Books About Love with a South Asian Flavour

I can’t wait for The Many Faces of Love event which kicks off tonight at The Southbank, where three brilliant authors, Rosie Swash, Moni Mohsin and Farahad Zama will be discussing two of my favourite things: books and love. To get in the mood, I’ve been browsing through my bookshelves to pick out my favourite three books by contemporary writers (one is South Asian, one is British Asian, one is American Asian) about love set in a modern time. These are well-thumbed books that I’ve re-read and re-read, but a word of warning first. While the first genuinely makes me smile, the other two have reduced me to tears – these are not entirely conventional love stories (they are not *just* about love; there are family sagas, histories and stories of self-identity and so on and so on), and they do not all have happy endings. But that’s the way love goes!

Salt and Saffron by Kamila Shamsie
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this book, about the chaotic, aristocratic and rambling Dard-e-Dil family whose family name literally means heartache translated. Set between London and high-society Karachi, our story-teller is witty Aliya, in her early twenties, who returns to her family in Pakistan after studying at college in America. Through Aliya, we learn about the high-class Dard-e-Dils, who are a crazy bunch for all their noble aristocracy, and the illicit love story she traces between her cousin and her… family cook. This is love, lively love, across the Pakistani social employee-servant divide. But not only does Aliya uncover her cousin’s love story, she also discovers her own and is forced to confront her own inherent Karachiite social snobbery for falling for a boy whose parents happen to come from the “poor” part of town.  

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
This is in actual fact a series of short stories, and while not all of them are about love, many of them are, all of them exquisitely and beautifully told. But it’s the last story, Hema & Kaushik, that I’m talking about in particular here; this is the story that gets me everytime. Hema and Kaushik meet as school children, their parents are friends, but the kids barely speak to each other despite, as you’ll find out, living in the same house. Even though Hema the schoolgirl has a crush on Kaushik, the boy who is far too cool, far too aloof and far too moody to actually talk to, their connection is incidental. Each grows up, forgetting the other for there is no real reason to remember, until tiny coincidences bring them back together when they are both grown-up. I’m not going to spoil the ending, which so intricately and cleverly concludes the entire short story collection, but this is one of those stories when you wonder “What if?” and whether everything might just have been different were it not for one, little thing.

Half Life by Roopa Farooki
What I love about Roopa Farooki’s writing is that while her characters happen to be of South Asian heritage, it’s never their sole, defining feature; her characters can simply just so happen to be Asian without the author needing to make constant cultural references to the fact that they are. So this is quite simply a story about two people, Aruna and Jazz, who once were in love and never quite properly fell out of it, despite going their separate ways. It’s about the pain of first love, letting love go and taking it home again. Half Life comes with its own twists and turns, as Aruna and Jazz both desperately cling to each other in the midst of their own personal family dramas, and in the throes of that drama comes a realisation when they each think themselves to be so strong, but then uncover their own fragility. This is ultimately the story of knowing who you are before you can trust yourself to another, which is what both Aruna and Jazz must go through to move on in their lives.

– by Huma Qureshi


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