Books Like Us: 8 Wonderful Novels by South Asian Authors

October 7 2021
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When I was growing up, there weren’t many shows, movies, or books that featured characters of South Asian descent. I was able to find these characters in Bollywood movies, but it was rare to see South Asians in Western media. I can still remember walking along the stacks at my local library, picking up books as I searched for my next read. One day, I found Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier. I was so excited to finally see a cover that featured someone who looked like me. Born Confused is a coming-of-age story about a young girl named Dimple who grows up in America and tries to find herself while also trying to find a balance between upholding her parents’ traditions and culture and fitting in with her classmates, who grew up living like the Joneses. When Born Confused was published in America in 2003, it was one of the only books at the time to feature South Asian characters. What was even more exciting was that Dimple wasn’t just a side character, she was the protagonist! It took me several more years before I found another book that featured characters who represented my heritage.

Today, I’m excited that multiple books by South Asian authors featuring characters that represent this diverse community are available. I’ve rounded up a few of my favorites, all of which have been published in the past few years. I hope that soon we’ll see even more representation of our stories in books.

Love, Chai, and Other Four-Letter Words
by Annika Sharma

Like many immigrants, Kiran came to America to pursue a college degree. After graduating from Duke, she moves to New York City to start her career, and makes a tight-knit circle of friends who dub themselves the Chai Masala Club (CMC).

Kiran has always been a good daughter, following her parents’ traditions and rules—including not dating, since her parents want her to have an arranged marriage. But when Nash, a handsome psychologist, moves into her building, she feels a connection to him. Nash is new to the city and is just beginning to enjoy all the amazing experiences New York City has to offer, while Kiran is looking to cross things off her own NYC to-do list. The pair decide to explore the city together, but the more time they spend in each other’s company, the harder it is to resist the chemistry between them. I love the way that Annika Sharma makes the city a character in her novel. It’s a charming love story not just between the couple but also between the characters and New York City.

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Love, Chai, and Other Four-Letter Words
Annika Sharma

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MENTIONED IN:

Books Like Us: 8 Wonderful Novels by South Asian Authors

By Saimah Haque | October 7, 2021

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The Startup Wife
by Tahmima Anam

Asha Ray is a computer programmer studying for a PhD at MIT, focused on making her Bangladeshi immigrant parents proud of her accomplishments. When her high school crush, Cyrus Jones, comes back into her life, there’s an instant connection between the two, and they decide to get married on a whim. Asha, a skilled coder, drops out of her PhD program to work with Cyrus to build a thrilling new app, We Are Infinite (WAI). The app creates personalized rituals to replace actual religious ones for various types of real-life traditions. Asha and Cyrus gain the backing of a tech incubator called Utopia, and WAI soon becomes one of the most popular social media platforms in the world.

But Asha begins to feel like she’s stuck in the shadow of her husband in her own boardroom. The lines between work and life begin to blur, and they struggle to separate the two. Can their marriage survive the spotlight of CEO Cyrus’s newfound fame as the “messiah,” or will things fall apart? This novel touches on many aspects of life in our tech-centric world and the struggle to find the right work-life balance. It dives into the grueling world of the tech industry and the challenges women face in STEM careers that are still dominated by men.

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The Startup Wife
Tahmima Anam

“Tahmima Anam deftly uses humor to explore both start-up culture and the institution of marriage in an utterly charming and genuinely thoughtful way.” —Rumaan Alam, author of Leave the World Behind

Newlyweds Asha and Cyrus build an app that replaces religious rituals and soon find themselves running one of the most popular social media platforms in the world.

Meet Asha Ray.

Brilliant coder and possessor of a Pi tattoo, Asha is poised to revolutionize artificial intelligence when she is reunited with her high school crush, Cyrus Jones.

Cyrus inspires Asha to write a new algorithm. Before she knows it, she’s abandoned her PhD program, they’ve exchanged vows, and gone to work at an exclusive tech incubator called Utopia.

The platform creates a sensation, with millions of users seeking personalized rituals every day. Will Cyrus and Asha’s marriage survive the pressures of sudden fame, or will she become overshadowed by the man everyone is calling the new messiah?

In this gripping, blistering novel, award-winning author Tahmima Anam takes on faith and the future with a gimlet eye and a deft touch. Come for the radical vision of human connection, stay for the wickedly funny feminist look at startup culture and modern partnership. Can technology—with all its limits and possibilities—disrupt love?

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The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters
by Balli Kaur Jaswal

The three British-born Punjabi Shergill sisters—Rajni, Jezmeen, and Shirina—were never close growing up, and now, as adults, they’ve grown even further apart. When their mother falls gravely ill, they come together to fulfill her dying wish—that the sisters embark on a pilgrimage to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, a trip that will surely bring the siblings closer together. But each sister is dealing with her own issues as they try to navigate the distance between what’s expected of them and what feels right for them. The author’s storytelling conveys the complexities of living between cultures and the challenges of upholding traditions while trying to find one’s own way. The novel’s vivid descriptions of the food, sounds, and smells along the journey made me long to hop on a plane and travel overseas to visit my parents’ homeland.

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The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters
Balli Kaur Jaswal

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All the Lives We Never Lived
by Anuradha Roy

When you think about World War II historical fiction, most of the stories are set in Europe or the United States. But the war had repercussions all over the world. ALL THE LIVES WE NEVER LIVED is set in India and moves between the 1930s and the 1980s as the narrator, Myshkin, now in his sixties, looks back on his childhood. He was known as the boy whose mother ran off with an Englishman, but his father was actually German. His mother, Gayatri, was a rebellious artist who followed her passions and freedom, leaving parenthood and her marriage behind.

Later in life, Myshkin receives a package containing letters written by his mother in the first few years after her disappearance from his life. The contents set him on a path to make sense of that time and his mother’s abandonment of him. As he was dealing with this tumult, the Nazis were rising to power and India was exploring ways to win its freedom from British control. Through his mother’s letters, Myshkin begins to understand how the political climate of the world at that time affected his family so powerfully.

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All the Lives We Never Lived
Anuradha Roy

From the Man Booker Prize-nominated author of Sleeping on Jupiter and “one of India’s greatest living authors” (O, The Oprah Magazine), a poignant and sweeping novel set in India during World War II and the present day about a son’s quest to uncover the truth about his mother.

In my childhood, I was known as the boy whose mother had run off with an Englishman. The man was in fact German, but in small‑town India in those days, all white foreigners were largely thought of as British.

So begins the “gracefully wrought” (Kirkus Reviews) story of Myshkin and his mother, Gayatri, who rebels against tradition to follow her artist’s instinct for freedom.

Freedom of a different kind is in the air across India. The fight against British rule is reaching a critical turn. The Nazis have come to power in Germany. At this point of crisis, two strangers arrive in Gayatri’s town, opening up to her the vision of other possible lives.

What took Myshkin’s mother from India and Dutch-held Bali in the 1930s, ripping a knife through his comfortingly familiar universe? Excavating the roots of the world in which he was abandoned, Myshkin comes to understand the connections between the anguish at home and a war‑torn universe overtaken by patriotism.

Evocative and moving, “this mesmerizing exploration of the darker consequences of freedom, love, and loyalty is an astonishing display of Roy’s literary prowess” (Publishers Weekly).

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Trust No Aunty
by Maria Qamar

TRUST NO AUNTY by Maria Qamar (also known as @hatecopy) will have you laughing out loud. The book hilariously depicts the types of aunties you may encounter while attending an event with a lot of South Asians—for example, the Matchmaker Aunty, who is trying to find the perfect arranged-marriage match for everyone. As I read this book, I thought of many aunties in my own life who could fit the roles described in this book.

Maria’s art is featured throughout the book; you might recognize it if you watched The Mindy Project. Mindy Kaling is a huge fan of @hatecopy’s work and had some of Maria’s pieces hanging in her apartment in the show.

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Trust No Aunty
Maria Qamar

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The Dating Plan
by Sara Desai

Daisy Patel is a software engineer who is more interested in lists and logic than in finding a suitable husband. But her desi family is eager to find her an eligible suitor, and her matchmaking aunty keeps dropping by to arrange dates. When attending a conference for work, Daisy runs into her childhood crush, Liam. He’s a venture capitalist who’s looking for his next startup to back when he learns that, in order to receive his inheritance, he must be married within the year.

Liam and Daisy strike up an arrangement—a marriage of convenience—that allows Daisy to put off her meddlesome aunties and Liam to fulfill the terms of his late grandfather’s will. But as the couple spends more time together going on fake dates to keep up the charade, they realize their chemistry is undeniable. Can Daisy forgive Liam for the way he broke her heart when she was a teenager and learn to trust him again?

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The Dating Plan
Sara Desai

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MENTIONED IN:

Books Like Us: 8 Wonderful Novels by South Asian Authors

By Saimah Haque | October 7, 2021

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When Dimple Met Rishi
by Sandhya Menon

In Sandhya Menon’s engaging and funny WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI, Dimple is trying to escape her mom’s obsession with finding the “Ideal Indian Husband” by attending a summer program for aspiring web developers. She’s more focused on her career than on finding a perfect match. Rishi, on the other hand, is a hopeless romantic (who has probably watched a few too many Bollywood movies) who’s thrilled when his parents mention that his potential future wife will be attending the same summer program he is. He’s eager to meet the woman his parents have suggested for an arranged relationship, and when he and Dimple meet, their opposing views clash.

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When Dimple Met Rishi
Sandhya Menon

The inspiration for the Netflix original series Mismatched!
A Time Best YA Book of All Time (2021)

Everyone is talking about this New York Times bestselling rom-com that Mindy Kaling called “utterly charming!” Eleanor & Park meets Bollywood in this hilarious and heartfelt novel about two Indian-American teens whose parents conspire to arrange their marriage.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

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MENTIONED IN:

Books Like Us: 8 Wonderful Novels by South Asian Authors

By Saimah Haque | October 7, 2021

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Love from A to Z
by S. K. Ali

Who doesn’t love a great YA romance? After Zayneb gets suspended for confronting her teacher for being Islamophobic, her parents decide it’s the perfect time to get her away from the nonsense. So, Zayneb kicks off her spring break a little early with a trip to Doha, Qatar, to visit her aunt.

There, she crosses paths with Adam, a college student who’s taking a break from classes after receiving a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS). He’s intent on hiding his condition from his father, who’s still grieving the loss of Adam’s late mother. Both Zayneb and Adam keep their thoughts locked away in their journal entries—that is, until they meet each other. As they spend more time together and fall in love, they realize that they need to learn from each other how to better address the challenges they face.

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Love from A to Z
S. K. Ali

“The bighearted, wildly charming, painfully real love story I’ve been waiting for.” —Becky Albertalli, New York Times bestselling author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

“Heartfelt and powerful.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

From William C. Morris Award Finalist S.K. Ali comes an unforgettable romance that is The Sun Is Also a Star meets Anna and the French Kiss, following two Muslim teens who meet during a spring break trip.

A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.

An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.

But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.

When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.

Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.

Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.

Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.

Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

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MENTIONED IN:

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By Alice Martin | October 18, 2021

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Photo credit: iStock / Serbogachuk

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