- Himel Don Khandker
7 Fresh Desi Reads for Fall
As the night begins to engulf the days and color-changed leaves begin wandering the skies in search of the ground, it’s finally time to grab a PSLs and get cozy as you nourish your soul with some good reads.
To celebrate the Autumn Equinox, we at JORE have scoured far and wide to put together your go-to reading list of books by Desi authors in 2021. Whether you’re a fan of coming-of-age, young adult fiction, rising poetry talent, Pulitzer-winning authors, or harrowing memoirs on challenging societal injustice, we’ve got you covered. So grab a blanket, turn on a candle and explore the latest and the greatest writing from our diaspora.
Serena Singh Flips the Script, Sonya Lalli (February 2021)
3.76/5 from 1207 Ratings on goodreads
From the author of Grown Up Pose, a book we reviewed as part of our inaugural Rossomalai Reads series, comes the story of Serena Singh, a woman who is tired of being told what to do and who she should be. She knows the path she envisions doesn’t include marriage or children despite how this clashes with her mother’s, family’s, and community’s expectations. Why is it so difficult for her parents to recognize that she may want different experiences for her life than her younger sister, who is about to have a big traditional wedding? Follow Serena’s journey as an independent South Asian woman who explores what it means to “have it all,” all while navigating the corporate world, challenging her own long-held beliefs around the importance of self-reliance and learning the value of letting people in.
“I loved connecting with Serena and especially her mother, Sandeep. Being brought up as a Sikh Punjabi I related to so much of what both of them were going through.” - Tej, Readaholic Book Reviews
“I really enjoyed how Serena Singh Flips the Script focused on friendship, family, and career over relationships. I also really enjoyed the theme of doing what you want and not worrying what others think.” - Jess, Just Reading Jess
“This was my first book by Sonya Lalli and the best thing was how utterly relatable it was! Through this journey of self discovery, Serena represents the face of every modern Desi woman.” - Simant Verma on goodreads.com
America Betiya, Anuradha D. Rajurkar (March 2021)
4.11/5 from 618 Ratings on goodreads
This novel explores the balancing act that bicultural South Asian youth have to perform to maintain their North American and desi identities simultaneously. It follows Rani Kelkar, a young artist who meets every Ammi’s worst dream: a “bad boy” who makes art and has tattoos. Coming from a troubled home, he depends on and asks more of Rani than she knows how to provide. Their modern, North American relationship collides with the dynamics, culture, and values of a traditional desi upbringing. When she suddenly ends up in Pune, India for a summer, Rani is forced to confront the truth behind her first love. The book is a coming-of-age piece for those of us who have to merge bicultural identities, portraying the torturous emotions of teenage love, family boundaries, and culture clash of interracial relationships.
“I genuinely think this book was something high school me needed and I think that's why it holds so much value for me now when I read it because it has all the messages and themes a younger version of myself crucially needed to hear to value and appreciate herself and her culmentally - Shivani, Lost In a Bookstore
“Rajurkar was able to write authentic characters that I could connect with in unique ways. The most unique connection of all being with the MC Rani. Her storyline was admittedly one of the most frustrating ones I’ve had the experience of reading. It was a mixture of wanting to shake some sense into her head and also wanting to give her a tight hug. I just adored her character.” - Zaina S., Writing Quills
“I have already been recommending this book to everyone I know. It is easy to fall in love with the lead, Rani, and understand that quintessential coming-of-age tension where you are attempting to extricate your own desires from that of your parents.” - Christina on goodreads.com
If I Tell You the Truth, Jasmin Kaur (January 2021)
4.32/5 from 530 Ratings on goodreads
Touted as being “perfect for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo and Rupi Kaur”, this story is half-novel, half-poetry about Kiran, who flees from Punjab to Canada after being sexually assaulted and raped. Kiran eventually overstays her visa and against all odds, living undocumented for two decades while raising her daughter, Sahaara. As Sahaara learns of her mother’s secret past, she struggles to justify her own existence and decides to seek justice. This book explores the very common, realistic, and underrepresented experience of immigration and the threat of deportation, as well as trauma that transcends generations.
“Kaur fills in details of both women’s stories and personalities with care and grace. The plot is tightly woven and action packed, and readers will quickly become invested in their complex journeys.” - Kirkus Reviews
“While her prose is busy advancing the plot, her poetry is free to underscore important emotional moments. Her stark illustrations are integral as well, adding another dimension to an already emotionally rich story.” - Sarah Sawler, Quills & Quire
“It is not the subject matter alone which makes this such a compelling read; the power of Kaur’s writing is what takes this book to the next level. The use of poetry throughout to push the narrative forward, but also as a form of catharsis for the characters, is innovative. The clear messages about the intersection of power, class, gender, race, and ethnicity—as well as how these factors are used to oppress and silence — are both timely and necessary.” - Beth Mowbray, The Nerd Daily
Whereabouts, Jhumpa Lahiri (April 2021)
3.78/5 from 11,102 Ratings on goodreads
Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Jhumpa Lahiri, writes about dread, attachment and estrangement through the reflections and experiences of a lonely, unnamed protagonist in a nameless city. As readers are taken through her daily travels and wanderings over the course of a year, they too grapple with a deep sense of alienation and question her place in the world alongside her. .
“A tiny novel about everything and nothing.” - Jenny Lawson on goodreads
“Th[e] phrase — “lifeless shards of myself” — cuts very close to the theme of “Whereabouts.” Death is a constant refrain in these scenes, which offer an eerie foreshadowing of the pandemic’s isolation.” - Ron Charles, Washington Post
“Whereabouts takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. Reading this book is like reading art. This book is beyond beautiful, the writing is precise, moving, and gives you this calming effect that you are exactly where you need to be.” - Cindy, Book of Cinz
Image Source: https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1615911775l/57433406._SY475_.jpg
Fractured Freedom: A Prison Memoir (Kobad Ghandy, September 2021)
Ghandy was born in an upper-middle class Parsi family in Mumbai. He was poised for a successful career in the world of corporate finance, but took a hard left turn and instead sought out justice for the oppressed of his country by becoming a radical activist. Ghandy shares how he and his partner dedicated their lives to being of service to the marginalized and how they took action to advocate for a just and humane society. The book has been dubbed “part memoir, part prison diary”, exploring Ghandy and his partner’s lives, love, loss, and the politics surrounding them. Ghandy himself has been incarcerated for over a decade and details his ‘Kafkaesque experiences’ with the Indian judiciary, shining a spotlight on the shortcomings of the legal system. This is a story of how an unjust system breaks the brave and bold-hearted, and it’s told through the polarities of privilege and despair.
“The importance of this memoir and of being Kobad lies in shedding privilege, in adopting poverty and struggle, in choosing the right life, in suffering wrongs for it, and yet remaining steadfast. Fractured Freedom is a moral lesson for modern India, which both the Left and the Right would do well to heed.” - Mahmood Farooqui, Hindustan Times
“In spite of their strong backgrounds where they had chosen to work in or for the elite class easily, they chose to work for the suppressed citizens who lives among us but never treated as equals. This is something which takes heart and [is] very heroic, I must say.” - Abhishek Lodhi on goodreads
Unbelonging, Gayatri Sethi (August 2021)
4.86/5 from 14 Ratings on goodreads
Author Gayatri Sethi recounts her experience searching for a home in the diaspora, drawing from her story as a Tanzanian-born-Punjabi turned American educator. Her part-memoir, part-poetry, part-workbook is an invitation for readers to engage and reflect. It spans nations from South Africa to America, and history, from Partition to the Black Lives Matter movement. She describes in detail her life as she’s faced racism, misogyny, and the complexities of a bicultural identity.
“Unbelonging is one of the most unique works that I’ve ever come across. I say “work” not only because it defies the limitations of genre, but because it both inspires and requires effort from the reader to evaluate and understand.” - Grace Kennedy, Pine Reads Review
“In poignant prose and verse, Gayatri draws from her own journey across boundaries and beyond conformations to unabashedly explore themes around race, gender, migration, and identity. And she does it with steadfast hope and profound compassion.” - Meera Sriram on goodreads
“A disruptive and much-needed book that I am really glad to have had a chance to read.” Taniya on goodreads
The Knockout, Sajni A. Patel (January 2021)
4.06/5 from 388 Ratings on goodsreads
Kareena Thakkar is a rising star in Muay Thai kickboxing who has landed the opportunity of a lifetime in competing in the national championships which may earn her a spot on the Olympic team. It’s not enough that she doesn’t feel “Indian enough”, the sport that fuels her passion is perceived as being too rough for girls and has her fearing that she will be further judged and alienated. This young adult book follows the incredible strength (mentally and physically) of Kareena as she fights against the norms of what an Indian girl ‘should' be.
“[It’s] not only entertaining reading this as an adult, but I'm so excited to think about all the young people who will pick up this book and see things through Kareena's eyes. I hope she inspires them as she has inspired me.” - Bree Lauren, In Love and Words
“As a Pakistani girl, I could relate to the whole conservative views of most desi people, that girls taking part in rough contact sports is something to be disgusted at. However, I really loved how strong Kareena was in her conviction, and didn't care a lot about what people thought as long as she could do what she loved.” - Manhoor Waqas on goodreads
With the number of fresh (and awesome!) books that have come out this year, this list skims the surface of great desi reads. What are your thoughts on the books featured? Have we missed a sleeper hit that’s on your radar? Leave a comment and hit the follow button on IG @joremagazine. Thanks for reading!