***UPDATED ON TUESDAYS***
These are just some of the new and notable books by writers of South Asian origin for the month of May 2022. The list is updated throughout the month.
For a more complete list in the US, go to the Desi Books Bookshop (US.) For a UK list, go to the Desi Books Bookshop (UK.) Currently, there isn’t a single location to list books recently published within South Asia although several such books do get included in the lists below. [Until July 2021, these books were listed within monthly podcast episodes.]
Note: The descriptions are mostly from publisher-provided text.
Aanchal Malhotra’s In the Language of Remembering: The Inheritance of Partition is a natural progression to her first book, Remnants of a Separation, which inspired conversations within families—between the generation that had witnessed Partition and those who had only inherited its memories. This book explores that very notion as it reveals how Partition is not yet an event of the past and its legacy is threaded into the daily lives of subsequent generations. Bringing together conversations recorded over many years with generations of Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and their respective diaspora, it looks at how Partition memory is preserved and bequeathed, its consequences disseminated and manifested within family, community and nation. With the oldest interviewees in their nineties and the youngest just teenagers, the voices in this living archive intimately and sincerely answer questions such as: Is Partition relevant? Should we still talk about it? Does it define our relationships? Does it build our characteristics or augment our fears, without us even realizing? As the subcontinent marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of Partition, In the Language of Remembering will most importantly serve as a reminder of the price this land once paid for not guarding against communal strife—and what could happen once again should we ever choose division over inclusion.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s Translating Myself and Others is a collection of candid and disarmingly personal essays by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, who reflects on her emerging identity as a translator as well as a writer in two languages. With subtlety and emotional immediacy, Lahiri draws on Ovid’s myth of Echo and Narcissus to explore the distinction between writing and translating, and provides a close reading of passages from Aristotle’s Poetics to talk more broadly about writing, desire, and freedom. She traces the theme of translation in Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks and takes up the question of Italo Calvino’s popularity as a translated author. Lahiri considers the unique challenge of translating her own work from Italian to English, the question “Why Italian?,” and the singular pleasures of translating contemporary and ancient writers. Featuring essays originally written in Italian and published in English for the first time, as well as essays written in English, Translating Myself and Others brings together Lahiri’s most lyrical and eloquently observed meditations on the translator’s art as a sublime act of both linguistic and personal metamorphosis.
Anahita Dhondy’s Parsi Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family is a warm and whimsical memoir about how Dhondy embraced the cuisine that she grew up with. From her grandmother’s Ravo to a Bombay duck inspired by her travels through Gujarat, the quirky tales behind her beloved dishes make for a delicious read. A treasure trove of recipes and memories, The Parsi Kitchen is a book to be savored. Dhondy is a former chef-partner at SodaBottleOpenerWala, the Bombay Irani Café and Bar chain that promotes Parsi cuisine. A passionate cook since the age of ten and Le Cordon Bleu Grand Diplome holder, she has won several awards and accolades, including featuring on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list 2019.
Seema Chishti’s Sumitra and Anees: Tales and Recipes from a Khichdi Family is a journalist’s account of an inter-faith marriage. In today’s India, social and communal fault lines have become starker than ever before. Inter-faith marriages, once seen as the hallmark of a plural society, are now being increasingly used to further a divisive political narrative. Journalist Seema Chishti, herself the product of an inter-faith marriage from a time when the ‘idea of India’ was not just an idea but a lived reality, recounts the story of her parents: Sumitra, a Kshatriya Hindu from Mysore in Karnataka, and Anees, a Syed Muslim from Deoria in Uttar Pradesh. Woven into their story are recipes from Sumitra’s kitchen, a site of confluence for the diverse culinary traditions she mastered. This short book is an ode to all that made the coming together of Sumitra and Anees possible—a tribute to the big promise of India they brought into their modest home.
Vivek Tejuja’s So Now You Know: A Memoir of Growing Up Gay in India (US edition) is a memoir of growing up gay in India in the 1990s, with Bollywood, books, and the Bombay sea for company. The year was 1991. Vivek was eight. He realized he was gay. Only he didn’t: he just figured that he wanted to be different. And that he was in love—for want of a better word—with Deepak, his best friend. Then Mast Kalandar released, with Anupam Kher playing Pinku, a stereotypical gay character. And Vivek realized he didn’t want to be Pinku. So he tried to walk differently, gesticulate differently, and speak in as gruff a voice as he could—all to avoid being Pinku.
Wendy Doniger’s An American Girl in India: Letters and Recollections, 1963-1964 is about a twenty-two-year-old Wendy Doniger arriving in Calcutta in August 1963 on a scholarship to study Sanskrit and Bengali. It was her first visit to the country. Over the coming year—a lot of it spent in Tagore’s Shantiniketan—she would fall completely in love with the place she had till then known only through books. The India she describes in her letters back home to her parents is young, like her, still finding its feet, and learning to come to terms with the violence of Partition. But it is also a mature civilization which allows Vishnu to be depicted on the walls in a temple to Shiva; a culture of contradictions where extreme eroticism is tied to extreme chastity; and a land of the absurd where sociable station masters don’t let train schedules come in the way of hospitality. The country comes alive though her vivid prose, introspective and yet playful, and her excitement is on full display whether she is telling of the paradoxes of Indian life, the picturesque countryside, the peculiarities of Indian languages, or simply the mechanics of a temple ritual that she doesn’t understand. And amid her studies she manages to travel, north to the Mughal forts and south to the ancient temples, and make new friends—the feisty Chanchal from Lahore and the affable Mishtuni, as well as some very famous ones—including Jamini Roy and Ali Akbar Khan.
Vauhini Vara’s The Immortal King Rao obliterates the boundaries between literary and speculative fiction, the historic and the dystopian, and confronts how we arrived at the age of technological capitalism and where our actions might take us next. In a future in which the world is run by the Board of Corporations, King’s daughter, Athena, reckons with his legacy—literally, for he has given her access to his memories, among other questionable gifts. With climate change raging, Athena has come to believe that saving the planet and its Shareholders will require a radical act of communion—and so she sets out to tell the truth to the world’s Shareholders, in entrancing sensory detail, about King’s childhood on a South Indian coconut plantation; his migration to the U.S. to study engineering in a world transformed by globalization; his marriage to the ambitious artist with whom he changed the world; and, ultimately, his invention, under self-exile, of the most ambitious creation of his life—Athena herself.
Devi Laskar’s Circa follows a young Indian American woman who, in the wake of tragedy, must navigate her family’s expectations as she grapples with a complicated love and loss. On the cusp of her eighteenth birthday, Heera and her best friends, siblings Marie and Marco, tease the fun out of life in Raleigh, North Carolina, with acts of rebellion and delinquency. They paint the town’s water towers with red anarchy symbols and hang out at the local bus station to pickpocket money for their Great Escape to New York. But no matter how much Heera defies her strict upbringing, she’s always avoided any real danger—until one devastating night changes everything. In its wake, Marco reinvents himself as Crash and spends his days womanizing and burning through a string of jobs. Meanwhile, Heera’s dream to go to college in New York is suddenly upended. Over the years, Heera’s and Crash’s paths cross and recross on a journey of dreams, desires, jealousies, and betrayals. Heart-wrenching, darkly funny, and buoyed by gorgeous prose, Circa is at once an irresistible love story and a portrait of a young woman torn between duty and her own survival, between obligation and freedom.
Chitra Banerji Divakaruni’s The Last Queen is about a commoner who rises to become the last reigning queen of India’s Sikh Empire. In this dazzling novel, based on true-life events, bestselling author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni presents the unforgettable story of Jindan, who transformed herself from daughter of the royal kennel keeper to powerful monarch. Sharp-eyed, stubborn, and passionate, Jindan was known for her beauty. When she caught the eye of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, she was elevated to royalty, becoming his youngest and last queen—and his favorite. And when her son, barely six years old, unexpectedly inherited the throne, Jindan assumed the regency. She transformed herself from pampered wife to warrior ruler, determined to protect her people and her son’s birthright from the encroaching British Empire. Defying tradition, she stepped out of the zenana, cast aside the veil, and conducted state business in public, inspiring her subjects in two wars. Her power and influence were so formidable that the British, fearing an uprising, robbed the rebel queen of everything she had, but nothing crushed her indomitable will.
Monica Ali’s Love Marriage is a novel about the modern, multicultural family. Yasmin Ghorami has a lot to be grateful for: a loving family, a fledgling career in medicine, and a charming, handsome fiancee, fellow doctor Joe Sangster. But as the wedding day draws closer and Yasmin’s parents get to know Joe’s firebrand feminist mother, both families must confront the unravelling of long-held secrets, lies and betrayals. As Yasmin dismantles her own assumptions about the people she holds most dear, she’s also forced to ask herself what she really wants in a relationship and what a ‘love marriage’ actually means. Love Marriage is a story about who we are and how we love in today’s Britain with all the complications and contradictions of life, desire, marriage, and family. What starts as a captivating social comedy develops into a heart-breaking and gripping story of two cultures, two families and two people trying to understand one another.
Joanne Joseph’s Children of Sugarcane is set against the backdrop of 19th-century India and the British-owned sugarcane plantations of Natal. Written with great tenderness and lyricism, Children of Sugarcane paints an intimate and wrenching picture of indenture told from a woman’s perspective. Shanti, a bright teenager stifled by life in rural India and facing an arranged marriage, dreams that South Africa is an opportunity to start afresh. The Colony of Natal is where Shanti believes she can escape the poverty, caste, and traumatic fate of young girls in her village. Months later, after a harrowing sea voyage, she arrives in Natal and realizes life there is full of hardship and labor. Spanning four decades and two continents, Children of Sugarcane illustrates the life-giving power of love, the indestructible bonds between family and friends, heroism, and how the ultimate sacrifice becomes Shanti’s greatest redemption.
Ravi Mangla’s The Observant is his second novel. In a distant country, recently imprisoned filmmaker Vasant Rai is offered a chance at freedom. But the choice, he learns, offers itself at a very steep price. Ravi Mangla’s The Observant is a sharp-eyed literary thriller about freedom of expression under tyrannical regimes, authority and its adherents, and the demands of survival.
Naheed Phiroze Patel’s Mirror Made of Rain shows how society encourages us to see ourselves through the eyes of others. Despite an embarrassing, alcoholic mother, Noomi Wadia is loathe to change her own hard-partying ways simply because it’s what’s expected in Kamalpur high society. As her peers begin to marry and her social obligations become more fraught, she finds herself under constant scrutiny at summer parties of the city’s upper crust. With her options in her hometown growing increasingly limited, Noomi leaves for Mumbai and quickly becomes a successful journalist. There she falls in love with Veer, who appreciates her for exactly who she is. When Noomi and Veer decide to marry, Noomi must observe a host of patriarchal wedding rituals at the behest of her new in-laws, whose cultural customs deviate from her own. Soon, Noomi realizes that her worst fears have come to pass—she is trapped in the same cycle of self-destructiveness as her mother, and she must battle her impulses or risk losing it all. A riveting exploration of class and tradition in contemporary India, Noomi is as quick-witted as she is quick-tempered.
Jaspreet Singh’s Face: A Novel of the Anthropocene traces a past crime that suddenly becomes confrontable on another continent. Lila, a brilliant Indian-born science journalist, and Lucia, an aspiring European-born writer, meet at a creative writing workshop in Calgary. Both try to use fiction to work through real-life trauma, but their entangled paths may reach all the way back to Lila’s time as a geology student in the foothills of the Himalayas. How best to tell Lila’s story and follow the links between a fossil fraud in India, an ice core archive in Canada, the Burgess Shale quarry, and a climate change laboratory in Germany? As their detective work unfolds, the two women encounter some of today’s most urgent and fascinating science, as well as the many shapes of internal criticism in the sciences. They also come face to face with ecological grief and human-non-human entanglements. With this playful and deeply serious genre-blurring work, Singh gives a new direction to the novel in the Anthropocene.
Harini Nagendra’s The Bangalore Detectives Club is the first in a crime series set in 1920s Bangalore, featuring sari-wearing detective Kaveri and her husband Ramu. When clever, headstrong Kaveri moves to Bangalore to marry handsome young doctor Ramu, she’s resigned herself to a quiet life. But that all changes the night of the party at the Century Club, where she escapes to the garden for some peace and quiet—and instead spots an uninvited guest in the shadows. Half an hour later, the party turns into a murder scene. When a vulnerable woman is connected to the crime, Kaveri becomes determined to save her and launches a private investigation to find the killer, tracing his steps from an illustrious brothel to an Englishman’s mansion. She soon finds that sleuthing in a sari isn’t as hard as it seems when you have a talent for mathematics, a head for logic, and a doctor for a husband . . . And she’s going to need them all as the case leads her deeper into a hotbed of danger, sedition, and intrigue in Bangalore’s darkest alleyways.
Sabba Khan’s What is Home, Mum? explores the question: what do identity, belonging, and memory mean to one young Muslim woman and her family against a backdrop of history? As a second-generation Pakistani immigrant living in East London, Sabba Khan paints a vivid snapshot of contemporary British Asian life and investigates the complex shifts experienced by different generations within immigrant communities, creating an uplifting and universal story that crosses borders and decades. Race, gender, and class are explored in a compelling personal narrative creating a strong feminist message of self-reflection and empowerment which is illuminated in stunning artwork.
Reema Patel’s Such Big Dreams is about Rakhi, a twenty-three-year-old haunted by the grisly aftermath of an incident that led to the loss of her best friend eleven years ago. Constantly reminded she doesn’t belong, Rakhi lives alone in a Mumbai slum, working as a lowly office assistant at Justice For All, a struggling human-rights law organization headed by the renowned lawyer who gave her a fresh start. Fiercely intelligent and in possession of a sharp wit and an even sharper tongue, Rakhi is nobody’s fool, even if she is underestimated by everyone around her. Rakhi’s life isn’t much, but she’s managing. That is, until Rubina Mansoor, a fading former Bollywood starlet, tries to edge her way back into the spotlight by becoming a celebrity ambassador for Justice For All. Steering the organization into uncharted territories, she demands an internship for Alex, a young family friend from Canada and Harvard-bound graduate student. Ambitious, persistent, and naïve, Alex persuades Rakhi to show him “the real” India. In exchange, he’ll do something to further Rakhi’s dreams in a transaction that seems harmless, at first. As old guilt and new aspirations collide, everything Rakhi once knew to be true is set ablaze. And as the stakes mount, she will come face-to-face with the difficult choices and moral compromises that people make in order to survive, no matter the cost.
Sophie Jai’s Wild Fires moves between Toronto and Trinidad and is a vivid and compelling story exploring the ways we mourn and why we avoid the very things that can save us. The only things Cassandra knows about her family are the stories she’s heard in snatches over the years: about the aunt and cousin she never got to meet, about the man from the folded-up photograph in one of her aunt’s drawers, and of course about her cousin Chevy, and why he never speaks—but no one utters a word about them any more. When a call from one of her sisters brings Cassandra news of Chevy’s death, she has to return home for the funeral. To Toronto and the big house on Florence Street, where her sisters are hiding more than themselves in their rooms, where the tension brewing between her mother and aunts has been decades in the making, and where sooner or later every secret, unspoken word and painful memory will find its way out into the open.
S. Hareesh’s Adam (tr. Jayasree Kalathil) is a collection of nine unusual stories about ordinary people, their passions, and their diverse destinies in a world where humans, animals, and nature collide and conflict, but also console each other. Four Belgian Malinois puppies raised by an ex-serviceman, N. K. Kuruppu, who end up in four different life situations; an old man and a younger man who play a game made out of death notices cut out from newspapers; two men who argue about the inexplicable change of character of an old-time rowdy with fatal consequences; a nurse and her boyfriend who travel to Kerala with the body of her father who died in Bangalore; a man who exploits his friend’s disability to satisfy his own bestial needs; a man who finds himself stranded in a supernatural space between life and death; a government employee who is intoxicated by the taste of wild meat and sinks deeper and deeper into the toxic world of hunting; two buffaloes who break away from their butcher and an entire village that chases after them; an old man who rejoices in the death of a sworn enemy who was once his friend.
V J James’ Nireeswaran (tr. Ministhy S.) is the most celebrated of the Malayalam novelist’s works and uses incisive humor and satire to question blind faith and give an insight into true spirituality. Is it possible for society to exist without religion? Three atheists, Antony, Sahir, and Bhaskaran, embark on an elaborate prank to establish that God is nothing but a superstition. They install a mutilated idol of Nireeswaran, literally anti-god, to show people how hollow their religion is. Their plan starts turning awry when miracles start being attributed to Nireeswaran—a man waking up from coma after twenty-four years, a jobless man ineligible for government employment getting a contract, a prostitute turning into a saint—leading hordes to turn up to worship the fake deity. The trio faces a quandary. Will they fight their own creation? Are their intractable minds an indication that atheism is a religion in itself Belief and disbelief, it is possible, are two sides of the same coin.
Moushumi Kandali’s Black Magic Women (tr. Parbina Rashid) brings her characters out of Assam and places them in the mainstream, capturing their struggle to retain their inherent ‘Assameseness’ as they try to assimilate at the same time into a larger picture. The title story, Black Magic Women, is about how the mainstream India perceives the Assamese women who, powered with the art of seduction and black magic, endure social discrimination that can range from racial slurs to physical abuse. Juxtaposing two different eras, it is a historic fictional retelling of gender bias chronicled in the early nineteenth century colonial reportage by a British officer. The stories make one pause, think, and debate issues that range from racial discrimination to the politics in the entertainment industry to sexual harassment to the existential and ideological dilemma induced by the complex sociopolitical scenario of the late eighties. Using a generous sprinkling of fable, myth, and various metaphors, they deliver a powerful punch to the reader.
Damodar Mauzo’s The Wait and Other Stories (tr. Xavier Cota) is a collection that brings to the Anglophone world one of the doyens of Konkani literature. A cab driver, who assumes the identity of whoever his clients want him to be, finds himself in a tricky situation with a passenger. A late-night call leads a doctor down a path of lust and desire, but with unexpected results. A writer acquaints himself with a thief who had broken into his house. A migrant worker falls in love but wonders how he can present himself as a suitor. A young man, having lost the love of his life, takes it upon himself to resolve another couple’s dilemmas. Konkani writer Damodar Mauzo’s sometimes bizarre, sometimes tender stories, set largely in Goa, create a world far removed from the sun and sand and the holiday resorts. Here you find villagers facing moral choices, children waking up to the realities of adult lives, men who dwell on remorse, women who live a life of regret and communities whose bonds are growing tenuous in an age of religious polarization. Probing the deepest corners of the human psyche with tongue-in-cheek humor, Mauzo’s stories reveal the many threads that connect us to others and the ease with which they can be broken.
Farzana Doctor’s You Still Look the Same is a moving collection of poetry about navigating mid-life, full of humor and wit. It is both an intimate deep dive and a humorous glance at the tumultuous decade of her forties. Through crisp and vivid language, Doctor explores mid-life breakups and dating, female genital cutting, imprints of racism and misogyny, and the oddness of sex and love, and urges us to take a second look at the ways in which human relationships are never what we expect them to be.
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