It’s not all Very Serious Sad Literature, even when it’s about serious things in unfamiliar places.
But as a U.S-based reader, so much of what I’m offered to read that takes place in “other places”—and here I’m particularly talking about non-Western emerging economies, countries where the news we hear tends towards conflict, oppression and deprivation—is pretty dark. If a bad thing can happen, it does. And that can make me feel like the only things that happen ARE bad things. Not great all around and also, as a reader, I approach with caution. (I know I could seek out more and different reads and that this is a narrow reader experience, but I suspect it reflects what’s marketed to readers like me.)
Which is why I was so delighted by two recent reads that were filled with humor and everyday life and relationships AND dropped me straight into an unfamiliar-to-me culture but didn’t focus only on the darkness. There was even a moment, in one (I really don’t want to spoil these for you) where I was like, oh, well, here it is, the terrible inevitable thing and should I put it down and walk away, because I am not feeling emotionally prepared for a graphic depiction of violence just right now no matter how well written…
And then things went a different way! Because … sometimes things are not awful, no matter who or where you are, and those stories are also worth telling. (And the twisty turny way things DID go? Stellar!)
So, for your reading pleasure, I present:
Best of Friends, Kamila Shamsie. This is an epic friendship/relationship read. If it weren’t being presented as commercial/literary fiction it could very easily have an Elin-Hildebrand-Nantucket style cover instead the multi-colored, abstract one that seems to be publishing’s default setting for commercial fiction about brown women. Sales-wise, I’m not sure that did the book any favors although I’m certain it garnered it more respect from literary media (there’s a conundrum for you). But really, think Kristin Hannah, maybe Celeste Ng… this is a story of relationships and who we are and who we want to be and how others see us. And also, two young Pakistani women who help spur each other to be the best women they can be at a moment when women’s roles are changing fast.
The Bandit Queens, Parini Shroff. This one is a romp, a true black comedy (with an EXCELLENT cover) with moments that approach slapstick and yet never feel anything but real, with a fabulous women-taking-back-their-own plot and characters who shift and change in the way of flawed humans, set in a village in rural India. The NYT review notes that it “covers a litany of grim realities” and this is true—but it is also hopeful and funny and triumphant and another story of friendship and the many roles it plays in our lives.
Those are both hardcover, so if you’re looking for a similar vibe, cheaper and lighter edition, I suggest His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie.
On my #tbr and also in this vein— Now You See Us from Balli Kaur Jaswal. I don’t even own this yet, but I will. Currently reading: Shipped, Angie Hockman, and Murder Your Employer by Rupert Holmes, and still reading Attention Span while also re-reading Digital Minimalism. Did I mention that I finished Bittersweet? I did. The last two chapters were the best.
Hey! If a friend forwarded this to you, subscribe here. And if you’re that friend—forward this to a book-loving bud.