South Asian Heritage Month: 5 books to read this month and beyond


South Asian Heritage Month may be coming to an end, but it doesn’t mean learning about the British South Asian experience has to. Instead, why not cast an eye over the expanding library of South Asian inspired literature to fill your time between now and the end of the year?

As part of South Asian Heritage Month, here are five books - both fiction and non-fiction - with stories to tell on the British South Asian experience.

5 of the best books to read this South Asian Heritage Month and beyond

1. Anita and Me, by Meera Syal

The first book to look for is ‘Anita and Me’ by Meera Syal. The book is centred on Meena, the daughter of immigrant Punjabi parents, living in the fictional Midlands village of Tollington. As Meena is immersed in a culture different from her own, the book explores the interactions between Punjabi and British upbringing. Meena’s curiosity leads her to befriend Anita. Blonde, cool and aloof, Anita appears to be everything to which Meena aspires, but the dynamic between the two is not as it seems.

It presents a canvas to explore the difficult search for identity and offers a sobering commentary on internalised shame as well as ownership of one's heritage. The arrival of Anita's brother, the motorcycling chapter of Meena's life, and the voyage through her adolescent years will stay with you long after you've turned the last page.

‘Antia and Me’ is an amazing book for delving into the British South Asian experience and search for identity in the 70s. Having grown up in a mining village in Essington, Wolverhampton, Syal's book offers a unique perspective on the challenges of a childhood caught between two cultures both on the brink of change. Anita and Me resonates with many South Asian immigrants that are balancing cultural norms, aiming to fit in and discovering not only who they are but who they wish to be.

2. Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain, by Sathnam Sanghera

The second must-read book to expand on South Asian Heritage’s Month's aim to teach and delve into the British South Asian experience is ‘Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain’. Sathnam Sanghera examines the extent to which modern Britain is defined by its imperial past. He provides insight into how vestiges of our past can be found everywhere, stretching from the foundations of the NHS to the government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sanghera’s book has its roots in historical truths. The British Empire capitalised off the Indian Subcontinent, with India considered one of the ‘Jewel’s in the Crown’, for exploitation. Brown bodies and the resources of the region generated wealth and served as the building blocks to modern Britain. The legacy of this tie would act as a prelude to the creation of the British South Asian diaspora that we see today.

3. Londonstani, by Gautam Malkani

The third book on the list is the cult novel 'Londonstani', written by Gautam Malkani. The book narrates in first person the story of Jas, a teenager living in Hounslow, London. Jas is faced with struggles, from his involvement in gangs to poor academic attainment, both of which he attempts to manage while developing a romantic connection with an Indian Muslim girl.

It emphasises the complexities of life in the capital, the overt racism of the 90s, the search for identity and the innate desire for acceptance. Malkani also offers a commentary on the hazardous expectations placed on young men to live up to tropes of masculinity. The book is set to be turned into a feature length film in due course.

4. Brick Lane, by Monica Ali

Another book to get your hands on is ‘Brick Lane’ by Monica Ali. Stuck in the cramped flats of East London and speaking little English, Nazneen is forced to depend on her husband following a marriage arranged by her father. Confined, she furiously sews for a living, but her life soon takes a turn as the radical Karin enters her life. Nazneen embarks on a love affair and begins to take control of her love, freedom and fate.

5. A Dutiful Boy: A memoir of secrets, lies and family love, by Moshin Zaidi

The final book for your next purchase is ‘A Dutiful Boy: A memoir of secrets, lies and family love’. Moshin Zaidi's beautiful memoir follows his life as a gay person in a Muslim household where he finds himself unable to open up to his family while dealing with difficulties at school. However, this does not stop him from earning a place at the University of Oxford. As the book goes on Zaidi is exposed to new experiences, helping him discover who he truly wishes to be. It is in this exploration that Zaidi is confronted with a crucial decision: to either live his life as is expected of him or to be his true authentic self.

The memoir provides an LGBTQ+ perspective on the British South Asian experience, highlighting intersectionality within the community and the struggles of LGBTQ+ individuals in conservative South Asian families. It sheds light on the difficulties associated with accepting people who deviate from what is thought to be the standard.

Jordan Maharjan


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