When Dimple Met Rishi and other tales
The Man Booker longlist was released at the end of July, and almost immediately two authors stood out to me: Mohsin Hamid for Exit West and Arundhati Roy for The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. On a list of 13, two of them are South Asian, which thrilled me and reminded me of some of my favourite books written by South Asian writers:
I can’t explain the feeling when I saw this book faced out in a Waterstones I visited. To see a South Asian girl on the cover, smiling so gleefully, took my heart by storm. As did the romance within the pages. It’s witty, it’s nerdy, it’s joyful. And Menon is crafting her own connected universe, so expect more South Asians being joyful in books.
A thrilling debut from a Bangladeshi writer, A Golden Age traces Bangladeshi and Pakistani politics for those of us that might be on the outside and not know of the intricate and complex relationship between the two nations. Tahmima focuses on one family during the civil war, and her writing is poignant and beautiful.
This collection of poetry by American-Indian Kaur needs no introduction. Her poetry is minimalist at best, her line-drawings simple, and it all serves to enhance the emotional impact of her writing. With her new collection, the sun and her flowers, out later this year, there’s no better time to take a chance on her.
Matharu rose to fame via Wattpad, where he was picked up by traditional publishing and has since climbed bestseller lists with every book in the series. A fantasy world inspired by the books Matharu would escape into as a child to escape racism in his youth, The Summoner is for those of us who might not want to read something quite so literary.
A YA debut that took the world by storm, An Ember in the Ashes did so for good reason. Laia is a slave, Elias is a soldier, and both live in a world that doesn’t let them be what they want. Tahir builds a terrifying world of magic and chaos, with her simple but effective prose and well-drawn characters.
Desai’s debut book serves to do something that is quite hard: to be comical and poignant at the same time. It propelled her to writerly acclaim, and for good reason. If you’ve ever wanted to read about a man climb a guava tree and become a holy man, this is the book for you.
I came across this completely by accident one day in 2012. I saw the book, faced outwards in a Waterstones, and I bought it because the name told me this was a writer who came from the same place I did. Hamid is quietly brilliant in his writing. He tells his stories with calm reverence, and they are that much more impactful for it.
This debut short story collection solidified Lahiri as a writer to keep an eye on. The stories document the unrest in immigrants in America, written beautifully by Lahiri, and pack quite the emotional impact.
Rushdie is covered in controversy from head-to-toe. His name is whispered in the Muslim community, because of this very book. I didn’t get to it until I hit university, forced to read it (and pretending to my parents that I hated every second of it). But once I had finished, I had to admit that Rushdie is a phenomenal writer. He weaves together two narratives here, one of the reality of immigration and one a retelling of Islamic history. His characters are witty, his exploration of Western society both depressing and joyous, and he finds humour in the strangest of places. Put aside the controversy for this one, the writing is far better.
In her glorious debut, Ali draws a compelling portrait of a woman taken from her home country and thrown into London. Nazneen, who arrives in London after getting married, knows only ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’, and the narrative traces her adjustment to her new life. Ali’s prose is effective, and her picture of London could compete against Zadie Smith’s.
This is a cheat, because I’ve already mentioned Rushdie on this list, but a list of books penned by South Asian authors I love can’t miss this book. Midnight’s Children tells the tale of the children born just as the partition between India and Pakistan occurred. A part-chilling, part-fantastical, part-comical narrative of the partition’s effect on people, Rushdie manages to both educate and entertain in equal measure.
And to tie off this list, Arundhati Roy, who won the Man Booker with her debut book, The God of Small Things, and, after twenty years, has just been awarded a spot on the longlist for her second foray into fiction. Her writing hits hard, her insights compelling, and her characters brilliantly drawn. If you read anything on this list, make it this one.