South Asian Readers on the Stories They Love
Please Note: The following blog post was planned as a finale to Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. However, in solidarity with #RaiseMelanatedVoices, our scheduled content was delayed to amplify Black voices and content creators, and to reflect on the depth and breadth of social injustice. So while this may seem late, we felt that the content herein could wait.
Over the last year or two, as a member of the Writing Community and Book Twitter, I've learned a lot about the details of publishing, and the barriers writers face in telling diverse stories. And I owe that to other BIPOC authors and book bloggers who speak up, and raise awareness about these issues. And they do this at great personal expense. Speaking up about diversity and inclusion, and calling out traditional publishing about what isn't working can cost BIPOC authors and bloggers opportunities.
I've also seen a lot of writers and creators end up in silos! For writers, we reinvent the wheel because we don't have the network or support system in place to help publish and market our work.
For readers, we want more stories, but the only way to find them is through word of mouth. Even when traditional publishing does sign a BIPOC author, they don't necessarily invest the money in marketing. So it's all on the author to figure out marketing and generate buzz. For anyone who has tried to start a blog, or brand, you know building a following is not easy.
Having been inspired by the many BIPOC authors and bloggers I follow on Twitter, I wanted do my part in helping to build those connections and that support network. Because if there's one thing I think I do pretty well, it's connecting people!
This blog post is the first step in creating that network for South Asian authors, readers, and book bloggers. We want more of our stories out in the world, so let's build each other up!
The following list of books is compiled by South Asian book bloggers and readers. They may be old or new. The may be highly celebrated or possibly overlooked. They could be from a variety of genres, because as South Asians, we shouldn't be tied down in the kinds of stories we get to tell! But they're all stories that we love and want to share with the world!
1. From Malavika McGrail!
Curry: Eating, Reading, and Race by Naben Ruthnum. A collection of essays tackling the concepts of "currybooks" in South Asian literature, or the tendency of writers from the diaspora to fall upon familiar tropes. Age-old symbols of fresh mangoes, red sarees, and homemade curries are taken to task. The point is not to deny these images their place in literature, but not to fall back on them. Writers should strive for true authenticity, nuanced storytelling, and fresh motifs whenever possible. Ruthnum, the child of Mauritian immigrants of Indian origin, weaves in anecdotes from his own life as well as bits and pieces of other books by South Asian writers. Criticism can be scathing and wry.
While the essays can meander from point to point, and the audiobook version leaves a great deal to be desired (unfortunately narrated by a white man that cannot pronounce paratha), I consider these essays essential for South Asian readers. More importantly, these essays are essential for any aspiring South Asian writers. This book challenged me, made me evaluate my own writing, and made me a more discerning reader. I hope it has the same impact on you.
2. From Zenobia Kapadia!
The Sunlight Plane by Damini Kane. This debut novel is from an Indian author based in Mumbai, India. It tells us the story of two young boys, Tharush and Aakash, who live in a gated community in Mumbai and how they get through life. The book is contemporary fiction and is a coming-of-age story. Published in 2018, the book is available both on Amazon India and Amazon USA! (Please read in Jonathan Van Ness' voice: We love a baby author and a gorgeous debut honey!)
Where do I even begin? I loved this book so much and it definitely was one of my favourite reads of last year. The book is easily read and captures your attention on every page. Her writing is extremely descriptive and you can easily picture the book, the scenes and people in your head. What I really loved about this is that it addresses important issues like bullying and domestic abuse. You tend to think these things do not happen in “educated” and wealthy families. The book takes us behind the scenes and shows us the reality of it. It also talks about friendship, pure friendship and how powerful it is in our lives. The ending is so sweet and you can't help smile about it.
3. From Kriti Khare!
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara. Djinn Patrol is a story from the point of view of a 9 year old boy, Jay, living in a basti. When his friend goes missing, this is his chance to make a name of himself and practice true jasusi (detective) skills. I loved going on this adventure with Jai, however terrifying and close to reality it might be.
I felt this book did an amazing job at showcasing the important issue of children gone missing. In a time when politics and gains overshadows so many other issues, we need stories like this one. This was an immersive read and I enjoyed being in India through this book.
4. From Ahana Rao!
A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna. The book is based on the Mahabharata, an Indian epic, and its based wholly in a fictional world in space; so it’s a mix of mythology, sci-fi and fantasy. I absolutely, greatly, and highly recommend this book to absolutely anyone. The storyline is both well reflecting of The Mahabharata and perfectly unique to itself at the same time. The drama and storyline is utterly gripping and revolves around one of the most celebrated yet tragic characters from the Mahabharata: Karna. However in this story Karna is represented as a female character and the whole plot revolves around her and how her choices set the course of the future of the world. The story is a mix of intrigue, family drama, politics, friendships, betrayal, loyalty, Gods and of course a dash of romance!
This book is great for anyone interested in starting a series, as both the first and second books are out, and the third will be released soon!
5. From Shreeya Sharma!
Ayesha at Last by Uzme Jalaluddin. Ayesha at Last is a Muslim retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Ayesha Shamsi is a young Muslim living with her family in Toronto. Although she dreams to be a poet and writes whenever she can, she is working as a substitute teacher in a high school. She hates the idea of rishtas and arranged marriages. Khalid Mirza is a traditional and conservative Muslim who has recently moved to Ayesha’s neighbourhood with his strong-willed mother. He immediately becomes the target of his new boss because of his strong religious beliefs and the way he dresses.
A misunderstanding at the mosque forces Ayesha to impersonate her cousin Hafsa and participate in the planning of a local event, where she meets Khalid. Forced to work together despite their differences, Khalid and Ayesha clash and butt heads. But perhaps there is something more between them. Something that scares them both. How can it ever work when Khalid is so strongly in favour of arranged marriages and determined to marry the girl his mother chooses for him?
The book closes with this sentence:
“Sometimes there were no words, only sunshine on your heart. Alhamdulilah.”
And I think it perfectly describes my thoughts about it.
I loved the way the romance between these two developed. All the heartwarming and adorable moments they shared together made my heart giddy! Some of the scenes are now permanently imprinted in my brain. The scene where the two cook with Ayesha’s nani? Oh my heart! Ayesha’s nana and nani are my favourite characters after Ayesha and Khalid. They are so adorable and supportive towards Ayesha. Not to mention nana’s Shakespeare obsession, (I wish I could quote Shakespeare so flawlessly. Every scene with them was a breath of fresh air.
I loved the way the book focused on the daily lives of the characters and showed all that family drama. My brown heart related so much to that. The problems associated with their race and religion were also dealt with in a well balanced way. From the way the mosque and the local community played such a huge role in the characters’ lives, to their love-hate relationships with relatives, this book was relatable and funny and endearing.
6. From Divya Agrawal!
Anon by Bhavani Iyer. Welcome to Calcutta of the sixties and seventies. Meet Debottam, the genius vagabond son of a wealthy zamindar. Meet Urbish, the ambitious dreamer whose father is a fisherman. Walk with them through the red earth of Shantiniketan. Visit the jazz clubs of Park Street. Experience friendship redefined by two people who have only one thing in common writing.
But one is willing to kill to write and the other is willing to die.
Anon. Short for Anonymous.
After all what’s in a name?
Divya has a booktube channel on Youtube, and you can check out her review of the book, here, and for more reviews, be sure to subscribe to her channel!
7. From Poonum Desai!
The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: A Fable About Fulfilling Your Dreams and Reaching Your Destiny by Robin S. Sharma. This is a great book if you are looking for some perspective on life. The book is told in a conversation story-like format so sometimes it gets a little tedious to read, but the main takeaway points and advice is incredibly valuable. It is very easy to take notes on and gives advice that is actually easy to apply in your life. It is a great read if you feel lost in your life, or are contemplating life's meaning and what you want from life.
Poonum isn't just a reader, she's a debut author herself! You can follow her on Instagram for amazing discussions on IG Live @authorpoonumdesai, and keep an eye out for her debut book, Sincerely, Life.
This list is in no way comprehensive, but I love the variety in the stories being told. I'm excited for this future where we aren't tied down to the same old tropes. Where we have stories with nuance! Regional experiences, diaspora experiences, queer experiences, and experiences of the young and old!
There isn't one single South Asian experience, and we deserve to have all of those stories told! We all deserve to see ourselves represented. When we start working together to amplify our stories, we start to build a space where more of those stories can be nurtured. Where readers can feel seen and writers can feel heard.
This blog post is just the beginning. I hope anyone reading this will give one of these books a shot. I know I've added them all to my list!