#DesiBooksReco November 2021

These are just some of the new and notable books by writers of South Asian origin for the month of November 2021. 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.

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.

Until July 2021, these books were listed in the podcast episodes. From August 2021-onwards, they are being listed separately as below. Also, the descriptions are mostly from publisher-provided text.


NON-FICTION:

Mayukh Sen’s Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America is a group biography that honors seven extraordinary women, all immigrants, who left an indelible mark on the way Americans eat today. Taste Makers stretches from World War II to the present, with absorbing and deeply researched portraits of figures including Mexican-born Elena Zelayeta, a blind chef; Marcella Hazan, the deity of Italian cuisine; and Norma Shirley, a champion of Jamaican dishes. In imaginative, lively prose, Mayukh Sen, a queer, brown child of immigrants, reconstructs the lives of these women in vivid and empathetic detail, daring to ask why some were famous in their own time, but not in ours, and why others shine brightly even today. Weaving together histories of food, immigration, and gender, Taste Makers will challenge the way readers look at what’s on their plate and the women whose labor, overlooked for so long, makes those meals possible. [NOTE: Featured in this #DesiCraftChat.]

Shrayana Bhattacharya’s Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh: India’s Lonely Young Women and the Search for Intimacy and Independence maps the economic and personal trajectories—the jobs, desires, prayers, love affairs, and rivalries—of a diverse group of women. Divided by class but united in fandom, they remain steadfast in their search for intimacy, independence, and fun. Embracing the Hindi film idol Shah Rukh Khan allows them a small respite from an oppressive culture, a fillip to their fantasies of a friendlier masculinity in Indian men. Most struggle to find the freedom or income to follow their favorite actor. Bobbing along in this stream of multiple lives for more than a decade—from Manju’s boredom in ‘rurban’ Rampur and Gold’s anger at having to compete with Western women for male attention in Delhi’s nightclubs to Zahira’s break from domestic abuse in Ahmedabad—Bhattacharya gleans the details of what Indian women think about men, money, movies, beauty, helplessness, agency, and love. A most unusual and compelling book on the female gaze, this is the story of how women have experienced post-liberalization India. [NOTE: Coming up soon in a review in #DesiBooksReview.]

Torsa Ghosal’s Out of Mind: Mode, Mediation, and Cognition in Twenty-First-Century Narrative explores the relationship between aesthetic presentation of thought and scientific conceptions of cognition by offering incisive commentary on a range of contemporary fictions that combine language, maps, photographs, and other images to portray thought. Situating literature within groundbreaking debates on memory, perception, abstraction, and computation, Ghosal shows how stories not only reflect historical beliefs about how minds work but also participate in their reappraisal. Out of Mind makes a compelling case for understanding narrative forms and cognitive-scientific frameworks as co-emergent and cross-pollinating. To this end, Ghosal harnesses narrative theory, multimodality studies, cognitive sciences, and disability studies to track competing perspectives on remembering, reading, and sense of place and self. Through new readings of the works of Kamila Shamsie, Aleksandar Hemon, Mark Haddon, Lance Olsen, Steve Tomasula, Jonathan Safran Foer, and others, Out of Mind generates unique insights into literary imagination’s influence on how we think and perceive amid twenty-first-century social, technological, and environmental changes. [NOTE: Featured in this #DesiBooks10QA.]

Huma Abedin’s Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds is a memoir about family, legacy, identity, faith, marriage, motherhood, and work with wisdom, sophistication, and clarity. Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s famously private top aide and longtime advisor, emerges from the wings of American political history to take command of her own story. The daughter of Indian and Pakistani intellectuals and advocates, Abedin grew up in the United States and Saudi Arabia and traveled widely. She launched full steam into a college internship in the office of the First Lady in 1996, never imagining that her work at the White House would blossom into a career in public service, nor that her career would become an all-consuming way of life. She thrived in rooms with diplomats and sovereigns, entrepreneurs and artists, philanthropists and activists, and witnessed many crucial moments in 21st-century American history. Abedin cuts through caricature, rumor, and misinformation to reveal a crystal clear portrait of Clinton as a brilliant and caring leader, a steadfast friend, generous, funny, hardworking, and dedicated. Both/And is also a candid and heartbreaking chronicle of Abedin’s marriage to Anthony Weiner, what drew her to him, how much she wanted to believe in him, the devastation wrought by his betrayals, and their shared love for their son.

Kal Penn’s You Can’t Be Serious is a series of funny, consequential, awkward, and ridiculous stories from Kal’s idiosyncratic life. It’s about being the grandson of Gandhian freedom fighters, and the son of immigrant parents: people who came to this country with very little and went very far and whose vision of the American dream probably never included their son sliding off an oiled-up naked woman in a raunchy Ryan Reynolds movie, or getting a phone call from Air Force One as Kal flew with the country’s first Black president. In this refreshingly candid memoir, Penn recounts why he rejected the advice of his aunties and guidance counselors and, instead of becoming a doctor or “something practical,” embarked on a surprising journey that has included acting, writing, working as a farmhand, teaching Ivy League University courses, and smoking fake weed with a fake President of the United States, before serving the country and advising a real one. With intelligence, humor, and charm on every page, Kal reflects on the most exasperating and rewarding moments from his journey so far. He pulls back the curtain on the nuances of opportunity and racism in the entertainment industry and recounts how he built allies, found encouragement, and dealt with early reminders that he might never fit in. And of course, he reveals how, after a decade and a half of fighting for and enjoying successes in Hollywood, he made the terrifying but rewarding decision to take a sabbatical from a fulfilling acting career for an opportunity to serve his country as a White House aide.

Priya Fielding-Singh’s How the Other Half Eats: The Untold Story of Food and Inequality in America is a look at dietary differences along class lines, revealing that lack of access to healthy food is far from the primary driver of nutritional inequality in America. Inequality in America manifests in many ways, but perhaps nowhere more than in how we eat. From her years of field research, sociologist and ethnographer Priya Fielding-Singh brings us into the kitchens of dozens of families from varied educational, economic, and ethnoracial backgrounds to explore how and why we eat the way we do. We get to know four families intimately: the Bakers, a Black family living below the federal poverty line; the Williamses, a working-class white family just above it; the Ortegas, a middle-class Latinx family; and the Cains, an affluent white family. Packed with lyrical storytelling and groundbreaking research, as well as Fielding-Singh’s personal experiences with food as a biracial, South Asian American woman, How the Other Half Eats illuminates exactly how inequality starts on the dinner plate. Once you’ve taken a seat at tables across America, you’ll never think about class, food, and public health the same way again.

Preti Taneja’s Aftermath is a searching lament that interrogates the language of terror, trauma and grief; the fictions we believe and the voices we exclude. Usman Khan was convicted of terrorism-related offenses at age twenty, and sent to high-security prison. He was released eight years later, and allowed to travel to London for one day to attend an event marking the fifth anniversary of a prison education program he participated in. On November 29, 2019, he sat with others at Fishmongers’ Hall, some of whom he knew. Then he went to the restroom to retrieve the things he had hidden there: a fake bomb vest and two knives, which he taped to his wrists. That day, he killed two people: Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt. Preti Taneja taught fiction writing in prison for three years. Merritt oversaw her program; Khan was one of her students. “It is the immediate aftermath,” Taneja writes. “‘I am living at the centre of a wound still fresh.’ The I is not only mine. It belongs to many.” Contending with the pain of unspeakable loss set against public tragedy, she draws on history, memory, and powerful poetic predecessors to reckon with the systemic nature of atrocity. Blurring genre and form, Aftermath is a profound attempt to regain trust after violence and to recapture a politics of hope through a determined dream of abolition. Aftermath is part of the Undelivered Lectures series from Transit Books.

Saru Jayaraman’s One Fair Wage: Ending Subminimum Pay in America examines how the subminimum wage and the tipping system exploit society’s most vulnerable. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than six million people earned their living as tipped workers in the service industry. They served us in cafes and restaurants, they delivered food to our homes, they drove us wherever we wanted to go, and they worked in nail salons for as little as $2.13 an hour—the federal tipped minimum wage since 1991—leaving them with next to nothing to get by. These workers, unsurprisingly, were among the most vulnerable workers during the pandemic. As businesses across the country closed down or drastically scaled back their services, hundreds of thousands lost their jobs. As in many other areas, the pandemic exposed the inadequacies of the nation’s social safety net and minimum-wage standards. Jayaraman shines a light on these workers, illustrating how the people left out of the fight for a fair minimum wage are society’s most marginalized: people of color, many of them immigrants; women, who form the majority of tipped workers; disabled workers; incarcerated workers; and youth workers. They epitomize the direction of our whole economy, reflecting the precariousness and instability that is increasingly the lot of American labor.

Rejimon Kuttappan’s Undocumented: Stories of Indian Migrants in the Arab Gulf brings to light the lives of the often ignored undocumented migrant workers through stories of six Indians in the Arab Gulf. And through them, it voices the plight of millions more. Delving into histories both personal and national to establish where we are and how we got here, the author lays bare the lives of people betrayed by their own into human trafficking, poverty, and exile in a land that only glimmers with promise. Our complicated and fragile global economy relies on the unacknowledged labor of a subterranean network of undocumented migrant workers. Despite them providing vital support to host economies, governments continue to turn a blind eye to these migrants’ woes without any consequences. In the absence of documents to speak for them, their human rights are systematically abused, their voices ignored, their existence refuted. The women, as is often the case, suffer under the dual attacks of patriarchy and anonymity. Exigencies of bureaucracy ensure that the children are often unregistered and even lack passports. The result is a truly exploited populace without much relief in sight. They survive on sheer courage and perseverance, shedding blood, sweat, and tears that fuel both home and host economies.

FICTION:

S J Sindu’s Blue-skinned Gods travels from the ashrams of India to the underground rock scene of New York City exploring ethnic, gender, and sexual identities, and examining the need for belief in a fractured world. In Tamil Nadu, India, a boy is born with blue skin. His father sets up an ashram, and the family makes a living off of the pilgrims who seek the child’s blessings and miracles, believing young Kalki to be the tenth human incarnation of the Hindu god, Vishnu. Kalki is confronted with three trials in his tenth year—tests of his power that will prove his divine status and, his father tells him, spread his fame worldwide. Over the next decade, as the story of his family unravels, his relationships with everyone—his dominating father, his beloved cousin, his cancer-stricken aunt, and the young woman he imagines he will marry—threaten to fall apart. [NOTE: Featured in this #DesiCraftChat.]

Mona Arshi’s Somebody Loves You is a fiction debut from an award-winning poet and a moving exploration of how we choose or refuse to tell the stories that shape us. A teacher asked me a question, and I opened my mouth as a sort of formality but closed it softly, knowing with perfect certainty that nothing would ever come out again. Ruby gives up talking at a young age. Her mother isn’t always there to notice; she comes and goes and goes and comes, until, one day, she doesn’t. Silence becomes Ruby’s refuge, sheltering her from the weather of her mother’s mental illness and a pressurized suburban atmosphere. [NOTE: Coming up soon in a review in #DesiBooksReview.]

Abir Mukherjee’s The Shadows of Men is a novel featuring a police detective, Captain Sam Wyndham, and a Sergeant, Surrender-Not Banerjee. It’s set in 1920s Calcutta. When a Hindu theologian is found murdered in his home, the city is on the brink of all-out religious war. Can the officers of the Imperial Police Force—Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant “Surrender-Not” Banerjee—track down those responsible in time to stop a bloodbath? Set at a time of heightened political tension, beginning in atmospheric Calcutta and taking the detectives all the way to bustling Bombay, the latest instalment in this remarkable series presents Wyndham and Banerjee with an unprecedented challenge. Will this be the case that finally drives them apart?

Kirthana Ramisetti’s Dava Shastri’s Last Day is a debut novel about a multicultural family. A dying billionaire matriarch leaks news of her death early so she can examine her legacy—a decision that horrifies her children and exposes secrets she has spent a lifetime keeping. Dava Shastri, one of the world’s wealthiest women, has always lived with her sterling reputation in mind. A brain cancer diagnosis at the age of seventy, however, changes everything, and Dava decides to take her death—like all matters of her life—into her own hands. Summoning her four adult children to her private island, she discloses shocking news: in addition to having a terminal illness, she has arranged for the news of her death to break early, so she can read her obituaries. As someone who dedicated her life to the arts and the empowerment of women, Dava expects to read articles lauding her philanthropic work. Instead, her “death” reveals two devastating secrets, truths she thought she had buried forever. Compassionately written and chock-full of humor and heart, this powerful novel examines public versus private legacy, the complexities of love, and the never-ending joys—and frustrations—of family. [NOTE: Featured in this #DesiCraftChat.]

Satyajit Ray’s 3 Rays is the first book in The Penguin Ray Library series and opens a window to the brilliance of this Renaissance man. With more than forty stories and poems along with many unpublished works, autobiographical writings, and illustrations by Ray, this volume offers a unique glimpse into Ray’s creative genius.

Huma Qureshi’s Things We Do Not Tell the People We Love is a collection of stories about our most intimate relationships: the misunderstandings between families, the silences between friends and the dissonance between lovers. Set between the blossoming countryside of England, the South of France and Tuscany, and the bustling cities of London and Lahore, Things We Do Not Tell The People We Love shines a light on the parts of ourselves we rarely reveal. A daughter asks her mother to shut up, only to shut her up for good; an exhausted wife walks away from the husband who doesn’t understand her; on holiday, lovers no longer understand each other away from home. The underlying themes of loneliness, secrets, family and a yearning for love intertwine these extraordinary stories from the award-winning author of How We Met.

ANTHOLOGIES:

New Moons: Contemporary Writing by North American Muslims edited by Kazim Ali seeks to “. . . represent that full range of contemporary expressions of Islam, as well as a full range of genres—poetry, fiction, essay, memoir, political writing, cultural writing, and of course plenty of texts which mix and match and blur all of these modes . . . the trajectories between the pieces—like that of kismet—will be multiple, nonlinear, abstract. The Muslim community is plural and contradictory. This collection of voices ought to be symphony and cacophony at once, like the body of Muslims as they are today.” (from the introduction by Kazim Ali.)

Where the Gods Dwell: Thirteen Temples and Their (Hi)stories is an anthology of essays by writers like Manu S. Pillai, Siddhartha Sarma, Siddhartha Gigoo, Trisha Gupta, and many others. The great temples of the Indian subcontinent are uniquely fascinating spaces. Steeped in mythology and history, they are windows into a complex, often contrary culture. Where the Gods Dwell delves into the ‘(hi)stories’—history and mythology—of thirteen architectural marvels that have inspired awe, and not only in the hearts of the faithful. Every essay in this book is an intriguing mix of historical detail, mythological narrative and architectural commentary, supplementing and complementing each other to tell a story that is more than the sum of its parts. From Pashupatinath in Nepal to the Nallur Kandaswamy in Sri Lanka, the Kamakhya in Assam to the Somnath in Gujarat, the anthology features temples from across the subcontinent, complete with beautifully evocative sketches by Mistunee Choudhury.

The Greatest Tamil Stories Ever Told, edited by Mini Krishnan and Sujatha Vijayaraghavan, showcases some of the best short fiction to emerge out of Tamil Nadu, dating from the last century to the present day. Two of the earliest stories included here are Subramania Bharati’s ‘The Story of a Crow Learning Prosody’, a satirical tale about the exaltation of language, and ‘Kalki’ Krishnamurthy’s ‘The Governor’s Visit’, about how bigwigs in little places pandered to the British rulers during the time of the Raj. While some stories in this volume wrestle with the idea of public justice, as in Father Mark Stephen’s ‘Penance’ and Sa. Kandasamy’s ‘The Slaying of Hiranya’, others, such as Ambai’s ‘Journey 4’, hide secrets that could destroy lives and relationships if they are ever revealed. Featuring memorable works by, among others, Bama, Perumal Murugan, and Poomani, the thirty stories in this collection come together to paint a striking picture of the Tamil people.

LITERARY TRANSLATION:

Perumal Murugan’s Resolve (tr. by Aniruddh Vasudevan) is both a cultural critique and a personal journey: in his hands, the question of marriage turns into a social contract, deeply impacted by the ripple effects of patriarchy, inequality, and changing relationships to land and community. It might be a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, or at least a piece of land, must be in want of a wife. But Marimuthu’s path to marriage is strewn with obstacles big and small. Inward-looking, painfully awkward, desperately lonely and deeply earnest, Marimuthu is fueled by constant rejection into an unforgettable and transformative matrimonial quest. Enter a series of marriage brokers, horoscopes, infatuations, refusals, and ‘bride-seeing’ expeditions gone awry, which lead Marimuthu to a constant re-evaluation of his marital prospects. But this is no comedy of manners, and before long we find ourselves reckoning with questions of agricultural change, hierarchies of caste, the values of older generations, and the grim antecedents of Marimuthu’s poor prospects, as decades of sex-selective abortion have destroyed the fabric of his community and its demographics.

POETRY:

Amish Trivedi’s Futurepanic is a Four Quartets for the millennial set. Infused with the nervous energies of the past half decade, when living with macro-tragedy and dread have become more ingrained in day-to-day functioning than ever, Trivedi’s third book of poetry employs a deliberate and plaintive lyric mode across five unfolding sections to wrestle with how much of the psyche one can let untether before the self faces annihilation. The poet confronts the gathering terrors that creep forth from simultaneously pondering vast, heady concepts like time and futurity in conjunction with more localized, proximate concerns like whether one will face the looming specter of a mass shooting the next time one goes to a box store, concert, movie theater, grocery store, school, or other public space. In FuturePanic, Trivedi questions whether the collective grief and guilt of our shared transgressions and fears are all-consuming or if we can use humanity’s boundless potential for creativity to rouse an alternative we’ve never known enough of to embrace fully—a moment’s peace. [NOTE: Coming up soon in #DesiReads.]

Tishani Doshi’s A God at the Door calls on the extraordinary minutiae of nature and humanity to redefine belonging and unveil injustice with aching empathy, righteous anger, and rebellious humor. In an era of pandemic lockdown and brutal politics, these poems make vital space for what must come next–the return of wonder and free movement, and a profound sense of connection to what matters most. From a microscopic cell to flightless birds, to a sumo wrestler and the tree of life, Doshi interrupts the news cycle to pause in grief or delight, to restore power to language. A God at the Doorinvites the reader on a pilgrimage–one that leads us back to the sacred temple of ourselves. 


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