Muslim spy Noor Inayat Khan also grace its pages
As South Asian authors continue to weave compelling narratives that captivate readers, 2023 has brought new plots, characters and settings to the forefront.
The writing landscape has been enriched by a diverse array of voices, offering unique perspectives and stories that resonate across cultures.
From tales of love and loss to explorations of societal complexities, the best books of the year will surely hold their place for years to come.
What’s even better is that these South Asian authors aren’t just foucsed on their own culture, but are expanding horizons and genres when it comes to literature.
As we delve into this curated selection, get ready to be transported to places both familiar and undiscovered, guided by the storytelling prowess of South Asian authors.
Fear Is Just a Word by Azam Ahmed
Fear Is Just a Word commences on an international bridge connecting Mexico and the United States.
You focus on Miriam Rodríguez, aged 56, who pursues one of the men she believes played a role in her daughter Karen’s murder.
Designated as target number 11, he is a member of the drug cartel that has instilled terror and control over San Fernando, Mexico.
The city was once Miriam’s tranquil hometown situated nearly 100 miles from the US border.
Disguised with red-dyed hair, Miriam eventually orchestrates the arrest of this man, administering her brand of justice.
Interwoven into this meticulously researched and poignant narrative is the account of how cartels amassed power in Mexico.
Despite paying unaffordable ransom money in a desperate attempt to save her daughter, Miriam faced failure.
But it was then that she embraced the notion that “fear is just a word”.
Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor
In the quiet hours of New Delhi at 3 am, a tragic incident unfolds as a speeding Mercedes careens off course, claiming the lives of five individuals.
Despite the luxurious façade of the car, the aftermath reveals not a wealthy owner but a bewildered servant.
Unbeknownst to him, a dark and gripping drama is set to unfold.
Navigating through contemporary India with finesse, Age of Vice presents the rampant corruption and ruthless violence associated with the Wadia family.
Amidst grand estates, extravagant soirées, cutthroat business dealings, and strategic political manoeuvring, three lives intertwine in scary ways.
Ajay, the vigilant servant born into poverty, ascends to the family’s hierarchy.
Sunny, the indulgent heir, harbours aspirations to surpass his father, regardless of the cost.
Meanwhile, Neda, a curious journalist, grapples with the moral dilemma posed by her desires.
Age of Vice emerges as an intoxicating novel, weaving a tale of gangsters and lovers, false friendships, forbidden romance, and the consequences of corruption.
It stands as an irresistible literary indulgence, offering binge-worthy entertainment at its finest.
Roman Stories by Jhumpa Lahiri
From one of the more notable South Asian authors, Jhumpa Lahiri, comes a focus on the enchanting city of Rome.
Lahiri skillfully exposes the vulnerabilities of the human experience and dissects lives lived on the fringes.
The narratives unfold as a man reflects on a summer party that sparks an alternate version of himself.
Against the backdrop of a Roman neighbourhood, a set of steps intertwines the daily lives of the city’s diverse inhabitants.
Lahiri paints an evocative fresco of Rome, a captivating character in its own right – home to those who acknowledge they may never fully belong yet choose it nonetheless.
Roman Stories is a masterful creation, showcasing Lahiri’s distinctive talents and establishing her as one of the preeminent writers of our era.
This Is Salvaged by Vauhini Vara
In the eponymous tale of this collection, the narrator contemplates a warming planet and endeavours to convey the paradoxical humour in life’s fragility.
This thematic thread runs through the subsequent stories.
A teenage girl, grappling with her brother’s death, works above her beloved eggroll shop selling a range of items, from phone sex to gardening magazines.
Meanwhile, a boy unfazed by potential alienation from technological progress daydreams about owning a car in a driverless future.
Vara’s characters exude exuberant optimism, enabling the author to tackle weighty subjects – such as predatory bosses, globalisation, and class disparities – with a refreshing levity.
Nura and the Immortal Palace by M. T. Khan
In this enchanting portal fantasy, readers are transported into the lesser-known realm of Jinn.
Nura yearns for simple joys like adorning a beautiful red dupatta and savouring a sweet gulab.
However, compelled by her mother’s labour in a dilapidated sweatshop and the responsibility of supporting her three younger siblings, Nura finds herself mining to make ends meet.
Hoping to uncover buried treasure that could alter her family’s destiny, Nura’s plan takes a tragic turn when the mines collapse, claiming the lives of four kids.
Refusing to accept their demise, Nura digs fervently and unexpectedly stumbles upon a portal leading to a surreal world of purple skies and pink seas.
Contrary to her mother’s cautionary tales, these trickster creatures prove less malevolent than expected, inviting Nura to a luxurious hotel.
Yet, beneath the glittering facade lies a dark truth, and as Nura delves deeper, she discovers that her best friend and the four children are actually trapped, bound to serve the hotel indefinitely.
Now, Nura must find a way to free them all from the clutches of this magical realm.
A Flat Place by Noreen Masud
Noreen Masud’s affinity for flatlands traces back to her earliest memory of a vast, flat field in Lahore viewed from her father’s car.
In adulthood, residing in Britain, she discovers more expansive flat landscapes that resonate with her internal emotional terrain.
Afflicted by complex PTSD due to her childhood, Noreen embarks on a pilgrimage across Britain in search of solace and connection.
As she traverses Orford Ness, the Cambridgeshire Fens, Morecambe Bay, and Orkney, she intertwines her observations of the natural world with poetry, folklore, and history.
Noreen, with her British-Pakistani heritage, grapples with being both an insider and an outsider.
Fearlessly navigating these paradoxes, she shares a vivid, intimate account of the flat, haunted landscapes she loves.
Your Driver Is Waiting by Priya Guns
Damani is exhausted, navigating life after her father’s death on the job at a fast food joint, living paycheck to paycheck in a basement while caring for her mum.
Amid citywide protests, Damani, struggling to make ends meet, finds solace in Jolene, a seemingly perfect girlfriend.
Despite Jolene’s allyship, activism, and perfect facade, Damani grapples with the socio-economic and racial disparities in their relationship.
As their romance deepens, Damani lets her guard down, only to be confronted with an unforgivable act by Jolene.
Priya Guns’ Your Driver Is Waiting is a gripping and darkly comedic narrative, unveiling the author’s distinctive voice while satirising our contemporary culture of alienation.
Live to See the Day by Nikhil Goyal
In the heart of Philadelphia, marked primarily by its pervasive poverty, reside three Puerto Rican children – Ryan, Giancarlos, and Emmanuel.
Their coming-of-age narrative unfolds against a backdrop of systemic violence, encompassing homelessness, hunger, incarceration, stray bullets, and sexual assault.
In Kensington, turning 18 is not a celebratory milestone but a statistical anomaly.
A single misstep redirects Ryan into the juvenile justice pipeline, Emmanuel grapples with rejection due to his queerness, and Giancarlos gets expelled from school.
Despite their shared status, the trio embark on a determined quest to defy their predetermined destinies.
Author Nikhil Goyal, with nearly a decade of reporting, compassionately traces the journeys of Ryan, Giancarlos, and Emmanuel.
In Live to See the Day, Goyal reveals a new era of American poverty.
The Surviving Sky by Kritika H Rao
The Surviving Sky, Kritika H. Rao’s debut novel, combines science fantasy, eco-fiction, and dystopia, intricately woven with Hindu philosophy.
Set against the backdrop of a jungle planet plagued by earth rages, humans have taken refuge in flying cities, sustained by trajecting plant consciousness.
The story follows Ahilya, an archaeologist born without the ability to traject, and her husband, Iravan, a talented architect embroiled in the ruling elite.
As they grapple with a world on the brink of ecological collapse, the story delves into the mysteries of trajection, consciousness, and societal history.
Rao skillfully explores themes of inequality, societal struggles, and human connection.
With eco-fiction at its core, The Surviving Sky offers a fast-paced adventure and a profound meditation on the connections humans forge.
Unreliable Narrator by Aparna Nancherla
In the entertaining and enlightening collection of essays titled Unreliable Narrator, Aparna Nancherla, a rising comedy sensation, provides a candid exploration of impostor syndrome.
Despite her remarkable success in the world of comedy, with accolades from Netflix and Comedy Central, Nancherla humorously reveals her persistent belief that she is a total fraud.
Through her signature humour, she sheds light on her internal struggles, dominated by depression (personified as Brenda) and anxiety.
The essays offer witty reflections on body image, productivity culture, and the meme-ification of mental health language.
Despite her protestations, Unreliable Narrator unequivocally establishes Aparna Nancherla as a formidable force in both comedy and writing.
Ten Percent Thief by Lavanya Laksminarayan
Step into Apex City, the transformed landscape of Bangalore, where survival hinges on technology.
Governed by the infallible Bell Curve, everything in this society is meticulously calculated.
With the right image, values, and opinions, one can ascend to the coveted Ten Percent – the Virtual elite – with unparalleled influence.
The less fortunate navigate life in the Seventy Percent, while those teetering on the edge comprise the precarious Twenty Percent.
Below them lie the Analogs, facing deportation to a realm devoid of electricity, running water, and basic humanity.
The system appears flawless, immune to scrutiny, until a daring theft disrupts the status quo, setting in motion events that promise to reshape the city’s destiny.
Stories for South Asian Supergirls by Raj Kaur Khaira
Embark on a journey of inspiration with South Asian Supergirls, a collection of 50 remarkable stories showcasing the incredible achievements of women from South Asia.
From the acclaimed entertainers Jameela Jamil and Mindy Kaling to groundbreaking business leaders such as Indra Nooyi and Ruchi Sanghvi, the book spans a spectrum of success stories.
Noteworthy figures like the British Muslim spy Noor Inayat Khan also grace its pages.
Ideal for fans of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, this heartwarming compilation makes a perfect gift for young readers.
Each profile is accompanied by delightful illustrations crafted by 10 South Asian artists, making it a treasure for readers of all ages.
Praised for its visual appeal and celebration of the power, resilience, and ingenuity of South Asian women, South Asian Supergirls is a celebration of empowerment.
The Jinn-Bot of Shantiport by Samit Basu
Enter the world of Shantiport, once envisioned as a stellar gateway but now sinking into despair under the rule of self-serving colonists.
Lina, born to failed revolutionaries, has an unwavering love for her city and a determined plan to save its people.
Her brother, Bador, a spirited monkey bot, dreams of exploring the universe on his terms, yet hesitates to leave the family that often takes him for granted.
The narrative takes an unexpected turn when Shantiport’s tech billionaire forces Lina to retrieve a potent artefact with reality-altering potential.
As ancient forces converge around the siblings, introducing a sentient off-world tech with the power to grant three wishes adds another layer of complexity.
In this riveting tale, the destiny of Shantiport hangs in the balance.
The Centre by Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi
In her London apartment, Anisa Ellahi spends her days subtitling Bollywood films.
Her boyfriend Adam’s sudden proficiency in Urdu raises insecurities, leading Anisa to discover his connection to the Centre, an exclusive program promising fluency in any language in just 10 days.
Sceptical yet intrigued, Anisa enrols, only to find herself stripped of belongings and subjected to the Centre’s peculiar processes.
As she becomes entangled in the organisation’s allure, she unravels the hidden costs of its services.
Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi’s debut, The Centre, navigates the landscapes of Karachi, London, and New Delhi, posing a profound question: what sacrifices is one willing to make for success?
Siddiqi’s work is a dark, funny, and surreal journey, marking the emergence of an extraordinary new talent.
The Things That We Lost by Jyoti Patel
Nik harbours numerous inquiries about his late father but adheres to the unspoken rule of not asking his mother, Avani.
The opportunity to unravel the mysteries surrounding his never-met grandfather arises upon the old man’s demise.
Armed with a key and newfound insights into his parents’ past, Nik embarks on a journey to unlock the secrets his mother has guarded throughout his life.
As the meticulously constructed image Avani has presented to her son begins to fracture, the plot explores the lengths we go to shield our loved ones.
The Things That We Lost is a beautifully tender narrative, inviting readers to navigate the delicate terrain of familial connections and the resilience required to mend fractured bonds.
My Father’s Brain by Sandeep Jauhar
In My Father’s Brain, Dr. Sandeep Jauhar, a distinguished physician and writer, intertwines his father’s journey into Alzheimer’s disease with his exploration of this condition.
With almost 6 million Americans affected by Alzheimer’s or related dementias, Jauhar delves into the emotional landscape of living amidst a condition feared by many even more than death.
Through an intimate memoir marked by humour and heartbreak, he unveils his immigrant father’s experience.
Simultaneously, Jauhar provides lucid insights into the ageing brain and the nuances of memory loss.
My Father’s Brain not only confronts the scientific aspects of dementia but also delves into the moral and psychological complexities of caregiving.
He expertly offers essential insights into how society grapples with the repercussions of an ageing population.
Real Self-Care by Dr Pooja Lakshmin
In Real Self-Care, Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, a women’s mental health specialist, confronts the contradictions within the wellness industry.
The pervasive concept of self-care, ranging from juice cleanses to yoga workshops, has become a ubiquitous solution for women’s challenges.
However, Dr. Lakshmin argues that the current cultural understanding of self-care is incomplete.
She contends that real self-care involves an internal, self-reflective process that requires making decisions aligned with one’s values.
Through case studies, clinical research, and a relatable writing style, Lakshmin offers a step-by-step guide to authentic and sustainable change.
She provides actionable strategies for setting boundaries, overcoming guilt, practising self-compassion, and asserting personal power.
Real Self-Care is not just a guide to personal well-being; it proposes a profound shift that can lead to a social revolution.
A Small Sacrifice for An Enormous Happiness by Jai Chakrabarti
In this collection of 15 stories, navigating between America and India, familial anxieties propel the narratives.
Authored by Chakrabarti, the characters within, diverse in race, class, sexuality, and religion, reveal their inner selves through deep-seated longings.
The stories unfold various scenarios such as a closeted man who dreams of co-parenting with his lover’s wife and a lonely married woman who secretly constructs an airplane in her garage.
The narratives show the complexities of human behaviour, including instances where well-intentioned individuals turn exploitative.
One story follows an American man making extravagant financial promises to the son of his longtime guru.
Chakrabarti’s tales resist tidy resolutions, leaving the protagonists suspended in the uncertainties of life.
Savage Beasts by Rani Selvarajah
Taking place in 1757, when Calcutta teeters on the brink of war and the East India Company, led by the formidable Sir Peter Chilcott, rapidly advances, the plot unravels.
The neglected daughter of the Nawab, Meena, yearns to break free from her gilded cage.
When she encounters James Chilcott, Sir Peter’s nephew, a captivating connection ensues.
James, unlike the white men she has been conditioned to fear, leads the lovers to escape Calcutta with blood on their hands and stolen gold.
As Meena grapples with a foreign land and no support, she is compelled to confront the depths of her sacrifices when love transforms into hatred.
The Laughter by Sonora Jha
Dr Oliver Harding, a seasoned English professor entrenched in the routines of a divorced, ageing academic life, faces an unexpected disruption with the arrival of Ruhaba Khan.
As Oliver’s dormant passions are reignited by Ruhaba, his secret desire becomes an obsession, particularly when Ruhaba’s teenage nephew, Adil Alam, arrives from France.
Becoming Adil’s mentor, Oliver uses their friendship to draw closer to Ruhaba.
However, the encroaching change they represent challenges Oliver’s comfort.
Amid campus protests for diversity, Oliver finds himself under scrutiny.
The complexity of his character is revealed, forcing a reexamination of assumptions about privilege, radicalisation, class, and modern academia.
Sonora Jha’s The Laughter is a compelling work of fiction that explores loneliness, innocence, and the peril of white rage in America.
In a world where storytelling knows no bounds, the best books by South Asian authors in 2023 have proven to be a treasure trove of narratives that reflect the richness and diversity of the region.
These authors, through their words, have crafted tales that entertain, challenge assumptions, and provide a lens into the multifaceted experiences of South Asia.
Whether you’re a seasoned reader of South Asian literature or a newcomer eager to explore new literary landscapes, these books offer a glimpse into the cultural tapestry of the region.