(Disclaimer: I originally threw the entirety of my list into this post, but I don’t think anyone would’ve made it to the end. As a kindness, I’ll post the nonfiction list separately tomorrow)
Ever since I started paying attention to what I was reading, I’ve found a ridiculous number of gaps. So after flailing and beating myself up about it (as one does), in my quest to read mindfully, I’ve decided to tackle specific gaps each year. I’d talked about this to a few of my book club friends, and ever since my reading has shifted to reading mostly diverse voices, challenges like the Read Harder one from Book Riot are no longer intimidating. So I decided this was the best opportunity to start focusing on some of those gaps.
Something I’ve been painfully aware about for the longest time is that I’ve read very few books by South Asian (and diaspora) authors or set in South Asia. If I want to see more South Asian books published, then as a reader I need to actively seek these books out, read them, and talk about them. So, here are some of the books on my 2017 TBR. It’s a mix of frontlist and backlist titles, and I hope people are able to find things that fall in their wheelhouse.
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon: YA contemporary romance, Indian-American MCs whose parents have arranged for them to be married. Comedy ensues.
A Time To Dance by Padma Venkatraman: YA realistic fiction, MC is a bharatanatyam prodigy who is struggling to regain her passion after an accident leaves her a below-the-knee amputee. Disability rep. (As a bharatanatyam dancer myself I am ashamed I’ve never read this before. Also, the premise seems to be inspired by the life of Sudha Chandran, or maybe that’s just me.)
Step Up To The Plate, Maria Singh by Uma Krishnaswami: MG novel set during World War II, 9-year old MC wants to play softball while simultaneously dealing with prejudice and discriminatory laws. Biracial rep, immigrant story.
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal: Contemporary adult fiction. Multigenerational. MCs are Indian immigrants in their mid-forties, each facing their individual crises, until their paths cross and an unusual friendship blossoms.
Stained by Abda Khan: Contemporary adult fiction, Pakistani-British MC, struggles to cope with loss of her father, becomes a victim of sexual abuse by a trusted family friend. Explores cultural identity conflict and their impact on dealing with traumatic events. TW: rape.
Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera: Contemporary adult fiction, immigrant story, Punjabi MC is forced to take over the family business after the unexpected death of his father, reevaluates his life, and attempts to reconcile his family’s story and legacy with his London life.
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota: Thirteen young men living in a house in Sheffield, all having run from India for a fresh start and a new life.
Sea Of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh: Historical fiction, set during the time just before the Opium Wars, is about a diverse cast of characters on board the Ibis, a schooner on a journey from Baltimore to Calcutta. (I love Amitav Ghosh and this book was nominated for the Man Booker, so, I’m hoping it lives up to the hype. I’m increasingly wary these days of POC representation even by authors of color, so I’m really really really hoping this one isn’t problematic because it would be a real disappointment.)
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai: This Man Booker winner is a historical fiction novel, set in Nepal during a rising insurgency, a cranky old judge who can’t stop thinking about his son who’s an illegal immigrant in the States, instead of his orphaned granddaughter left in his care. Amidst political tensions is also a budding romance between the granddaughter and her Nepali tutor. Chaos ensues.
The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad: Historical fiction, a young couple who are refugees from tribes in FATA, have to escape to avoid punishment as a result of life events. Their son, descended from both chiefs and outlaws, travels throughout remote tribal areas. (I picked this up out of curiosity, because the author was 79 when he wrote this, his first novel, and I admire his tenacity already.)
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri: Historical fiction set in Calcutta, two brothers who are total opposites, including in their political inclinations. One of them joins the Naxalite movement, and when something happens to him, the other returns from the States to piece the family back together.
What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera: Contemporary fiction, a young girl growing up in Sri Lanka has to immigrate to the States with her mother following a tragedy, and start over.
The Gospel of Yudas by K. R. Meera: Set during the Naxalite period in Kerala, Prema is drawn to the Naxalite ideology, and is infatuated with Yudas, who she believes was tortured by her tyrannical father in his prison camp. Yudas has got secrets of his own. (I’m a little worried about the narrative verging on the former prisoner romance area, but also need to read up on the Naxalite group in detail for some context.)
A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam: A young widow must do what she must to keep her family safe during the Bangladesh War of Independence.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri: Short story collection, Pulitzer winner. (Also she’s one of my favourite authors, so maybe it’s about time I read this.)
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin: Short story collection set in Pakistan.
Moth Smoke: A Novel by Mohsin Hamid: Contemporary fiction, MC gets involved in a life of crime after getting fired, and is then caught and on trial for a murder he may or may not have committed.
The Immortals by Amit Chaudhari: MC is a classically trained musician who enjoys teaching popular music and covets a modern life, accepts a student who only wants to study Indian classical music. Story follows their evolving relationship and their families.
Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie: Fantasy fiction. I’m still unclear on the premise, and GR isn’t particularly illuminating. But it is Rushdie so I expect good storytelling and general weirdness.
The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: Fantasy fiction, Mahabharata retelling from Draupadi’s POV.
Sunbolt Chronicles by Intisar Khanani: YA fantasy, MC is orphaned at an early age and is forced to keep her magical abilities, the identity of her parents, and her role in an underground revolutionary movement a secret. While on a mission, she’s captured by the baddies and must escape. (ICYMI, I loved Thorn by the same author, so I’m really looking forward to this series.)
Blue Boy by Rakesh Satyal: Coming-of-age story of a queer preteen boy who is also a second generation immigrant, and how he deals with being different and being a social outcast.
God Loves Hair by Vivek Shraya: A short story collection that follows a child navigating society, race, gender, sexuality, and religion.
Marriage of A Thousand Lies by S. J. Sindu: A Srilankan married couple pretend to be heterosexual to their parents and date people of their actual gender/sexual preference on the side.
Some notes about this list: It goes without saying that it is by no means an exhaustive list. These are just the books I would definitely like to read this year. This list does not include any books with South Asian rep that I’ve read in the past. Two, a lot of these authors are firmly South Asian, as are the MCs, so I’d love to get recommendations of more authors from the diaspora. Third, I was unable to find a lot of queer/disability fiction books by South Asian authors, which makes me feel terrible. So again, if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.
Let me know if you’ve read any of these, or if you have any recommendations, and keep an eye out for the nonfiction list tomorrow!