Hello all and welcome to Woven In Books! Today I have one of my dearest friends and favourite bloggers on the blog talking about diverse books that made her feel seen and made her desi heart happy. These books talked about today are some of my favorites too and I am so happy to see Fanna’s love for it! These books are also perfect for Asian Readathon if you need some amazing recs!
You can find the previous Woven In Books post HERE!
Growing up as a reader, I had never seen myself in the pages of a book. Every story was good but could never tug my heartstrings because none of them were relatable. Then I read these three diverse books that gave me a sense of belonging with the culture they portrayed, the characters they brought to life, and the desi-ness they had. So here I am, shouting my love for them—for what might easily be the hundredth time.
If I was to bet all my money on the possibility of every desi reader attributing their increased need for more South-Asian representation to one of Sandhya Menon’s works, I wouldn’t be losing a single coin. And I’m one such reader too! While When Dimple Met Rishi was the first book I read by her and loved it as much, I truly saw myself in Twinkle.
Some might say the story is all about an Indian-American teen girl who loves film-making and finds herself getting closer to Sahil—who’s the twin brother of her crush—while working on a project, but I would say it’s about a passionate and flawed young girl who dreams. It’s a journey of her making mistakes, amending them, and growing to become happier.
Twinkle made me realise that being aspirational and feministic at a young age is possible. She taught me to not be so blinded by dreams that relationships and friendships and all the real happiness ends up at stake. This story gave me a teenage desi protagonist to look up to, especially one I could share my culture with.
This historical fiction set in 1880s Paris changed the way I looked at diversity in literature. I understood that a book can depict many cultures, sexualities, and strengths effortlessly, if only it wishes to do so.
And this possibility made me crave for more. If Laila’s name didn’t make me giddy with happiness, her love for dance was a perfect cultural representation in all its glory. Her emotions, especially when she missed ‘home’ and definitely when she said ‘Majnun’, made her so real for me. The little things like her baking shenanigans and the peacock feathers she often used as a fashion choice were what I smiled at.
The Gilded Wolves also drove on the themes of colonialism and cultural erasure—two words I might not have actively judged literature on since before this. But that soon changed because of this multicultural, sexually diverse squad that performed a heist. The need to acknowledge actual history and embrace the fight someone from your culture had to put up decades ago makes you feel alive in the present. And these characters certainly made me feel more alive.
After reading this, I wasn’t the same. I grew fond of literary pieces that were brave enough to weave together the cruel past—even the struggles of the present, in some cases—and strong characters who were determined to stand for the right as a person of color or, to be slightly partial, a desi.
When I say this book was the perfect one for me, I wouldn’t be exaggerating. It really gave me everything I ever needed. As a desi lover of Mahabharata, I always wondered when I would come across a book that was different from the epic but still held its essence. And I saw something shining bright in the distance—A Spark of White Fire.
As soon as Esme shot the first arrow in the first chapter, it hit the fish’s eye and my heart at the same time. I realised she was the female reimagination of Karna from the epic and the flood of feministic pride and immense happiness came rushing in. I knew this was what I had been waiting for.
Especially since it depicts considerable ingenuity. This book was a space fantasy that still upheld the theme of good versus bad but with flawed, morally grey characters and familial politics that weren’t simple in any manner. Its complexity is the most accurate representation of South-Asian culture inspired by these epics.
Though, Esme as a character is what made me actually cry. Seeing her use the anger build-up over years as a driving force to achieve all that she had dreamt of—a family—but inevitably changing her perception of those around her and ending up frustrated because what she wants and what she wished for isn’t aligning anymore, was like seeing myself in a mirror. Minus the excellent archery skills, of course.
Since reading this and its equally amazing sequel, I have been searching for a book inspired by Indian mythology that can be just as good—if not more—as this gem but haven’t been even nearly successful.
Fanna is a desi book blogger and writer who loves to focus on South-Asian representation in books and diversity in literature. While she likes to call herself an eclectic reader, her book stacks are always filled with too many fantasy and contemporary books. When she doesn’t feel busy enough, she spends some more time doodling and clicking aesthetic pictures for her bookstagram. She is also the co-creator of South-Asian Reading Challenge! You can find her on Twitter & Goodreads too.