#DesiBooksReco March 2022

***UPDATED ON TUESDAYS***

These are just some of the new and notable books by writers of South Asian origin for the month of March 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.]

If you’ve got a new book coming out, please tag the Desi Books account on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. You can also contact here.

Note: The descriptions are mostly from publisher-provided text.


NON-FICTION:

Nikesh Shukla’s Your Story Matters: Find Your Voice, Sharpen Your Skills, Tell Your Story includes exercises and prompts that will develop your idea, no matter what genre you’re writing in. It is practical, to the point and focused on letting you figure out what you want to write, how you want to write and why this is the best use of your voice. Accessible and thought-provoking, Your Story Matters will inspire you to keep thinking about writing, even when you don’t have the time to put pen to paper. Nikesh Shukla, author, writing mentor, and bestselling editor of The Good Immigrant, knows better than most the power that every unique voice has to create change. Whether it’s a novel, personal essay, non-fiction work or short story—or even just the formless desire to write somethingYour Story Matters will hone your skill and help you along the way.

Neema Avashia’s Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place examines both the roots and the resonance of Avashia’s identity as a queer desi Appalachian woman, while encouraging readers to envision more complex versions of both Appalachia and the nation as a whole. When Neema Avashia tells people where she’s from, their response is nearly always a disbelieving “There are Indian people in West Virginia?” A queer Asian American teacher and writer, Avashia fits few Appalachian stereotypes. But the lessons she learned in childhood about race and class, gender and sexuality continue to inform the way she moves through the world today: how she loves, how she teaches, how she advocates, how she struggles. With lyric and narrative explorations of foodways, religion, sports, standards of beauty, social media, gun culture, and more, Another Appalachia mixes nostalgia and humor, sadness and sweetness, personal reflection and universal questions.

Aparna Shewakramani‘s She’s Unlikeable: And Other Lies That Bring Women Down is a memoir about finding your own strength. When she appeared on Netflix’s hit series, Indian Matchmaking, it soon became clear that Aparna knew what she wanted. But all stories are told through certain lenses and her story is no exception. Being on a reality show made Aparna feel like a character. Her decisiveness and sense of self-worth led viewers to see her as a very specific archetype: The villain. The woman you love to hate. The unlikeable woman. It turned around, though, with a single message of support: Be Like Aparna. Soon supporters were in the tens of thousands. Women are tired of seeing other women being vilified simply because they have a voice. In this book, you will learn about the real Aparna Shewakramani. She bares it all: the good, the bad, and the it-depends-on-how-you-look-at-it. There is her mother’s bravery in leaving her marriage, Aparna’s diagnosis of an autoimmune disease, and her confession that she too is susceptible to the deep-rooted need to be pretty and likeable. But it is also the story of her entrepreneurial spirit and her success. It is about lessons learned and the strength to be your own woman. This is a journey to prevent Aparna-the-person from being erased by Aparna-the-character.

Davina Quinlivan’s Shalimar is a lyrical story of migration, of returning home and making a home. In her mid-twenties, after the death of her father, Davina Quinlivan leaves her family home in Hayes, west London, to begin a transitory life. She feels restless, never quite at home in the countryside, stuck between ‘Deep England’ and the technicolor memories and mythology of her family’s migration story. Beginning in colonial India and Burma, where the women in her family descend from the indigenous tribes and diasporas of Portuguese Kerala and the Shan Hills of Myanmar, the extraordinary history of Quinlivan’s Anglo-Asian family reaches England in the 1950s, where the mountains and gardens of Mogok and Darjeeling blend with the streets of Southall and Ealing. Yet the stories of her ancestors endure, smuggled through time and place in the sweet flavours of her auntie’s cooking, in the tales her father tells before he dies. Quinlivan is the inheritor, and in Shalimar she has conjured a new place, between continents, between worlds. 

Sonal Ved’s Whose Samosa is it Anyway?: The Story of Where ‘Indian’ Food Really Came From is about how there are as many hyper-local Indian cuisines as there are Indian states. Did the European traders come before the Arab conquerors? Can you say cinnamon is an Indian spice even though it first grew in Sri Lanka on the Indian subcontinent? What are the origins of chutney and samosa or of the fruit punch, and how are they connected to India? Who taught us how to make ladi pav, and how did the Burmese khow suey land up on the wedding menus of Marwaris? The author looks for the answers to these and many other such questions in this history of Indian food.

Shafik Meghji’s Crossed off the Map: Travels in Bolivia blends travel writing, history and reportage to tell the story of Bolivia’s profound and unexpected influence on the wider world over the past 500 years—fragments of history largely forgotten beyond its borders. The book also explores how ordinary Bolivians are coping with some of the touchstone issues of the 21st century: the climate emergency, populism, mass migration, indigenous rights, national identity, rapid urbanization, and the ‘war on drugs’.

Ruchika Tulshyan’s Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work is about how organizations can foster diversity, equity, and inclusion: taking action to address and prevent workplace bias while centering women of color. Few would disagree that inclusion is both the right thing to do and good for business. Then why are we so terrible at it? If we believe in the morality and the profitability of including people of diverse and underestimated backgrounds in the workplace, why don’t we do it? Because, explains Ruchika Tulshyan in this eye-opening book, we don’t realize that inclusion takes awareness, intention, and regular practice. Inclusion doesn’t just happen; we have to work at it. Tulshyan presents inclusion best practices, showing how leaders and organizations can meaningfully promote inclusion and diversity. Tulshyan centers the workplace experience of women of color, who are subject to both gender and racial bias. It is at the intersection of gender and race, she shows, that we discover the kind of inclusion policies that benefit all. Tulshyan debunks the idea of the “level playing field” and explains how leaders and organizations can use their privilege for good by identifying and exposing bias, knowing that they typically have less to lose in speaking up than a woman of color does. She explains why “leaning in” doesn’t work–and dismantling structural bias does; warns against hiring for “culture fit,” arguing for “culture add” instead; and emphasizes the importance of psychological safety in the workplace–you need to know that your organization has your back. With this important book, Tulshyan shows us how we can make progress toward inclusion and diversity–and we must start now.

FICTION:

Pankaj Mishra’s Run and Hide is a story about achieving material progress at great moral and emotional cost. It is also the story of a changing country and global order, and the inequities of class and gender that map onto our most intimate relationships. Growing up in a small railway town, Arun always dreamed of escape. His acceptance to the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, enabled through great sacrifice by his low-caste parents, is seemingly his golden ticket out of a life plagued by everyday cruelties and deprivations. At the predominantly male campus, he meets two students from similar backgrounds. Unlike Arun—scarred by his childhood, and an uneasy interloper among go-getters—they possess the sheer will and confidence to break through merciless social barriers. The alumni of IIT eventually go on to become the financial wizards of their generation, working hard and playing hard from East Hampton to Tuscany—the beneficiaries of unprecedented financial and sexual freedom. But while his friends play out Gatsby-style fantasies, Arun fails to leverage his elite education for social capital. He decides to pursue the writerly life, retreating to a small village in the Himalayas with his aging mother. Arun’s modest idyll is one day disrupted by the arrival of a young woman named Alia, who is writing an exposé of his former classmates. Alia, beautiful and sophisticated, draws Arun back to the prospering world where he must be someone else if he is to belong. When he is implicated in a terrible act of violence committed by his closest friend from IIT, Arun will have to reckon with the person he has become.

Gogu Shyamala’s Father May Be an Elephant, and Mother Only a Small Basket, but… (tr. Diia Rajan, Sashi Kumar, A. Suneetha, N. Manhohar Reddy, R. Srivatsan, Gita Ramaswamy, Uma Bhrugubanda, P. Pavana, Duggirala, Vasanta) is a collection of Dalit feminist stories of a south Indian village that dissolve the borders of realism, allegory and political fable. A young girl is sent away to school to save her from being declared the sexual property of the village’s upper-caste men. The village water tank laments to a passing child. A Brahmin boy is considered ‘polluted’ by the touch of a Dalit girl – the same action that saved his life. Rendered with idiomatic vitality, humor and lightness, these stories revel in rural childhood without nostalgia or romanticism, forcing the reader to question their expectation of violence in the representation of certain lives, and of what the short story can be and do. Shifts in tone and perspective reveal relationships—between the different castes that make up a village, between an individual and the wider community, between identities and the seasonal rhythms of the land. Imbued throughout with a Dalit feminist philosophy that is above all a philosophy of life, to be lived with wit, ingenuity, and defiance.

Yasmin Cordery Khan Edgeware Road is a wide-ranging and affecting debut novel about family and identity, from an award-winning historian. 1981. Khalid Quraishi is one of the lucky ones. He works nights in the glitzy West End, and comes home every morning to his beautiful wife and daughter. He’s a world away from Karachi and the family he left behind. But Khalid likes to gamble, and he likes to win. Twenty pounds on the fruit machine, fifty on a sure-thing horse, a thousand on an investment that seems certain to pay out. Now he’s been offered a huge opportunity, a chance to get in early with a new bank, and it looks like he’ll finally have his big win. 2003. Alia Quraishi doesn’t really remember her dad. After her parents’ divorce she hardly saw him, and her mum refuses to talk about her charming ex-husband. So, when he died in what the police wrote off as a sad accident, Alia had no reason to believe there was more going on. Now almost twenty years have passed and she’s tired of only understanding half of who she is. Her dad’s death alone and miles from his west London stomping ground doesn’t add up with the man she knew. If she’s going to find out the truth about her father – and learn about the other half of herself – Alia is going to have to visit his home, a place she’s never been, and connect with a family that feel more like strangers.

Rana Safvi’s Tales from the Quran and Hadith includes ten popular stories or fables from the Quran and the Hadith and will appeal to both adults and children alike. These stories form the foundation of the mythological structures of these religious texts and are, like most fables, filled with wisdom and literary pleasures.

Mamang Dai’s The Inheritance of Words: Writings from Arunachal Pradesh is the first anthology of writings from a variety of debut and established writers in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, India. Home to many different tribes and scores of languages and dialects, and once known as a “frontier” state, Arunachal Pradesh began to see major changes after it opened up to tourism and after the Indian State introduced Hindi as its official language. In this volume, Mamang Dai, one of Arunachal’s best-known writers, brings together new and established voices on a wide variety of subjects: identity, home, belonging, language, Shamanism, folk culture, orality, and more. Many of these stories have been handed down orally through festivals, epic narratives, and the performance of rituals by Shamans and rhapsodists who are revered as guardians of collective and tribal memory. This book captures those vivid, enduring oral stories here in the words of young poets and writers, as well as artists and illustrators, as they trace their heritage, listen to stories, and render them in new forms of expression.

Kasim Ali’s Good Intentions is a debut novel about a young man who has hidden a romance from his parents, unable to choose between familial obligation and the future he truly wants. If love really is a choice, how do you decide where your loyalties lie? It’s the countdown to the New Year, and Nur is steeling himself to tell his parents that he’s seeing someone. A young British Pakistani man, Nur has spent years omitting details about his personal life to maintain his image as the golden child. And it’s come at a cost. Once, Nur was a restless college student, struggling to fit in. At a party, he meets Yasmina, a beautiful and self-possessed aspiring journalist. They start a conversation—first awkward, then absorbing. And as their relationship develops, so too does Nur’s self-destruction. He falls deeper into traps of his own making, attempting to please both Yasmina and his family until he must finally reveal the truth: Yasmina is Black, and he loves her. Deftly transporting readers between that first night and the years beyond, Kasim Ali’s Good Intentions exposes with unblinking authenticity the complexities of immigrant families and racial prejudice. It is a crackling, wryly clever depiction of standing on the precipice of adulthood, piecing together who it is you’re meant to be.

Sindya Bhanoo’s Seeking Fortune Elsewhere is a debut collection of intimate stories of South Indian immigrants and the families they left behind center women’s lives and ask how women both claim and surrender power. Traveling from Pittsburgh to Eastern Washington to Tamil Nadu, these stories about dislocation and dissonance see immigrants and their families confront the costs of leaving and staying, identifying sublime symmetries in lives growing apart. In ‘Malliga Homes’, selected by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for an O. Henry Prize, a widow in a retirement community glimpses her future while waiting for her daughter to visit from America. In ‘No. 16 Model House Road’, a woman long subordinate to her husband makes a choice of her own after she inherits a house. In ‘Nature Exchange’, a mother grieving in the wake of a school shooting finds an unusual obsession. In ‘A Life in America’, a professor finds himself accused of having exploited his graduate students. Sindya Bhanoo’s haunting stories show us how immigrants’ paths, and the paths of those they leave behind, are never simple. Bhanoo takes us along on their complicated journeys where regret, hope, and triumph appear in disguise.

S. Hussain Zaidi’s Zero Day is a crime thriller novel. Mumbai is in a state of chaos. All traffic signals across the entire city have stopped working. Shahwaz Ali Mirza, head of the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad, receives an anonymous email claiming it to be a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. He quickly puts together a crack team that includes his protege, IG Cybercrime Vikrant Singh, and gets to work trawling the dark web for more information on this mystery attack. However, a move to bring forward the hacker backfires, leading to a second, deadlier attack on Mumbai’s lifeline, the railway system. It is their first brush with cyberterrorism: a zero-day vulnerability in the Indian government’s system that could bring the country to its knees. Racing against time and investigating a case unlike any other, in Zero Day, Mirza and Vikrant face the most dangerous mission of their lives.

Sukh Ojla’s Sunny is the queen of living a double life. To her friends, she’s the entertaining, eternally upbeat, single one, always on hand to share hilarious and horrifying date stories. But while they’re all settling down with long-term partners and mortgages, Sunny is back in her childhood bedroom at thirty, playing the role of the perfect daughter. She spends her time watching the Sikh channel, making saag and samosey with her mum, hiding gins-in-a-tin in her underwear drawer and sneaking home in the middle of the night after dates, trying but failing to find ‘the one’. She juggles both lives perfectly . . . on the outside, at least. But when her mum sees a guy dropping Sunny home one evening, Sunny’s life gets a little complicated. Now her mum wants to know about the life she’s hidden from her for so long. Sunny is well versed in lying to her friends, her family, and, above all, herself. But how long can she keep it up for? Or is it finally time to start being honest?

Vaseem Khan’s The Dying Day is out in the US now. It’s the second thriller in the Malabar House series and pits Persis, once again, against her peers, a changing India, and an evil of limitless intent. A priceless manuscript. A missing scholar. A trail of riddles. For over a century, one of the world’s great treasures, a six-hundred-year-old copy of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, has been safely housed at Bombay’s Asiatic Society. But when it vanishes, together with the man charged with its care, British scholar and war hero, John Healy, the case lands on Inspector Persis Wadia’s desk. Uncovering a series of complex riddles written in verse, Persis, together with English forensic scientist Archie Blackfinch, is soon on the trail. But then they discover the first body. As the death toll mounts it becomes evident that someone else is also pursuing this priceless artefact and will stop at nothing to possess it . . .

Namrata Poddar’s Border Less centers Dia Mittal, an airline call center agent in Mumbai searching for an easier life. As her search takes her to the United States, Dia’s checkered relationship with the American Dream dialogues with the experiences and perspectives of a global South Asian community across the class spectrum—call center agents, travel agents, immigrant maids, fashion designers, blue- and white-collar workers in the hospitality industry, junior and senior artists in Bollywood, hustling single mothers, academics, tourists in the Third World, refugees displaced by military superpowers, Marwari merchants and trade caravans of the Silk Road, among others. What connects the novel’s web of brown border-crossing characters is their quest for belonging and negotiation of power struggles, mediated by race, class, gender, nationality, age, or place. With its fragmented form, staccato rhythm, repetition, and play with English language, Border Less questions the “mainstream” Western novel and its assumptions of good storytelling.

POETRY:

Ayesha Raees’ Coining a Wishing Tower was selected by Kaveh Akbar as winner of the 2020 Broken River Prize. It is both story and song, a lyrical narrative that gathers and releases. There are moments of childlike wonder and of adult meditation—oftentimes one and the same. In fragments both real and unreal, this is a book of rituals, of history, of surrender. [More at the publisher’s website.]


A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats.™
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