BOOK MATTERS for July
The Satapur Moonstone (Soho Press) – by Sujata Massey. For fans of mystery stories, here’s a Mistry novel for a lazy summer weekend. Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s only female lawyer in the 1920s, first appeared in The Widows of Malabar Hill, Massey’s well-received novel from last year. This time, Mistry’s sleuthing skills are needed in the wilder, secretive kingdom of Satapur nestled in the Sahyadri mountains. The maharaja died unexpectedly, as did his teenage son in an accident, and Parveen has been brought in to check on the well-being and education of the younger royal children. Strict purdah is observed, making it hard for Perveen to communicate with the two maharanis. And as the body count rises, so does the intrigue. When the colonial administrators turn to Mistry for help, she’s at first reluctant to leave the comforts of Bombay. “The hell if she’d be the one to work for Britain, which had kept India under its elephant feet since the 1600s,” Massey writes. “But she had to be diplomatic.”
Coromandel: A Personal History of South India (Abacus) – by Charles Allen. For his latest work, first published in the U.K. and now available here in paperback, historian Allen takes the reader on a tour of the subcontinent’s pre-Aryan Dravidian South. Southern India was long separated from the North by the Narmada River and the formidable Vindhya Mountains, making the region less accessible to migrants and invaders. Consequently, its ancient history is less widely known. Language was another major barrier—and today, while the Indo-Aryan family accounts for 74 percent of Indians, the figure is 24 percent for the Dravidian family. “These two Indias may form a political whole, but in cultural terms they are chalk and cheese, old and new, volcanic and alluvial, shakti and shiva, rice and wheat, todi and soma, dosa and chapatti, water buffalo and cow, Dravida and Arya,” Allen notes. A child of India, though of British origin, Allen has been writing about the subcontinent for four decades and is best known for Plain Tales from the Raj.
The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters (HarperCollins) – by Balli Kaur Jaswal. Three Sikh sisters, all raised in the U.K., set off on a trip to India with their mother’s ashes for the last rites. Amritsar’s Golden Temple may be their destination, but what matters here is the journey and how the sisters’ lives—and stories—intersect. Rajni, a school principal, has returned reluctantly because she didn’t want to break a promise to their late mother. Jezmeen’s acting career is on the rocks, and the trip becomes a new beginning for her. Shirina, coming from Melbourne, has to decide how she can change her constricting marriage. Jaswal has pointed out that she “wanted to explore the tensions between tradition and modernity in immigrant communities, and particularly how those tensions play out among women like these sisters, who are the first generation to be raised outside of India.” Also, Natasha Deen’s In the Key of Nira Ghani (Running Press) is a YA novel centering on a Guyanese Indian girl.
Stories for South Asian Super Girls (Allison & Busby) – by Raj Kaur Khaira. This book for the younger set (5 to12 years) features fifty women of South Asian origin who are inspirational role models: among them are Indra Nooyi, Mindy Kaling, and Meera Syal, as well as Noor Inayat Khan, a fearless British Indian spy who was executed for helping the Allies during World War II. Presented as stories to motivate girls of color, the book also has drawings by ten artists. All proceeds will benefit the Pink Ladoo Project, a feminist initiative that—like the author and the publishing house—is based in London. Gender discrimination, which Khaira observed in her own family, led her to establish Pink Ladoo—and, yes, there was a reason for picking that name. She wanted South Asian families to appreciate and cherish female babies by distributing pink ladoos on their arrival. For even younger kids (4 to 8 years), we have Meenal Patel’s richly illustrated Priya Dreams of Marigolds &Masala (Beaver’s Pond Press).