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8 Books By South Asian Authors And Why You Should Read Them

Add these to your reading list!

Growing up, it was rare to read a book with characters that looked like me. Parvati and Padma Patil from Harry Potter were the extent of Desi representation, and their characters were two-dimensional and stereotypical.

Padma and Parvati Patil meet Harry Potter and Ron Weasley at the Yule Ball
Warner Bros. Pictures / Via youtu.be

Luckily, a lot has changed since then.

@patriotact / Via gph.is

Today, we have a wide variety of strong South Asian protagonists to read about that really showcase what it's like to be Desi in different parts of the world. Here are some of my favorite books that get South Asian representation right.

1. The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

The front cover of The Henna Artist features someone with a scarf on their head walking through a hallway
Harper Collins

The Henna Artist has easily become one of my favorite books of all time. Alka Joshi's debut novel follows the story of a young woman, Lakshmi, who secretly escapes from her abusive marriage to become a henna artist in 1950s Jaipur. Lakshmi quickly becomes the go-to henna artist, healer, and confidante to a network of wealthy women, independently supporting herself until her younger sister, who she never knew about, shows up at her doorstep. I love the way Joshi highlights the struggles of the independent woman in a traditional and conservative society.

2. American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar

The book cover for American Betiya portrays a teenager lying in a field of flowers
Penguin Random House

Anuradha D. Rajurkar's young adult novel explores the balance first gen South Asian kids often have to maintain between their Desi culture and American identities. The story starts with Rani Kelker, a first gen Indian American, meeting her mother's worst nightmare: a boy who makes art and has tattoos. Kelker, who's expected to become a doctor, starts dating the boy in secret. But when her boyfriend's rocky home life leads him to rely more on Rani, she doesn't know how to give him what he needs. By chance, Rani gets an opportunity to visit India, where she thinks about what she really wants and if her first love is a part of that equation. It's a bold coming-of-age piece that a lot of us, who have had to seamlessly merge two separate identities, can relate to.

3. Internment by Samira Ahmed

The book cover of Internment features the main character wearing a hat that says "Resist"
Little, Brown Books For Young Readers

Book burnings, curfews, constant surveillance and interment camps. Samira Ahmed's dystopian novel portrays a horrifying alternate reality, one that doesn't seem too far off from today's divided American society. The story centers around Layla Amin and her family who have been put in an interment camp by the American government for being Muslim. Though she longs for the "normal" life she had before, Layla is determined to take action and rebel against what is wrong. She teams up with her fellow teenage detainees and her boyfriend, who's on the outside, to lead a fight for freedom. This is an important read that emphasizes the consequences of allowing racist rhetoric to slide.v

4. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The cover of The White Tiger features a drawing of a car
Simon & Schuster

Balram Halwai, the main character and narrator of this story, comes from a poor family. Determined to make something of himself, Halwai does everything he can to become the driver of Ashok, a man from a prominent, wealthy family. After landing his dream gig, Balram is exposed to the massive, ruthless wealth gap that exists between India's richest members of society and the impoverished who live on the streets or in villages like Balram's own. He is soon forced to make difficult decisions, compromising his integrity for the sake of his rich boss. This story leaves readers thinking about the horrid consequences that come from the unchecked power and lack of ethics that many wealthy people possess.

5. A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena

The book cover features the main character Zarin wearing a head scarf and sunglasses
Macmillan Publishers

Zarin Wadia hasn't had an easy life. After the death of her mother, she was sent to live with her aunt and uncle who didn't really want her. Facing hardship after hardship, Zarin has become a little rough around the edges and rebellious. She's the girl other people's parents say to stay away from. According to her teachers, Zarin is intellectual, bright, and vivacious. But when Zarin ends up dead in a car crash with her boyfriend in Saudi Arabia, people start to speculate about who Zarin really was. Through the book's different stories and perspectives, it becomes clear that Zarin is far more than just "a girl like that."

6. Family Life: A Novel by Akhil Sharma

The cover features the book's title reflected in a pool
W. W. Norton & Company

Akhil Sharma's mostly autobiographical work tells the story of the Mishras, an Indian family emigrating from Delhi to the U.S. in the 1970s. Excited for new opportunities, automatic doors, and carpeting, the Mishras arrive to their new home bright-eyed. The eldest Mishra son, Birju, is intelligent and has been accepted to a prestigious high school. He is on track to become a doctor and support his family. The Mishras finally feel like they might have a successful future, but when Birju gets into a diving accident, damaging his brain, the family must shift gears to care for him. Ajay, the youngest son and narrator, feels immense pressure to help keep this family afloat. This is a tough, complicated, but realistic account of what can happen when your plans for life don't go how you expected them to.

7. Well-Behaved Indian Women by Saumya Dave

The book cover features the silhouettes of three women in front of the New York City skyline
Penguin Random House

Saumya' Dave's debut novel tells the stories of three generations of Indian women โ€” Mimi, Nandini, and Simran. Simran is in her early twenties and on the cusp of a some big life changes. She's studying psychology at Columbia and engaged to her high school sweetheart Kunal, but when a charismatic journalist finds their way into Simran's life, she questions her career choice and her relationship with Kunal. Nandini, Simran's mother, has spent her whole life trying to please her in-laws and her family. Tired of focusing on being the "perfect Indian woman," she jumps on an inviting, life-changing offer. Mimi, Nandini's mother, reflects on some of the questionable parenting decisions she made in the past and tries to make up for her lack of compassion by supporting Simran in her endeavors.

8. A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

The book cover features fireworks in a night sky above some homes in a neighborhood
Penguin Random House

This story follows the lives of an Indian American Muslim family living in California. When Amar, an estranged son of the family, comes home after three years to attend his sister's wedding, their parents have to face the events and factors that led to Amar leaving home. The siblings also have to work on balancing their American identities and present culture with their traditional Desi backgrounds and their parents' faith. Mirza's book puts the stories of so many South Asian Americans in the spotlight, and it was such a relatable read as someone of Desi heritage.

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A drawing of four Asian Americans sharing their voices in front of a tropical flower backdrop
BuzzFeed / Kathy Hoang

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