South Asian woman in a green and yellow dress reading a book with legs crossed on a bench outside between two trees

Spotlight on South Asian Literature: Five Books by Indian Americans

In this blog, I wanted to highlight the voices of Indian Americans, a subgroup of Asian Americans that often gets overlooked. Although Indian Americans are often remembered as an afterthought when people think about the Asian American community, they are a sizable and growing part of the community. As of 2019, 4.6 million Indian Americans live in the United States, more than two times the population of 1.9 million in 2000. Indian Americans are an important part of the Asian American community and it’s past time that their literary contributions are recognized.

I have selected five works of fiction published by authors of Indian origin who grew up or are living in the US. I chose these titles with an eye towards covering a wide range of genres that were published relatively recently. These selections are not meant to be comprehensive and are shaped by my own subjective literary taste. I hope you will find something that piques your interest and give one of these titles a try!

1) The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara (2022)

Genre: Literary Fiction, Satire, Dystopian, Historical Fiction

Vara’s genre-bending debut is a sweeping epic told through three timelines in alternating chapters: the tale of a Dalit clan in early independent India, the success story of an immigrant in 1980s America, and a dystopian future with a corporatized government. The Immortal King Rao is an ambitious novel that explores many challenging questions that our technologically advanced society faces today while also weaving in themes of family lore and love. Vara resides in Colorado.

2) You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins (2017)

Genre: Realistic Young Adult (YA)

This YA novel follows five women in the same Bengali family from the 1960s to the present day. The character-driven story is told in alternating teen voices across three generations and follows the struggles of these young women as they navigate the everyday struggles of race, identity, friendships, crushes, and relationships with each other. Perkins is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

3) Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel (2022)

Genre: Fantasy, Mythology

Kaikeyi is a retelling of the Ramayana , one of the great epic poems of India. Reviewers have compared Kaikeyi favorably to Madeline Miller’s Circe. Patel’s feminist retelling puts the traditionally reviled queen at the center and portrays her in a more compassionate light by articulating the pressures of manipulative gods and the patriarchal society she must have faced. Patel grew up in the Chicago area.

4) The Perfumist of Paris by Alka Joshi (2023)

Genre: Historical Fiction

While working for a master perfumer, Radha discovers that she has a rare talent of being able to detect each layer of scent in a perfume. However, Radha finds herself caught between her desire to work and her husband’s desire for her to stay at home with their daughters. When a dark secret comes to light, the life she has carefully built for herself threatens to fall apart. Joshi resides in Pacific Grove, California.

5) If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi by Neel Patel (2018)

Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories

In this defiant collection of eleven short but meaty stories narrated by Indian Americans, Patel’s characters wrestle with relationships that fall apart from marriages to families to friendships. Patel’s compelling characters rebel against the familial expectations placed upon them, make the wrong decisions, and subvert readers’ expectations while resisting model minority stereotypes. Patel lives in Los Angeles.

Cover of Lobizona

Where Are All My Latinxs At?

Image: Cover design of Lobizona by Kerri Resnick, featuring art by Daria Hlazatova

The fantasy genre, particularly young adult fantasy, is (slowly) becoming more diverse. Authors like Tomi Adeyemi, Sabaa Tahir, Tahereh Mafi, and Chole Gong have written well-received and very popular fantasy novels. Yet, there are almost no fantasy novels by Latinx authors or starring Latinx characters that have entered my radar or the radar of BookTok.

I don’t mean to discount the fantastic gains other marginalized authors have made in fantasy or literature as a whole, but Black, Asian, and other authors and characters of color still need more representation in the fantasy genre. But that got me thinking about the lack of Latinx representation in fantasy and why it has yet to gain that kind of momentum in recent literature.

So here are three reasons why Latinx characters are underrepresented in fantasy literature.

    Fantasy has a long history of racism.

Fantasy fiction as categorized in The Lord of the Rings routinely erases real-world people of color in favor of representing a variety of fantastical “races.” Good guys (elves, dwarves, hobbits) are described as white and the bad guys (orcs, goblins, dark elves) are described as dark-skinned, and unlike in the real world, it is based on biological differences. But this isn’t just in The Lord of the Rings. In A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, the good guys, Spring Court, were described as having pale skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes while the bad guys, Night Court, were described as dark-skinned. While people love to say fantasy doesn’t see racism, it does. The fantasy system created by the author represents the author’s outlook on life: who do they see as the top of the food chain, who are the bad guys, who gets to be the hero, and who gets to be the villain?

    What does it mean to be Latinx in a fantasy world?

Latin America is one of the most diverse places on the planet with its residents becoming united and divided by language, culture, and history, not by race. So if you want to include Latinx people in your fantasy novel, it would either need to be in your own world where you can set up your own races and the history behind them or in a world similar to our own where the knowledge is there for the reader. There lies the problem. It can become hard to create a world that represents Latin America since Latin America has a messy history and development, which makes the creation of a fantasy world a little more complicated. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, clearly. Fantasy authors have everlasting imagination, it’s in the job description, and it shouldn’t pose any roadblocks when it comes to creating Latinx characters.

    There just aren’t enough Latinx authors.

In 2022, Zippia stated that the most common ethnicity of authors is White (79.4 percent), followed by Latinx (7.2 percent), African American (5.8 percent), and Asian (4.0 percent). If Latinx authors, just like any author of color, don’t get a shot at telling stories about people like themselves and the history of their culture, then there aren’t going to be stories that represent Latinx people. With Latinx authors making up only 7.2 percent of the authors publishing in 2022 that means we, as diverse readers, have to make more of an effort to read books by authors of color, women, and LGBTQIA+ authors. If we want a change, we have to show the publishing industry that we do want to read and support these stories.

Here are some of my recommendations if you want to read some Latinx fantasy literature:

    Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
    Lobizona by Romina Garber
    Together We Burn by Isabel Ibañez
    Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia