Since bursting onto the literary scene in 1999 with her short story collection Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri’s name has become synonymous with South Asian American literature. But what should fans do if they’ve already read The Namesake, Unaccustomed Earth and The Lowland?
We’ve rounded up some recent books that can help fill the need for a melancholic and sharply observed story in your literature-loving heart.
Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao
Shobha Rao’s debut novel centers around the intertwined stories two girls from an Indian village who are both brought together and torn apart by cruel chance. As Rao writes, “Poornima and Savitha have three strikes against them. They are poor. They are driven. And they are girls.”
When we first meet Poornima it looks like her life is about to meet a tragic end. She is about to fall into a river and while her mother screams for her father to save her, her father thinks, “She’s just a girl. Let her go…” Things inevitably worsen after Poornima’s mother’s death. The one bright spot is when the imaginative and clever Savitha enters their household. When the two girls are separated, Poornima literally crosses the globe in an attempt to find her.
Since its publication in March, Girls Burn Brighter has received glowing reviews and landed on several “Best Book of the Month” lists. As a reviewer for the Los Angeles Times put it, “Girls Burn Brighter contains many scenes that will make readers seethe at the injustice against women in this world, but what they may remember long after reading is the book’s sustained and elegant prose.”
Dive into this emotional novel here.
The Heart is a Shifting Sea, by Elizabeth Flock
While The Heart is a Shifting Sea is a nonfiction book by PBS Newshour correspondent Elizabeth Flock, it reads more like a closely observed novel about modern-day Mumbai. Flock first moved to the city as a young journalist in her early twenties as a reporter for Forbes. It was there that she met three couples — Veer and Maya, Shahzad and Sabeena and Ashok and Parvati — who are figuring out how to navigate love and marriage in a rapidly changing India.
After Veer and Maya elope, for example, they are completely unprepared for the backlash from their social circle that follows. Meanwhile, Sabeena and Shahzad learn to care for each other despite Shahzad’s infertility and the constant bombardment of messages about the importance of having children.
Readers will be struck by how much the couples open up to Flock about their struggles with adultery, childlessness and strict gender roles. “What unfolds is a book that truly is impossible to put down,” wrote Kapil Komireddi in the Washington Post.
Grab a copy here.
Marriage of a Thousand Lies by S.J. Sindu
Readers will immediately be drawn into the premise of Sri Lankan-American writer S.J. Sindu’s debut novel. Recently named a Lambda Literary Award finalist, the book revolves around the story of Lucky, a closeted lesbian who enters into an arranged marriage with an (also closeted) family friend in order to uphold cultural tradition.
As Sindu told NBC News last year, many readers were originally surprised by the book’s premise and have mentioned to the author that they found it hard to believe that such an arrangement would occur in the United States today. “That’s the big hurdle for a lot of people. The arranged marriage process seems antiquated and strange,” the author noted last year. “And on top of that, for straight people the process of coming out seems like once you are out, you are out to everyone, which is just not how it works.”
Interested in reading more? Get a copy here.
That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam
Unlike many of his fellow novelists of South Asian descent, Rumaan Alam tends to write about characters with backgrounds that are completely different from his own. His first novel, 2016’s Rich and Pretty, was about two young women named Sarah and Lauren who first met as children at a very posh private school. “Many writers have been able to wring beautiful work out of the stuff of their own lives. And I just did not feel that that was something that interested me,” he told NPR at the time.
Alam will be back next month with his sophomore book That Kind of Mother. His new book forces readers to think about race, class and family as they read about a well-off New York mother who adopts the child of her son’s nanny when the domestic worker tragically dies in childbirth. One of the most anticipated novels of 2018, Alam’s novel “offers a memorable depiction of a mother’s journey as her children grow and her marriage collapses,” wrote Publishers Weekly.
Pre-order your copy today.