Living Diaspora: A Reading List
For our Politics in Diaspora issue, we asked the Jamhoor community to recommend their favourite fiction works set in the experiences of the South Asian diaspora.
The recommendations we received reflect the complex experiences and emotion encapsulated in our communities with richness, nuance, and sensitive detail. We are proud to showcase a bit of our community in our special issue.
Enjoy the List and don’t forget to share your own recommendations in the comments below!
1. Family Life by Akhil Sharma
WW Norton, 2014
“This book is one of my favourites! It's a coming of age story of Ajay, an 8 year old who immigrates with his family to New York in 1978. Shortly after, his older brother has a life-changing accident and we follow Ajay as the family deals with this event. The prose is light but the imagery is vivid, the story is gripping, and the family dynamics visceral. It captures so deeply the immigrant experience of moving through a foreign world, the diasporic ways of holding on to what is now so distant, the breaking that lives within us.
I read this when I was going through huge life transitions and it was gratifying to read something so deeply real. For all the complex terrain it covers, it's a breezy read that I would highly recommend to everyone.”
- Recommended by Umang
2. Bodies in Motion by Mary Anne Mohanraj
Apart from being beautifully written, these interwoven short stories touch on a range of issues. The story of three generations of a Sri Lankan family jumps through time and space to share the intimate details and complex relationships of mothers, daughters, sisters, and partners. I’d recommend this book to anyone who can appreciate the contradictions in love, a complex family, and a queer storyline. The variety of perspectives can be appreciated by those in the diaspora as well as abroad.
- Recommended by M.S.
3. Stealing Nasreen by Farzana Doctor
Inanna Publications, 2007
This story based in Toronto, Canada is perfect for local queers to find themselves reflected in the inner battles of a traditional family woman and a single lesbian in her 30s. This juicy story of desire, loss, and migration of three characters intertwines and unfolds in a way that leaves you wanting more until the very last page.
The novel is short and sweet. Reading online reviews may give away the storyline!
- Recommended by M.S.
4. Brother by David Chariandy
McClelland & Stewart, 2017
This is Chariandy’s second award-winning book. Narrated from the point of view of a child growing up in a single-parent household with his brother, it is based largely on the author’s own life experiences in a working class, immigrant community of mixed Afro- and Indo-Caribbean backgrounds. Laying the groundwork of what Scarborough (Toronto) was like in the 80s and 90s brings life to the story of a working class community dealing with grief and family loss. Touching on issues that continue to squeeze poor immigrant communities in Toronto such as police violence, explicit political moments in the plot centre on race.
Although Chariandy’s language and structure can be read as too lyrical, almost a call back to ‘classics’, I would recommend this book for high school reading - well-informed teachers can use it to get their students into deeper analysis.
- Recommended by V.F.
5. A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
We received two recommendations for this book - it is now on our must-read list!
This is a very moving story about a first-generation Indian-American Muslim family and the complexity of family relationships. The coming-of-age-as-a-first-generation-Muslim-American may sound cliche, but Mirza's novel manages to be original and beautifully written. If you are looking for an action-packed read, this isn't for you - this is a slow-burning family drama, but you get fully sucked into the lives and emotions of each character. After reading this, I couldn't help but feel awed that it was the author’s debut novel when she was only 26 years old!
- Recommended by Myra Khan
A Place for Us is perhaps my favourite book of all time. I love this story of a Shia family in the US. Although this isn't my story, it was remarkable to read about this family and recognise their feelings and conversations and struggles. Is it perhaps the closest I've felt to being seen in literature, and I've bought so many copies for friends and family of this book I've actually lost count!
- Recommended by Shagufta Pasta
6. The Storm by Arif Anwar
Atria, Simon & Schuster Inc, 2018
This debut novel from Canadian-based Bangladeshi author Arif Anwar spans seven decades and shares different stories, all connected by the real-life 1970 Bhola cyclone, a disaster that killed half a million people overnight. I loved this novel for its ambition. It covers a long stretch of history, across four countries, from five diverse perspectives. But don't worry, the ambition is balanced with seamless writing. If you like historical fiction, family sagas, and a healthy dose of mystery, you will enjoy The Storm!
- Recommended by Myra Khan
7. Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda.
William Morrow Paperbacks, Harper Collins, 2010
I was trying to think of any other book but I keep coming back to this one. I hadn't realized until now that the author was Canadian-Indian! I think I related to the character because we were about the same age and she, too, is a writer. Asha is born in 1985, a year before me. Her struggle to locate her identity and family between the subcontinent and beyond was reassuring to me at the time. It reminded me that I was not alone in my loneliness.
- Recommended by Zainab Habib
Feature image (home-page) source: Financial Times