could not be alive and given an assignment. In Aarhus, Denmark, Jens Erik, police officer on pre-retirement leave, somehow cannot forget the body of a Black man recovered from the sea some years ago. On an abandoned oil rig in the North Sea, turned into a resort for the very rich, Michelle, a young Caribbean woman, realizes that the man she has followed to this job is not what he claims to be. And neither is the rig, where a secret laboratory bares to her a face that is neither human nor animal. Behind all this, there lurks the ghost of a seminar in 2007: most of the participants of that seminar are dead or untraceable. Why was their obscure research on plants and fungi and microbes so important? What is the secret that killed them? What is the weapon that powerful syndicates are trying to obtain—or develop? Narrated from the perspective of the post-pandemic world around 2030, but moving back in time to cover all of the 21st century, and even bits and pieces from the 20th and the 19th, The Body by the Shore is a novel of suspense and speculation about the complexity of life and intricacy of the earth. It is also a novel about reason and emotion, love and despair, greed and hope, human beings and microbes. When the narrative strands come together, a world of great terror and beauty is revealed to the reader.
Samit Basu’s The City Inside is a near-future epic that pulls no punches as it comes for your anxieties about society, government, the environment, and our world at large—yet never loses sight of the hopeful potential of the future. Joey is a Reality Controller in near-future Delhi. Her job is to supervise the multimedia multi-reality livestreams of Indi, one of South Asia’s fastest rising online celebrities, who also happens to be her college ex. Joey’s job gives her considerable culture power, but she’s too caught up in day-to-day crisis handling to see this, or to figure out what she wants from her life. Rudra is a recluse estranged from his wealthy and powerful family, now living in an impoverished immigrant neighborhood. When his father’s death pulls him back into his family’s orbit, an impulsive job offer from Joey becomes his only escape from the life he never wanted. But as Joey and Rudra become enmeshed in multiple conspiracies, their lives start to spin out of control—complicated by dysfunctional relationships, corporate loyalty, and the never-ending pressures of surveillance capitalism. When a bigger picture begins to unfold, they must each decide how to do the right thing in a world where simply maintaining the status quo feels like an accomplishment. Ultimately, resistance will not—cannot—take the same shape for these two very different people.
Bibhutibhushan’s Taranath Tantrik and Other Tales from the Supernatural (tr. Devalina Mookerjee) includes nine stories of the uncanny and occult by the legendary Bengali storyteller, Bibhutibhushan. Seven are short stories of séance, curses, return for revenge, and the desire for things that have no place in human lives. Two are about tantra, of necromancy, spiritual power, goddesses, and ghosts. The borders of reality are porous in this world. The ghosts are everywhere. Most are ghosts of ideas, feelings, memories. These are our personal ghosts, and they follow us alone. But there are other ghosts, in which we share a common fear. Thickening shadows pooling at the corner of the room, unexplained breathing in the dark, the child who steps out of an old photo—the shiver of supernatural frisson, a thin crooked finger of ice tracing its way down your spine. This fear, and thrill, is rightfully the domain of the kind of ghost you will meet in this book.
Niven Govinden’s Diary of a Film is about a filmmaker who meets a woman named Cosima at an Italian espresso bar, spinning a gorgeous tale of love and the creative process. An auteur, together with his lead actors, is at a prestigious European festival to premiere his latest film. Alone one morning at a backstreet café, he strikes up a conversation with a local woman who takes him on a walk to uncover the city’s secrets, historic and personal. As the walk unwinds, a story of love and tragedy emerges, and he begins to see the chance meeting as fate. He is entranced, wholly clear in his mind: her story must surely form the basis for his next film. This is a novel about cinema, flâneurs, and queer love—it is about the sometimes troubled, sometimes ecstatic creative process, and the toll it takes on its makers. But it is also a novel about stories, and the persistent question of who has the right to tell them.
Reshma Ruia’s Still Lives is a tightly woven, haunting work that pulls apart the threads of a family and plays with notions of identity. Young, handsome, and contemptuous of his father’s traditional ways, PK Malik leaves Bombay to start a new life in America. Stopping in Manchester to visit an old friend, he thinks he sees a business opportunity, and decides to stay on. Now fifty-five, PK has fallen out of love with life. His business is struggling and his wife Geeta is lonely, pining for the India she’s left behind. One day PK crosses the path of Esther, the wife of his business competitor, and they launch into an affair conducted in shabby hotel rooms, with the fear of discovery forever hanging in the air.
Namrata Patel’s The Candid Life of Meena Dave is about a woman who embarks on an unexpected journey into her past. It is a story about identity, family secrets, and rediscovering the need to belong. Meena Dave is a photojournalist and a nomad. She has no family, no permanent address, and no long-term attachments, preferring to observe the world at a distance through the lens of her camera. But Meena’s solitary life is turned upside down when she unexpectedly inherits an apartment in a Victorian brownstone in historic Back Bay, Boston. Though Meena’s impulse is to sell it and keep moving, she decides to use her journalistic instinct to follow the story that landed her in the home of a stranger. It’s a mystery that comes with a series of hidden clues, a trio of meddling Indian aunties, and a handsome next-door neighbor. For Meena it’s a chance for newfound friendships, community, and culture she never thought possible. And a window into her past she never expected. Now as everything unknown to Meena comes into focus, she must reconcile who she wants to be with who she really is.
Anthologies, debuts, and translated works feature in this month’s new and notable poetry collections. They demonstrate, yet again, how poets are among the best in experimenting with language and breaking ideological boundaries.
Our Ancestors Did Not Breathe This Air by Afeefah Khazi-Syed Aleena Shabbir Ayse Angela Guvenilir Maisha Munawwara Prome, Mariam Eman Dogar, Marwa Abdullhai is a collection from South Asian and Middle Eastern poets. Six Muslim women. One poetry collection exploring family, identity, and homeland. Our Ancestors Did Not Breathe This Air brings fresh voices of poignancy and a much-needed representation in modern poetry. From the scents of a bustling street market in India to the warmth of stories rooted in Venezuela to snippets of college days shared at MIT, the poetry in this book features an ache for grounds no longer walked upon. With a range of distinct styles and voices, the poets’ nuanced self-expression amounts to a piece that is both a prayer and a rebellion. Their words, introspective and reminiscing, witty and thoughtful, are an ode to that which makes them who they are and where they come from. Simultaneously, their voices are a rejection of dangerous stigmas, cultural taboos, and oppressive systems. In both verse and image, Our Ancestors Did Not Breathe This Air is a bold and unfiltered collection recounting moments, tears, and dreams that have been generations in the making. The poems in this collection are accompanied by full-color illustrations and photographs.
They Rise Like a Wave: An Anthology of Asian American Women Poets (ed. Christine Kitano and Alycia Pirmohamed; foreword: Sandeep Parmar; contributors: Bhanu Kapil, Devi S Laskar, and more ) is an anthology that captures the dynamic and shifting landscape of Asian American poetry, a poetics that continues to grow and transform, a poetics that continues by breaking boundaries, experimenting with language, and revitalizing a historically narrow and oppressive Western canon. These poems emerge out of this particular political and historical moment–a time when language’s challenge to represent the complexities of reality is an aesthetic, political, and moral charge. It serves as an invitation to further conversation, as another way station on this ongoing journey. At this time of reckoning and renewal, let us remember that poetry can be both a reflection of lived experience as well as a call to imagine how to build a better world.
Moniza Alvi’s Fairoz is a book-length poetry sequence in which the poet explores an imagined teenage girl’s susceptibility to extremism. The book’s fragmented, collaging narrative draws together fairytale elements, glimpses of Fairoz’s thoughts, and pieces of dialogue. A folkloric representation of God and the devil acts as a wry counterpoint, touching on questions of morality. Fairoz is a powerful portrayal of human vulnerability.
Amali Gunasekera’s The Golden Thread blends the sacred and the everyday and is her second collection. It is a search for grace through the deep process of transmuting emotional trauma into peace. Gunasekera takes up Muriel Rukeyser’s famous line: ‘What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.’ Her book’s central sequence, Nine [Miscarried] Methods, considers the challenge of asserting a woman’s equal status within a patriarchal objectified culture. Approaching the polemic or the existential with a gentle touch, this is poetry as lyric essay, mysterious and shapeshifting as sunlight on water. Formally, the poems explore the instability of the lyric ‘I’ and the addressed ‘You’. Often there is no static vantage point; instead, the ‘I’ and ‘You’ are verbs in a state of becoming. Their very unfixity reflects dynamic systems in the natural world where elements are constantly interacting and altering their natures.
Raza Mir’s Iqbal: Poet of the East introduces him to a new generation of readers. Allama Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), also known as the ‘Poet of the East’, earned a doctorate in philosophy from the Ludwig-Maximillian University at Munich, and wrote his most evocative poems in Urdu, a language that was not his mother tongue. He counted Jawaharlal Nehru as one of his fans, and earned Mahatma Gandhi’s respect as well. His funeral was attended by 70,000 people, which included colonialists and freedom fighters, socialist atheists and Islamic fundamentalists, Indian nationalists and Muslim Leaguers, reflecting his ability to defy categorization. The book is written in a relatively contemporary language, similar to Ghalib: A Thousand Desires. It includes a temporal and intellectual biography of Iqbal, a detailed discussion of one of Iqbal’s poems, a translation of some of his well-known poems, and a sampling of some of his famous verses. It isn’t for the Iqbal-expert or the Urdu-expert, but for a relative newcomer.
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