A STRONG literary year was filled with stunning stories written by skilled south Asian authors from around the world.
They explored diverse themes, ideas, emotions, time periods, characters, and journeys in a marvellous melting pot of books that opened windows into new worlds. Eastern Eye decided to celebrate some of these great literary talents with a top 10 list of 2023 books, including one that stood out.
The Twilight Garden by Sara Nisha Adams: The talented British author followed up her acclaimed 2022 debut novel The Reading List with another uniquely crafted read about human relationships. The story spanning across two generations drew readers into the world of diverse characters, connected by a community garden. The multi-layered story showed less can be more with relatable characters experiencing easily identifiable human emotions. The timely book beautifully showed the power of community and had life-affirming lessons, at a time of so much division.
The Centre by Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi: Perhaps the most unique story with south Asian protagonists steered away from well-trodden paths and went down an unknown road filled with surprises, interesting twists and unexpected pitstops. The boundary-breaking book saw a London-based translator join an invite only 10-day programme to become fluent in German, after seeing her ‘bland’ white boyfriend learn to speak Urdu seemingly overnight. But all is not what it seems in this cross-continental page-turner, which tackled multiple themes and offered up plenty of suspense. The accomplished debut novel was one of the most original books published this year.
City Of Stolen Magic by Nazneen Ahmed Pathak: The most original historical novel of 2023 was this 19th century story weaving ancient magic rooted in south Asia with the British empire in India and the emergence of multi-cultural London. The British author’s adventure set across different continents revolved around a witch living Bengal, who is kidnapped by a mysterious group and taken to London. Her young daughter goes on a rescue mission across the seas and encounters a series of challenges along the way. The fantasy filled with historical lessons set itself up for further adventures featuring the feisty young protagonist.
Victory City by Salman Rushdie: The 15th novel from the acclaimed British writer received a rapturous response from reviewers. The magic realist story rooted in the 14th century revolved around a young girl having a divine encounter that changes the course of history and gives her a ‘goddess’ like life span of almost 250 years. It also allows her to found an empire, which goes through turbulent changes and triggers different encounters across time. There is patriarchy, politics, religion, battles, and plenty of magic in a story that draws parallels between India’s past and present.
Baby Does A Runner by Anita Rani: The popular radio and television host followed up her best-selling 2021 memoir The Right Sort of Girl with a dynamic debut novel. The story of a fed up British Asian woman grieving the loss of her father, who takes a life changing trip to India was highly entertaining. The multilayered book cleverly combined serious issues with comedy, romance, and real human emotions. There is also detective work and some important history lessons. The giant beating heart of the immersive novel was the engaging title character Baby and the relatable journey she goes on. It’s a book that inspires readers to learn more about their own family’s heritage.
The Scope of Permissibility by Zeynab Gamieldien: This novel set in a Sydney university offered up one of the most unique perspectives of campus life. The Australian writer’s slow burning debut novel followed three friends as they navigate the complexities of university life and adherence to their Muslim faith. The story skilfully covers themes of love, secrets, a covert relationship, ambition, belief, friendship, racism, class, identity, and conviction. It is told from the perspective of distinct voices. The result is a story that offered surprises, but also a window into human interactions and emotions from a skilled young writer.
Nala Damayanti by Anand Neelakantan: The best-selling Indian author has made a name for himself with fantasyfilled prequel novels to the smash-hit Baahubali movies, along with stories inspired by classic Indian texts like Ramayana. This story of a bird trying to save humanity by proving love exists is a magical retelling of a famous Mahabharata tale, which is essentially a romance at its core. The skilled writer breathed new life into the ancient myth that is loaded with plenty of inspiring wisdom like the importance of believing in yourself, humanity, destiny, and of course love.
Someone Like Her by Awais Khan: The talented author has become a leading light in Pakistani literature in recent years and delivered this powerful third novel. The story of love, abuse, and revenge revolves around a woman from Pakistan trying to rebuild her life in London, after an unthinkable act and meets a man battling his own demons. The skilled author didn’t shy away from brutality with a hard-hitting story that looked at multiple themes, including misogyny and obsession in a patriarchal Pakistani society. He also explored hope and a deeply personal journey towards healing. The author bravely presented a dark side of Pakistani culture and had a protagonist you want to root for.
Western Lane by Chetna Maroo: The British author announced herself with this stunning debut novel, which was shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize. The coming of age story of a young girl who immerses herself in the sport of squash after her mother dies received praise from diverse corners. The evocative novel exploring themes of grief, sisterhood and family was poetically written by a naturally gifted writer destined for big things. It looks at the helplessness of being a child, which makes it relatable to all ages. A lot is left unsaid in the beautifully understated novel that made a big statement on multiple themes.
Book of the year
The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese: The American author followed up his best-selling book Cutting for Stone with the most epic novel of 2023. The Kerala-set story tracing the evolution of a family from 1900 to 1977 was recommended by Oprah Winfrey in her famous book club. The interesting exploration of human relationships is set to the backdrop of challenges including monsoons, war, famine, floods, fires, and starvation. It also had the intriguing detail of a family member from each generation drowning, and the subsequent fear it generates in a place filled with water. At over 700 pages, the detailed book filled with beautifully written prose allowed the author to add multiple elements ranging from tragedy to art. The various threads and sub-plots are woven into an immersive journey in Eastern Eye’s fiction book of the year.
The Shoulders We Stand On by Preeti Dhillon: With marches against governments, for the people of Palestine and a whole range of other issues, 2023 has largely been defined by protests. That is what made this a remarkably timely book. The eye-opening journey through the often-neglected history of protest movements led by Black and Brown individuals in the UK from the 1960s to 1980s offered an important reminder of the crucial role these movements played in shaping the society we live in today. The meticulously researched book enabled readers to understand and appreciate the significance of past protests. Eastern Eye’s non-fiction book of the year is a reminder that the fight for social change is ongoing, and every generation has a responsibility to stand up against oppression and injustice.