6 Books To Help You Understand Your South Asian Heritage

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Dee Das

Staff Writer

Trying to live, love, and say it well in good sentences. Pronouns: she/her. Contact:

South Asian Literature is often treated as an appendage of post-colonial politics or a potent tool of decolonization. While these facts are definitely true, this branch of literature has more to offer than it usually gets credit for. If you are tired of the reductive labels used to describe South Asian Literature and want to know more about your culture and heritage, this list is just for you!

The Palace Of Illusions By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The Indian epic of The Mahabharata has not been kind to its women. In an attempt to rectify that, Divakaruni has reimagined this magnificent epic from the point of view of Panchaali, wife of the Pandavas. This novel traces Panchaali’s birth in the fire, her marriage to her five husbands who were cheated out of their inheritance, her strategic confrontations with her mother-in-law, her friendship with Krishna, and her illicit attraction to her husbands’ biggest enemy. A nuanced tale of love, loss, and redemption, this book is a must-read for anyone trying to dig deeper into Indian epics.

Funny Boy By Shyam Selvadurai

In his world, Arjie is an anomaly. He is the ‘funny boy’ who prefers dressing up as a girl and playing with his female cousins to whiling away his time in cricket matches. He comes of age when the civil war in Sri Lanka is gaining momentum. The war between the army and the Tamil Tigers is slowly encroaching on the peace that his affluent family enjoys. Through Arjie’s eyes, we witness a country being torn apart by racism, homophobia, and hate, amidst other vile instances of disgusting humanity.

The Circle Of Karma By Kunzang Choden

Written in English, this book is the first novel with a female author to come out of Bhutan. It traces the story of Tsomo, a Bhutanese woman trying to make sense of the world as well as her own life’s trajectory. After her mother’s demise, she embarks on a journey across Bhutan and India to put things into perspective. The elaborate descriptions of the country of her birth coupled with Tsomo’s quest for self-actualization and search for a life partner make this book an unusual but highly relatable read for readers of every age group.

The Wandering Falcon By Jamil Ahmad

This book begins with the love story between the chieftain’s daughter and her father’s servant. The eponymous falcon is Tor Baz, their love child, who witnesses his parents getting slaughtered for daring to transgress tribal laws. Set in the borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan, this book goes beyond the conspiracies, drone attacks, and other disturbing conflicts highlighted by the media as we see Baz traveling across mountains, plains, and tribes to get closer to humanity.

Difficult Daughters By Manju Kapur

Set during the time of Partition, this book is a crucial read to comprehend the position of women in post-independence India, familial ties, and the cultural paradigms impacting collective morality. Virmati’s love for a married professor doesn’t work in her favor as she is disowned by her family. Her marriage isn’t a happy one either, considering how he is still cohabitating with his first wife. Narrated from her daughter’s perspective, this is a haunting tale of one woman’s love for everything fatal, a country grappling with its newfound identity, and how the political merges with the personal.

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders By Daniyal Mueenuddin

An intricate work dealing with power dynamics and class hierarchy existing between the master and servant classes of Pakistan, this literary masterpiece brings into life the Gurmani family farm through a bunch of interconnected short stories. The stories track the lives of a feudal landlord, his household staff, the villagers who depend on his charity to survive, and a network of related acquaintances seeking to make a fortune in the city. They paint a sometimes hopeful and sometimes haunting picture of a country going through change and its good fight to find order within chaos.