Over the last two years, I have become more intentional about reading/listening to books written by a diverse array of writers. I seek out books, new and old, written by authors of color, not only for their different perspectives and outlooks on life and the world around them, but also to show solidarity for people of color. As my daughters grow older and (hopefully) begin to delve into reading, I hope to instill in them this same desire to broaden the range of authors they read. I have introduced them to a few children’s books that include diverse characters and stories to expose them to the reality of our interconnected world, something that took decades for me to experience in books!
Of course, as an Indian-American woman, I gravitate towards stories written by fellow South Asians. I wanted to share a few of the novels I have read and enjoyed in the hopes that it will inspire others to add some of these to their reading lists!
I read this book last month! I saw it at my local library when they displayed books by authors of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage for AAPI Heritage Month. The story takes place in Varanasi, India where many Hindus bring their loved ones at the end of life in the hopes of a “good death.” For Hindus, this means a death that will result in moksha (escape from the cycle of reincarnation) and dying in this holy city is believed to increase one’s chances of attaining moksha. This tale is of a death hostel’s owner and the ghost of his long-lost cousin. I loved all of the characters, and the writing was so vivid! The author won the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing in 2021. I have recommended this book to so many friends!
This story tells the story of Shalini, a young woman with a complicated relationship with her mother. Shalini, in search of some direction in life, decides to leave her home town of Bangalore, India to travel north to Kashmir in search of a near-stranger from her mother’s past. Wrapped up in Kashmir is political turmoil, and her entry into the quiet town there causes ripples that reverberate beyond boundaries. This novel was masterfully written, and I enjoyed the style of going back and forth in time to reveal the story of her mother and this stranger. It was deeply moving, and I urge you to take your time with each page.
This was a book I read years ago, probably in college. It is a work of fiction by a South Indian physician. The story grips your attention from the very beginning when a nun gives birth to twins. Yes, you read that right! It’s been so long since I have read this book, but it remains on my top 10 list of all-time favorites for its lovely characters, heart-wrenching story of family and loss, and aspects of medicine woven into the story line.
This is a work of non-fiction written by the same author of Cutting for Stone. I also read this in my youth, before medical school, and it was instrumental in not only my choices in the medical field, but in helping to shape my world view. Dr. Verghese recounts his experience in caring for AIDS patients at the start of the AIDS epidemic in America. His stories of his patients and his tireless work in fighting with and for them was so inspiring. Even more inspiring was his total openness and lack of fear or stigmatization of his patients during a time when they faced mistrust, loathing, and hatred from society and the government alike. I recommend this to anyone interested in medicine, HIV, and public health.
This was one of my favorite memoirs! I never knew much about Padma Laskhmi until I listened to this audiobook which she narrated. I was immediately drawn in because of her references to South Indian food and culture, especially when she reflects on her visits to India as a child. I found her story compelling and unconventional, and I respect her unapologetic candor. I just purchased her new children’s book Tomatoes for Neela and loved reading it to my girls! They already are asking to make the tomato sauce recipe in that book. I also have Lashmi’s latest cookbook Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet: A World of Recipes for Everyday. If you haven’t checked out her show Taste the Nation (Hulu) out, I recommend it!
Chopra’s memoir was another one that I really enjoyed. I listened to the audiobook version which Chopra narrated. I loved learning more about this Bollywood megastar, who has successfully entered into American television and pop culture with the hit show Quantico. Hearing about the happenstance way in which her career skyrocketed was so fun! I love her incredible work ethic and how important her family is to her, especially her late father. I also really respect her ability to recognize when she made a mistake and apologize for it, but on the other hand, she knows when to stand her ground and not apologize in other circumstances! She truly represents a bridge between India and America both socially and culturally.
I read this book in under two days while on a staycation in Charleston! If the title doesn’t draw you in, then the story most certainly will! This book is great for young adults and older readers alike. It’s a fun and delicious story of a young woman who finds herself teaching English to a group of Punjabi widows, but it turns into something she never expected! There’s a little love story and some interesting yet serious twists, too. This was on Reece Witherspoon’s book club list, and it would be a great vacation/beach read!
This is another novel by the author of Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows. I found this book to have more serious themes woven throughout the story of three sisters who travel to India after their mother’s death. The sisters are as different as can be, but each one faces their own personal crisis which plays out during their time in India. I really enjoyed this book!
This was the latest audiobook I finished. Published this year in 2021, I saw it on a list of new books by South Asian authors. It was a moving story about Jaryk (pronounced Yaar-ek), an orphan from Poland who narrowly escaped the death camps during WWII and later immigrated to America. In New York City, he remains close friends with a fellow Polish orphan whom he met in the displaced persons camp in Poland. It recalls how the owner of his orphanage staged a play by Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore to help prepare the young children for what they were about to endure. Decades later, Jaryk finds himself in Bengal, India to put on the same play as another act of resistance. Along the way, he leaves behind the love of his life, a girl from the American South who lives and works in New York City. There were so many beautiful aspects to this story and its characters. I really enjoyed this book!
This book was a quick read and very relatable in 2020. The author explored the issues of race, politics, and society while answering questions from her young son. I enjoyed listening to the audiobook version!
This was the first collection of poems by Punjabi poet Rupi Kaur. She was born in India, but immigrated to Canada when she was three years old. She self-published this first book at the age of 21! She has written two more poetry collections since (the sun and her flowers and home body), and her performance Rupi Kaur Live is on Amazon Prime video. I love following her on instagram and seeing her beautiful verses alongside her lovely illustrations.
At 603 pages, this book took me a good while to finish. I listened to the audiobook version which was wonderfully narrated, but I do think this book deserves sitting down and reading to fully digest the story. It was published in 1995 and made it onto Oprah’s Book Club list in 2001. It follows the story of four characters from different classes in Indian society who end up becoming unlikely friends . It was set in the 1970s during “The Emergency,” a time of political unrest in India. I recall so much irony in how the characters’ fates unwind, and in the end, the title’s meaning became so very clear. This is a book I want to revisit in printed form.
It’s not often I go for lighthearted reads, but this looked so fun that I had to give it a try! And it did not disappoint. This is a great young adult genre novel, and it was a welcome break from the usual doom and gloom I tend to go for (ha!) I felt like a fool grinning from ear to ear for the whole story, but I’m not ashamed! This would make another good light vacation read. I just learned this, but the Netflix show Mismatched is based on this book!
This book was another story that pulled at my heart strings. The characters are unforgettable and complex, and the book examines the difficulties of fitting in while maintaining one’s culture as immigrants. I was really impressed by this author!
I just finished reading this hardcover. At just under 250 pages and fairly fast-paced, it was difficult to put this book down! It flipped between the early 20th century and the year 2019 to weave the story of a young man and his great grandmother. He, while in India trying to rehabilitate himself from heroin addiction, learns about the farm and china room where his great grandmother lived after her marriage. Her story is at once sad yet sensual and scandalous! I enjoyed the writing greatly, as much of it read like snippets of poetry and was so descriptive it felt like I was witnessing it all in person.
Last but not least is Jhumpa Lahiri! I wrote an entire post dedicated to this writer here, if you’d like to read it =)
Do you have any good book recommendations by South Asian authors? I am always on the search for more!