"Her writing is lyrical and elegant, yet simple and warmly descriptive."
Like so many creative mediums, including music, art and dancing, reading can profoundly influence us. Their words can evoke feelings within us that could not be felt or awakened otherwise.
South Asian authors have grown to receive global recognition, prestigious awards and fame for their work.
With so many expertly-written novels, poems and short stories penned by South Asian authors, it becomes difficult to choose which one to start with.
We take a look at our top 10 influential South Asian authors, from Salman Rushdie through to Preeti Shenoy, we explore what influences them and the books they’ve written.
Full name, Nilanjana Sudeshna “Jhumpa” Lahiri, is an American writer currently residing in New York. The 50-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning author was born in London, then raised in Rhode Island.
Brought up by a mother who wanted to raise her children to be Indian, Lahiri learned about Bengali Indian heritage from a young age. It seems that Jhumpa takes influence from her personal experiences, as she writes about an Indian family who immigrates to America in her highly-rated book, The Namesake.
Speaking about The Namesake, one reviewer wrote on Goodreads:
“It was so good to immerse myself in another of Jhumpa Lahiri’s books. As with her other novels, I felt totally enrapt with the ebb and flow of her narrative. Her writing is lyrical and elegant, yet simple and warmly descriptive.”
Having written an array of books including The Lowland, Interpreter of Maladies, and The Namesake, the author has won several prestigious awards for her work.
As well as the Pulitzer Prize, Lahiri also won the 29th PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short story. Jhumpa’s debut collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, won her the Pulitzer Prize.
Arundhati Roy is known across the world as an astounding author. The 56-year-old author is best known for her debut novel, The God of Small Things, published in 1997.
Not only is this book her debut novel, but it is also the biggest selling book by a non-expatriate Indian author. The God of Small Things soared to popularity as it told the story of fraternal twins who lives are destroyed by ‘love laws’.
‘Love laws’ are used in the book to dictate who should be loved, how they should be loved and even how much. The book takes a bottom-up approach to understanding how small things can affect people’s behaviour and lives.
One review for The God of Small Things said it was:
“A lyrical, mysterious tale of misunderstanding and pain, echoing through the years. At its dark heart, it demonstrates how small things can have multiple and major consequences, meaning that everything can change in a single day.”
After 20 years, Roy published The Ministry of Utmost Happiness in 2017. As well as being an author, Arundhati is a political activist for human rights and environmental causes.
Mohsin is a 47-year-old Pakistani novelist and writer. Born in Lahore, Mohsin splits his time between here, as well as spending periods of time in London, New York and California.
Spending part of his childhood in the United States, from the age of 3 to 9. He moved with his family back to Lahore, Pakistan after. In 2009, Hamid moved to Lahore with his wife and daughter, but still frequently travels abroad.
His list of literary fiction work includes his first novel Moth Smoke which was published in 2000. He later wrote The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013), and the most recently published Exit West (2017), as well as a book of essays.
One review of his most popular novel, Moth Smoke, wrote:
“There were so many, many things in the book that I found beautiful, poetic, tragic, so real that I could reach out and touch it; I was overwhelmed.”
You can find out more about this novelist by visiting his website.
Salman Rushdie is a name that is known across the world. The 71-year-old British Indian novelist specialises in writing fiction set on the Indian sub-continent, he combines elements of magical realism with historical fiction.
His most popular novel is Midnight’s Children. Written in 1981, this book saw him rise to literary notability. He gained even more attention when he was awarded the Booker Prize in the same year for the novel.
One review for Midnight’s Children wrote:
“It is entertaining, intelligent, informative, progressive and even funny: it is an astoundingly well-balanced epic that captures the birth of a new independent nation. I hold it in such high regard.”
Rushdie followed this up with Shame (1983) and his later and most controversial work, The Satanic Verses in 1988.
As well as these notable works, he has also published a considerable collection of successful and critically acclaimed novels such as Shalimar the Clown in 2005.
Kamila Shamsie is a 45-year-old British Pakistani novelist that has recently set literary critics alight with her novel Home Fire (2017). The author grew up in Karachi but now lives in London.
In 1998, Kamila published her first novel In the City by the Sea when she was just 25 years old. Shamsie has since written five novels including the popular Burnt Shadows (2009) and her earlier work Salt and Saffron (2000).
Her most recent novel Home Fire, re-imagines Sophocles’s Antigone. Her modern re-telling of the story even won the Women’s Prize for fiction in 2018.
Since Home Fire was published in 2017, it has soared to popularity as it tells the story of a British Muslim family and the problems that they encounter trying to fit into society.
One review of her most recent novel wrote:
“Oh wow! What a thought-provoking and emotional read! I was not expecting such a powerful and cleverly written work of fiction. Home Fire tackles a difficult yet important subject matter – the humanistic impact of modern day terrorism.”
Vikram Seth is an Indian novelist and poet. At 66-years-old he has been awarded several awards for his writing. This includes the WH Smith Literary Award as well as the highly prestigious Padma Shri award in India.
Writing poetry and prose, he began his literary career with Mappings being published in 1980. This is a collection of poems which was later followed by a list of novels.
In 1993, the novel that propelled Seth into the public eye was the love story, A Suitable Boy. With 1,349 pages, the book is one of the longest novels ever published in a single volume in the English language.
One review for this lengthy novel said:
“This is a magnificent saga, which left me breathless and awaiting the next word.”
Seth went on to write The Golden Gate (1986) and An Equal Music (1999) which tells the tale of a violinist and his troubled love life.
After receiving so much success from his first novel, Vikram decided to write a sequel for it called A Suitable Girl. Set to be his fourth novel, the upcoming book is likely to be published in 2018.
Another writer and poet, Rupi was born in India and later immigrated to Canada with her family when she was just four years old. She is most popular for her poetry which is often used to challenge societal taboos.
By way of illustrating, Kaur is known for her photo-essay work on menstruation which was designed as visual poetry. The project intends to challenge societal menstrual taboos.
The 25-year-old published her first book Milk and Honey in 2014. This book is filled with poetry, prose and even hand-drawn illustrations. Impressively, sales for this young poet’s book surpassed the 2.5 million mark.
Milk and Honey also managed to stay on the New York Times Best Seller list for over 77 weeks, which is quite an accomplishment.
Regarding the book of poetry, one reviewer wrote:
“Milk and Honey tore through my analytical mind and burrowed deep into my ultra-sensitive soul. It slayed all my emotions, my feminist desires, and my love for vulnerable writing, I may not know a lot about poetry, but I do know a decent amount about feelings, and Rupi Kaur brought all my feelings tumbling out with this gorgeous collection of poems.”
Rupi then published The Sun and Her Flowers in 2017. This collection held several key themes including loss, trauma, healing, femininity and revolution, to name a few.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a 62-year-old Indian-American author and poet. Born in Kolkata, she received her B.A. from the University of Calcutta in 1976.
Banerjee Divakaruni then moved to the United States to attend the Wright State University where she later achieved a master’s degree.
As well as being an author, Chitra splits her time between this and being a Professor of writing at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program.
Divakaruni’s work primarily concerns the experiences of South Asian immigrants. She utilises the genres of realistic fiction, historical fiction, and magical realism in her books.
Her array of work includes the fictional novels Arranged Marriage (1995), The Mistress of Spices (1997) and Sister of My Heart (1999), as well as many, many more including poetical works and several anthologies.
Mistress of Spices was short-listed for the Orange Prize and Arranged Marriage won an American Book Award in 1995. Whilst Chitra has obtained massive success in the literary world, it seems her books are branching out into the influential world of film and TV.
Currently, Sister of My Heart, Oleander Girl, Palace of Illusions, and One Amazing Thing have all been chosen to be made into movies or TV serials.
One review of the Sister of My Heart mentioned:
“My review won’t do this fine little book justice. The writing was amazing, the story was engaging, the characters were real, there was emotion – joy, sadness, heartbreak, wonder, hatred, AND there is a sequel.
“Maybe this is why I rate it so highly? I can’t wait to curl up with these characters again in the next book that promises to pick up where this one left off.”
You can keep up to date with Divakaruni by checking out her website.
At 66 years old, the South Asian author Rohinton Mistry has received an avalanche of awards since 1983. The Indian-born Canadian writer was born in Bombay but later emigrated to Canada with his future wife in 1975.
Mistry takes an interest in the genres of historical fiction, postcolonial literature, and realism. He since written three novels called, Such a Long Journey (1991), A Fine Balance (1995) and Family Matters (2002).
Such a Long Journey follows the hard-working bank clerk Gustad Noble and his struggling family life. As well as this, it also takes a look at India’s political turmoil at the time.
One review for the novel said:
“I really enjoyed this book. It is a touching story of an Indian family in the early seventies, a turbulent time in India’s history.
“Mistry managed to create a colourful and rich setting and his characters are well believable, imperfect and therefore very human.”
Mistry has reached the Man Booker Prize shortlist twice. First in 1991 with Such a Long Journey, then again in 2002 with Family Matters. In 1991, the author also won W.H. Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award amongst a host of other awards and recognition.
On the Forbes longlist of the most influential celebrities in India is Preeti Shenoy. The 46-year-old Indian author is also among the top 5 highest-selling authors in the country.
In 7 years, Shenoy has managed to write 9 pieces of work. This includes 8 novels and a collection of short real-life incidents that have influenced Preeti called 34 Bubblegums and Candies (2008).
One of her more recent releases was the book It’s All in the Planets (2016). The fictional tale tells the story of Aniket and Nidhi, two strangers who become friends after meeting on a train to Chennai.
Underlined by horoscopes, there is a constant focus on fate in this book. It draws the two characters together as they search for love and acceptance for who they really are.
One reviewer wrote a touching review of It’s All in the Planets. They said:
“Well, this author has something, every time when I read one of her works, feel satisfied. I love the way this book has been narrated. Every scene comes twice one from Ani’s view and another from Nithi’s view.
“Totally love this story. Only some stories can be close to heart, this work is one among them.”
Preeti also likes to relax by indulging in travel, photography, and Ashtanga Yoga.
As we’ve seen, the works by these South Asian authors capture the hearts of their readers, but also their minds. Often dealing with controversial or emotional subject-matters, these writers have a unique ability to calmly discuss or explore contentious issues.
It’s clear that many of them are influenced by their own personal lives. They are able to expertly take these emotions and then transport them into a universal medium that can influence a wider audience.
Writing is an art that is difficult to perfect and often undervalued. Whilst these South Asian authors have received an array of praise as well as criticism for their work, their dedication to continue writing is applaudable.
We hope that they will continue to write for years to come, influencing generation after generation with their evocative and insightful words.