Which website and podcast features were the most popular with Desi Books readers and listeners in 2021? Read below with the editor’s brief, personal notes.
There are two sets of features below: website (text) and podcast (audio.) With both sets of community favorites, we see the main connecting theme of the powerful effects of the past on our present, as described in the #DesiBookStack2021 Editor’s Note.
#FiveDesiFaves — 2021 community favorites on the website:
[Note: Based on data until December 15, 2021]
#FiveDesiFaves: Veena Muthuraman’s favorite historical works
Editor’s Note: This has been a huge favorite since it went up. Veena’s thorough and enthusiastic account of her five favorite historical works, both classic and contemporary, has resonated deeply with many readers and listeners. And she did a great job of connecting these books with her own debut novel, The Grand Anicut, and describing the latter’s literary lineage. This channel, #FiveDesiFaves, is one of our most popular ones because writers make heartfelt personal book recommendations with care and joy.
#DesiBooks10QA: Ari Gautier on going beyond the tourist brochures into Pondicherry’s rich past
Editor’s Note: The Thinnai, written in French by Ari Gautier and translated into English by Blake Smith, is such an eye-opener for those who might have visited Pondicherry as a tourist, like me, and thought they’d understood a bit about the place. The book was a surprise discovery for me via social media. And, in this interview, when Ari shares how “. . . writing our own stories and history is essential for a community. For three centuries, people have been writing about us . . .” he’s speaking the truth of so many desi writers. Also, though this channel, #DesiBooks10QA, was only introduced in mid-2021, it has become our most popular channel on the website.
#DesiLitBiz: Sangeeta Mehta on book editing and diversity and equity in publishing
Editor’s Note: I discovered Sangeeta through a hugely popular publishing professional’s website. And, while I haven’t availed of Sangeeta’s editorial services, it was inspiring to learn about all the other work she’s been doing to support diversity and inclusion efforts across the industry. Her thoughtful responses here are a great reminder that we can all do something from where we sit to improve the uneven ways our literature is received and read.
#FiveDesiFaves Roundup: #MangoDiscourse
Editor’s Note: For years now, I’ve been reading these infrequent essays as they’ve popped up in different venues. As a community of writers, we’ve certainly got a lot of opinions on what works and what doesn’t in South Asian literature. While this roundup shows a selection of five such essays, there are plenty more linked within my meta-essay about them. Long live #MangoDiscourse.
#DesiBooks10QA: Jessica Namakkal on how colonial projects like French India persist beyond decolonization
Editor’s Note: I can’t remember if I learned of Jessica’s book, Unsettling Utopia: The Making and Unmaking of French India, before or after I discovered Ari Gautier’s novel about Pondicherry (see above.) Whatever the case may be, the two writers have, together, given us deep and rich insights into French colonization of India. This is the history that was left out of our school texts even though, as Jessica says, decolonization did not mean the end of colonial projects.
FiveDesiFaves — 2021 community favorites on podcast platforms:
[Note: Based on data until December 15, 2021]
#DesiCraftChat: Sanjena Sathian on writing beyond the usual immigrant fiction tropes
Editor’s Note: Sanjena Sathian’s debut novel, Gold Diggers, skewers the model minority myth, eschews typical immigrant tropes, and mixes in considerable doses of magical realism and contemporary romance. I expected our conversation to be a lighter one, given the narrative tone of the book. And, while I don’t think we got as deep as we could have if we’d had more time, the discussion did take a couple of interesting turns I hadn’t planned on. Like when we got into discussing how South Asians in the US don’t know much about our own history in the country.
#DesiCraftChat: Moni Mohsin on writing about serious themes with a sense of humor
Editor’s Note: I’ve followed Moni Mohsin’s work since I read her 2008 novel, The Diary of a Social Butterfly, and laughed out loud with almost every page. So I was happy to read this latest novel, The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R., and chat with Moni about, among other craft-y things, how she creates the terrific voices of her characters. And if you need a sampling, just follow this Instagram account of the eponymous and famous social butterfly.
(Note: The Desi Books in Translation book club project mentioned in this episode is on hold indefinitely as we figure out the best approach to engage a larger subset of the community. Thank you.)
#DesiCraftChat: Sunjeev Sahota on braided narratives in historical fiction; #FiveDesiFaves: Gayatri Sethi on her favorite desi books by women writers
Editor’s Note: Sunjeev Sahota’s China Room was longlisted for the Booker after this interview. We had a thoughtful and wide-ranging discussion about the book here. Braiding the past and the present in a way that feels natural isn’t easy when writing historical fiction and Sunjeev’s ideas about how he approached this and the challenges of keeping the story moving are worth listening to.
Gayatri Sethi’s hybrid memoir, Unbelonging, spans decades and continents—from the India-Pakistan Partition to the Black Lives Matter movement, South Africa to Atlanta. When she describes the books she’s appreciated this year, you’ll hear the kindness and generosity that make her a treasure within the desi literary community. She’s a particular champion of desi children’s literature and a co-founder of the DesiKidLit community.
#DesiCraftChat: Priyanka Champaneri on writing about a city as a character; #DesiCraft Chat: Dhruti Shah on how business terms can apply to other life situations too
Editor’s Note: This episode gave me much pleasure because these are two fellow Gujarati-origin writers and they’ve both written important books. I’m looking forward to what these ladies give us next.
Priyanka’s award-winning The City of Good Death, is set in Kashi, India and you’d never know that she’s never been there. So, of course, we talked about the craft of and research for setting. For me personally, it’s one of the outstanding novels of the year.
Dhruti’s Bear Markets and Beyond is an unique book that took me back to my own business days. Here, we discussed the origins of some of the financial and business terms we might take for granted. Dhruti has this infectious positive energy and it comes across so well in this interview.
#DesiCraftChat: Suchitra Vijayan on making the political deeply personal; #DesiReads: Ayesha Chaudhry reads from her memoir, The Color of God
Editor’s Note: Another powerhouse duo of women writers. And both books here kept me thinking long after reading.
Suchitra’s Midnight’s Borders is one of my favorite reads of the year because it rewired my inner circuitry in ways that all good books do. The kind of book you finish and think: what could I be doing about this? And Suchitra’s entire career and tireless activism are inspiring too.
Ayesha’s brave, bold memoir, The Color of God, is another book that made me sit with it for a while after reading and ask myself questions about my own sense of self and family, state and citizenship, love and loss. A book that hasn’t received nearly as much attention as it deserves.