By way of background, South Asia is a subregion of Asia, usually taken as comprising the modern countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. There are more than 30 million members of the South Asian diaspora throughout the world, and their literature often focuses on themes of immigration, identity, history and the crossing of cultures.
I just finished Atlas of Unknowns by Tania James ($24.95 hardcover), an IndieNext pick for May, and I really enjoyed it. It's the story of two sisters and their family, from India to the U.S. and back, but it's the story of sisters everywhere, with secrets, betrayals and forgiveness. The sisters are smart and independent, and even if they're flawed, (actually, because of their flaws?) you'll find yourself cheering for them in their struggle to come to America. There's great storytelling, including hilarious scenes at a bikini waxing salon in Queens, and a character who would be an Indian-American Elizabeth Hasselbeck from The View. Slowly, and with great tenderness, James reveals the history of the girls' parents in India, which fills you with great hope for future of the young sisters. It's a great read. For more information on Tania James, including a beautiful video and glowing reviews of her book, go to: http://www.taniajames.com/
Leaving India, My Family's Journey from Five Villages to Five Continents by Minal Hajratwala ($26.00 hardcover) is a memoir of one extended family's flight from India to Fiji, South Africa, the U.K., the U.S. and more. Minal herself grew up in suburban Detroit as the daughter of immigrants, graduated from Stanford and Columbia, and then worked as a journalist in California. She spent 7 years travelling and studying her family's history. It's a universal story about leaving one home and trying to build another, a story we all share as Americans (didn't all of our fathers or grandfathers have a treasured copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie?). One of my favorite passages from the book is deeply personal: "For the children of immigrants are also migrants; we cross the waters daily. Some of us become seasick, others close our eyes and inhale the salt wind. Its fragrance is always bittersweet." Minal's website can be found at: http://www.minalhajratwala.com/. For a review of the book from the Washington Post, click here:
Bodies in Motion by Mary Anne Mohanraj (paperback, $13.95), was a finalist for the Asian American Book Award. It's a collection of short stories that follow two generations of two Sri Lankan families, revealing the intimate tug-of-war between generations and genders dealing with the ebb and flow of the immigrant experience. They are thoughtful, sensuous stories covering everything from love to arranged marriages, and the pressure to succeed in America. It's been called "historically ambitious, deeply felt, and provocative in its embrace of a wide range of love and family stories." It presents us with an enlightening view of characters with one foot in Sri Lanka and one foot in America.
Amy Bloom (author of Away, 2007) once said that there are only two stories in all of literature: the story of a man who comes to town, and the story of a man who leaves on a quest. And in fact, she said, that means there is really only one story, told from two points of view: the one who travels, or the one who welcomes. Maybe that explains why these immigration stories are so captivating. Stories of travel and immigration, of leaving and coming, of cultures foreign and unfamiliar, are inherently satisfying to the human soul curious about the unknown, whether it's coming or going, welcoming or assimilating.