Text: Divya Sehgal
It’s raining literary prizes, especially South Asian ones. From the DSC prize to the recently unveiled JCB shortlist, it’s been a pleasure to see more women making their way into not only the longlists but also the shortlists. With the festive season upon us, we thought why not do a roundup of some books written by South Asian women we’ve loved? Add these to your (ever growing) TBR list this holiday period.
Small Days and Nights – Tishani Doshi
I discovered Tishani Doshi after reading her hard-hitting poetry. And her writing skills superbly extend to fiction. Poet, dancer, and novelist, Tishani Doshi who is half Welsh grew up in Madras, a tiny bit of detail you would struggle to miss in Small Days and Nights. The novel which is set in the Deep South, taking us through Madras, Kodaikanal, Pondicherry and the beaches of Tamil Nadu, is about a woman who after her mother’s funeral discovers she has a sister she never knew about. She wrote this book as a tribute to her brother, Ajay who has Down’s Syndrome – and to all those children with Down’s who in the 60s were left in a care home by their parents. Beautifully written and at once gripping, it tugs at your heart, you’ll be swept away in the lives of Grace and Lucia.
The Far Field – Madhuri Vijay
A stunning debut, The Far Field has been nominated for both the JCB Prize for Literature and DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. The novel, about a woman who embarks on a life-changing journey to Kashmir after her mother’s death, takes us from the personal to the political. If you’re looking for a piece of literature to deepen your understanding of Kashmir after recent events, this is one book to delve into. Vivid, nuanced, complex with evocative prove, The Far Field deserves every bit of space on those literary lists.
The Runaways – Fatima Bhutto
Longlisted for the DSC South Asian Literature prize, The Runaways by Fatima Bhutto is a look into the lives of three youngsters from different walks of life who for their own reasons decide to join a jihadi training camp in Mosul. This couldn’t have been a more timely novel. Fatima Bhutto puts humanity right at the forefront of her novel, challenging us to change the way we think of those “disillusioned” young men and women who choose to join Islamist groups. A book about Idealism, vulnerability, naivety, and passion, The Runaways is a must-read to know the stories of those on the other side.
Good Talk – Mira Jacob
Yes, we’re cheating a bit here as Mira Jacob is American, but being of South Asian descent allows her space in this list. Good Talk is a graphic memoir in conversation, primarily with her six-year-old son, in which they traverse questions on race and identity and growing up mixed-race in Trump’s America. It takes us through the intimate details of her childhood, a brown girl very much in minority in New Mexico, through to her time in New York as a young journalist. The book struck a chord with me more so because of how she talks to her mixed-race son about race, racism, Trump, and the family dynamics that come along with interracial marriages. One not to be missed, especially if you’re a fan of Persepolis or Maus. it’s honest, raw, funny, and everything you’d want in a fast-paced graphic memoir.
The Girl in White Cotton – Avni Doshi
Another debut, The Girl in White Cotton by Avni Doshi looks into the relationship of a daughter with her ailing mother. There have been several novels that have examined the closeness and tightness of a mother-daughter relationship, or sometimes lack of, like Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk and Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton. The novel set in Pune is about a daughter’s confrontation of her past, her mother’s betrayal and explores the themes of memory and motherhood. The prose is sharp, the storytelling brilliant, and a story which will remain in the very crux of your being for a long time.
Milk Teeth – Amrita Mahale
If you like books that are set against the heavy backdrop of a city, you will love Amrita Mahale’s Milk Teeth. And if you love Mumbai, this is one you shouldn’t miss. Milk Teeth puts two protagonists at the centre of her novel, but the larger picture is that of the change, expansion, exploration of Mumbai in the 90s. Love, lust, frustration, lies, fears, hopes, prejudices, Milk Teeth sucks you into the daily life of two residents of the Maximum City with her beautiful and incisive writing.