I’ve been thinking about the type of blog entries that I enjoy reading. Posts that stand out the most to me are entries featuring some sort of list or the potential for discovering amazing new books and fascinating reads. I quite enjoy it when Nikki does it as well.
As such I’m going to attempt to share some of my regional or plain ol’ quirky favourites that I enjoyed reading and maybe a few that I would like for read myself! Each book will be led by a small review or personal reflection.
4 Favourite Books Written by South Asian authors
I haven’t written about or reviewed any books by South Asian authors but I’ve had to read quite a few for literature classes or just for plain fun. Now just to be clear I’m noting South Asian as books by authors from or have books set in the following countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. I didn’t do this with the Caribbean and I think going forth I might explain my regional stuff a bit more? I don’t want to insult anyone but if I do, please school me so I can learn and correct myself.
The God of Small Things
This book is one of the most painful and rich books I’ve ever read. Written by Arunduhti Roy, I had to read this for IB English for its World Literature requirements. I’m lucky that I had an excellent teacher who encouraged and prodded us to continue despite our initial confusion. As 18 year olds we didn’t always want to finish this book but believe me, it was well worth it. Set in Kerala, this book was my first introduction to literature set in India. Roy writes with magic and such depth and detail, it’s hard for you to not feel like you’re there seeing things through the narrators eyes.
It won the Booker Prize in 1997. One of my favourite quotes are: “Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstituted. Suddenly, they become the bleached bones of a story.”
Blurb:“They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much.”
The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family. Their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu, (who loves by night the man her children love by day), fled an abusive marriage to live with their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), and their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt). When Chacko’s English ex-wife brings their daughter for a Christmas visit, the twins learn that things can change in a day, that lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever, beside their river..
Another IB English World Literature read! Written by Syam Salvadurai, I don’t know if I’d call this book YA but it’s got a light tone to it that makes it a very readable and interesting book.
I read this after the God of Small Things by Roy and enjoyed the very different narrative styles and tones in the two books. As a young woman coming to accept my sexuality, this book made me confront things I wasn’t willing to at the time. Additionally, it’s one of the only books I’ve read that highlight what it is to be queer in a non-European/Western/American setting. It’s an excellent coming of age novel that you’ll be able to read quickly and with great interest. I don’t know why it hasn’t gotten more press, it’s absolutely brilliant to be honest.
The NY Times did a really good review of the book that I’d encourage you to read as well!
Blurb: Funny Boy is a coming-of-age novel by Canadian author Shyam Selvadurai. First published by McClelland and Stewart in September 1994, the novel won the Lambda Literary Award for gay male fiction and the Books in Canada First Novel Award.
Set in Sri Lanka where Selvadurai grew up, Funny Boy is constructed in the form of six poignant stories about a boy coming to age within a wealthy Tamil family in Colombo. Between the ages of seven and fourteen, he explores his sexual identity, and encounters the Sinhala-Tamil tensions leading up to the 1983 riots.
The Sari Shop
Written by Rupa Bajwa, this was an interesting read for me. It’s written with a melancholy that I found quite thick and enveloping. To be clear: this isn’t the type of book that has a traditional styled happy ending. Rather it’s an exploration of how poverty and culture can intertwine, with cruelty almost being commonplace.
From an anthropological/material culture perspective, Bajwa drops little nuggets of brilliance in a way that I really enjoyed: the difference between silk and cotton saris and the hopes that are woven into simple fabric because of it. I loved that! How something so material could be so representative of your aspirations and hopes.
Publisher Weekly did an interesting review that might be worth reading as well.
Blurb: Ramchand, a tired shop assistant in Sevak Sari House in Amritsar, spends his days patiently showing yards of fabric to the women of “status families” and to the giggling girls who dream of dressing up in silk but can only afford cotton. When Ramchand is sent to show his wares to a wealthy family preparing for their daughter’s wedding, he is jolted out of the rhythm of his narrow daily life. His glimpse into a different world gives him an urgent sense of possibility. And so he attempts to recapture the hope that his childhood had promised, arming himself with two battered English grammar books, a fresh pair of socks, and a bar of Lifebuoy soap. But soon these efforts turn his life upside down, bringing him face to face with the cruelties on which his very existence depends. Reading group guide included.
The Kite Runner
I feel like everyone knows about this. The Kite Runner has been on a number of best seller lists for sometime and is synonymous with excellent literature.
I won’t go too much into this but briefly: beyond being well written the author, Khaled Hosseini, writes about culture and home in both a tender and harsh way. I read this as a teen and found it quite fascinating. Even Nikki’s enjoyed this and I believe that she’d recommend it!
Blurb: “It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime.” Amir is the son of a wealthy Kabul merchant, a member of the ruling caste of Pashtuns. Hassan, his servant and constant companion, is a Hazara, a despised and impoverished caste. Their uncommon bond is torn by Amir’s choice to abandon his friend amidst the increasing ethnic, religious, and political tensions of the dying years of the Afghan monarchy, wrenching them far apart. But so strong is the bond between the two boys that Amir journeys back to a distant world, to try to right past wrongs against the only true friend he ever had.
The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.
A sweeping story of family, love, and friendship told against the devastating backdrop of the history of Afghanistan over the last thirty years, The Kite Runner is an unusual and powerful novel that has become a beloved, one-of-a-kind classic.
Want To Read: The Bookseller of Kabul
So not a fiction. Written by Åsne Seierstad and Ingrid Christopherson, The Bookseller of Kabul is part travelogue, ethnography and memoir/journal. It’s set in Kabul and though not written by a South Asian writer, might be an interesting outsider-looking-in perspective of a nation (taken with a grain of salt of course).
Blurb: In spring 2002, following the fall of the Taliban, Asne Seierstad spent four months living with a bookseller and his family in Kabul.
For more than twenty years Sultan Khan defied the authorities – be they communist or Taliban – to supply books to the people of Kabul. He was arrested, interrogated and imprisoned by the communists, and watched illiterate Taliban soldiers burn piles of his books in the street. He even resorted to hiding most of his stock – almost ten thousand books – in attics all over Kabul.
But while Khan is passionate in his love of books and his hatred of censorship, he also has strict views on family life and the role of women. As an outsider, Asne Seierstad found herself in a unique position, able to move freely between the private, restricted sphere of the women – including Khan’s two wives – and the freer, more public lives of the men.
Have you read any of these? Or will you go read one?