Books By and About South Asian Women
South Asia is defined as southern region of the continent. This includes the countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, the British Indian Ocean Territory, and in some cases, even Afghanistan, Myanmar, Tibet, and Iran. While women’s rights have been suppressed in some of these areas, there have been plenty of books written by the women from these areas.
Bapsi Sidhwa is a Pakistani author who writes in English. She has written five novels: Water, An American Brat, Cracking India, The Bride, and The Crow Eaters. Cracking India was named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times. The book, set in 1947, tells the experiences of a young Parsi girl named Lenny Sethna who suffers from polio. Sidhaw has received the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award, as well as the highest Pakistan honor for the arts, the Sitara-i-Imtiaz. She has also been honored with the LiBeraturepreis (Germany) and the Primo Mondello Award (Italy).
In Afghanistan during the Taliban rule, women were forbidden to be educated due to Islamic law. However, women writers who belonged to the Herat Literary Circle formed the Sewing Circles of Herat, which in turn founded the Golden Needle Sewing School. Visiting the school under the premise of sewing, the women would hear lectures given by professors of Herat University and work on their art. The women hid notebooks and pens in bags that contained their sewing materials.
Woeser is a well known Tibetan poet, essayist, and blogger. She has written 10 volumes which includes a book of poems. Because she supports exiled leader the Dalai Lama, Woeser has been the target of persecution by the Chinese government. Many of her writings have been banned and her blog has been blocked by Chinese officials. In 2008, she and her husband were put under house arrest after they spoke to reporters about the unrest in Tibet. She was awarded the Norwegian Authors Union Freedom of Expression prize in 2007.
Although born in London, author Jhumpa Lahiri is of Bengali Indian descent. Her short story collection titled Interpreter of Maladies was released in 1999 and won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, and was chosen by The New Yorker as the Best Debut of the Year. The short stories are about the struggle Indian and Indian Americans face between their culture and the New World. Her first novel, The Namesake (2003), has been adapted into a film.
Monica Ali was born in Bangladesh, but moved with her family to England at an early age. Her debut novel, Brick Lane, was released in 2003. The novel is named after the Bangladesh area of London and follows the life of Nazeen, a young Bangladesh woman. Ali was awarded the Granta Best Young British Novelist award in 2003.
Although not as well known as many Western female authors, South Asia women writers have produced an incredible collection of writings, many done under extreme and potentially dangerous circumstances.
Here are some more excellent resources for South Asian female writers:
A Collection of Writings by Woeser in English
VG: Voice from the Gaps – Women Artists and Writers of Color
NPR Interview of Jhumpa Lahiri
Teaching Recent South Asian Women Writers: Issues of Gender in Literature and Theory