Diversity in literature is a humongous passion of mine. Reading books by marginalised authors, being able to support them and raise awareness for the dire need of more diverse voices in publishing, not just via authors, but also the people who work behind the scenes to help books hit shelves—all of it is something that is very important to me as an individual was has never felt represented in literature until recently. My first deeply personal and emotional experience with diversity occurred when I read an ARC of S.K. Ali’s Saints and Misfits back in 2017, at age 29. That was when I finally felt represented in literature, which is as disheartening as it was ground-breaking.
The revelations that were made to me about how White, ablest, and heterosexual the industry was would eventually drive me to begin blogging full time. However, I am ashamed to say that over the last year or, so I have been a poor ally and promoter of diversity in literature/publishing. Recent world events have also re-enforced the realisation that there is so much more that I can be doing to bring books written by authors of colour, authors with disabilities (in all shapes, forms, and sizes), authors with Queer identities, and more into the spotlight. I have a rather decent following here and if I can garner enough interest in even one fellow reader to pick up a title by a marginalised writer that would be a great accomplishment. It’s a start and to start late is always better than never starting at all.
I wanted to start a revolution, using art to build the sort of society I myself envisioned.” —Yayoi Kusama
Diversifying My Reading shall be a bi-weekly segment where I’ll curate a list of books by various diverse authors, most of them #OwnVoices titles, and share them with y’all. There are three main reasons that inspired me to create this gig. Firstly, as I mentioned, I wanted to work harder and better at promoting diverse narratives and creators, especially since the options are growing little by little each year, which is remarkably inspiring and comforting. Secondly, I wanted to have a consistent and dedicated series on BiblioNyan that was book-centric beyond just weekend reading shenanigans. Hopefully in the future Diversifying My Reading can turn into a segment that goes beyond just a list of novels, but maybe even consist of interviews, blog tours, and other fun events. Lastly, I needed a safe, secure, and available place to put my own wishlist of diverse books; somewhere that I could access easily if I’m away from my computer and wouldn’t use too much mobile data to pull-up. That way if I’m in a position to acquire a new book or two or three while I’m out and about, I can easily pull these lists up for reference. I don’t want to just talk about stuff I want to read, but I want to get off my arse and actually, physically read them too! Bonus benefit: it’ll also help me to bring up recommendations for titles when I’m asked about it IRL situations without too much social anxiety.
Anyhoo, that is the gist of why Diversifying My Reading was created and what it means for me as a both a reader and a content creator. I wholeheartedly wish for this to one day become a success and also to be a reliable resource for readers everywhere.
For this very first pilot post, I shall be concentrating on #OwnVoices narratives authored by Pakistani writers. One of the main reasons I wanted to start here is due to my own ancestry and cultural roots, which I would love to get further acclimated with, and there is no better way to way to understand a people and their culture than by engaging with their literature (wise words from Okinawan author, Shun Medoruma).
Thinner Than Skin by Uzma Aslam Khan: The story revolves around a young Pakistani man trying to find his way as a photographer in America, and a young half-Pakistani half-German woman that was brought up in the US but yearns to return to a country she’s never seen. Together, they make the trip to Pakistan, where they encounter a young nomad who shall alter their lives in unexpected ways, as well as the lives of the people around them. The novel is described as being “a love letter to the wilds of Northern Pakistan, to glaciers, to the old Silk Road, and to the nomadic life of the indigenous people in Northern territories, where China encroaches and Pakistanis, Uzbeks, Russians, Chinese, and Afghans all come together to trade.” (Amazon)
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin: A short story collection of linked tales that take the reader from the drawing rooms of Pakistan’s cities to the harsh mud villages, describes the interwoven lives of an aging old feudal landowner, his servants and managers, and his extended family who are industrialists that have completely lost touch with the land. The novel is described as, “Refined, sensuous, by turns humourous, elegiac, and tragic…evoking the complexities of the Pakistani feudal order as it is undermined and transformed.” (Amazon)
Boy of Fire and Earth by Sami Shah: The book follows a boy named Wahid, who was born of a smokeless fire. His life starts to unravel when he loses the girl that he loves to vengeful djinns. Determined to recover her soul, Wahid sets out on a journey to discover the truth of his own origins, accompanied only by Iblis, the devil himself. Together, they traverse a city that is riddled with hustling beggars and corrupt cops, and discover deathly critters lurking under the sinister surface while the threat of Judgement Day looms at large. One of my favourite humans has been screaming about this book for years, so I absolutely had to put this on the list. Plus, it sounds so damn dark and enigmatic.
Broken Verses by Kamila Shamsie: The novel tells the tale of a young woman named Aasmani. In 1986, the greatest known Poet was found brutally murdered, beaten to death by government thugs. Two years after the fact, his lover, Samina Akram, suddenly disappears. Their daughter, Aasmani, had always assumed that her mother abandoned her, until one day she runs into an old friend of her mother’s, who hands her a letter recently written letter in the Poet and Samina’s secret code, sending Aasmani on a quest she wasn’t prepared for.
Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam: The story is about two Pakistani immigrants in England named Jugnu and Chanda. They have disappeared, like thousands of people all over England. Lovers who were living together out of wedlock, the disgrace it caused Chanda’s family was utterly unforgiveable, possibly enough to force the hands of murder.
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon by Fatima Bhutto: The book takes place over the course of a single rainy morning set in a small town in Pakistan close to the Afghan border, during the American invasion of Afghanistan, and follows five young people who are trying to survive and find love in a world that’s on fire. Three brothers meet for breakfast. Soon after, the eldest, Aman Erum, hails a taxi to the local mosque. Sikandar, a doctor, drives to the hospital where he works, but must first stop to collect his troubled wife, who has not joined the family that morning. No one knows where Mina goes these days. Sikandar is exhausted by Mina’s instability and by the pall of grief that has enveloped his family. But then later in the morning the two are taken hostage by members of the Taliban and Mina shall prove to be stronger than anyone could have imagined. The youngest of the three leaves for town on a motorbike. An idealist, Hayat holds strong to his deathbed promise to their father—to free Mir Ali from oppressors. Seated behind him is a beautiful, fragile girl whose life and thoughts are overwhelmed by the war that has shrouded the place of her birth. Three hours later their day will end in devastating circumstances.
The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad: Tor Baz, a young boy who is a descendant from both chiefs and outlaws becomes the Wandering Falcon, moving between tribes of Pakistan and Afghanistan, in a world full of brutality, poverty, humanity, grace, and honour. Even though the story centres on a region that has become a political quagmire of terrorism and inaccessibility, it’s also an insightful look at tribal traditions and timeless ways in the face of merciless modernity.
American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar: Hayat Shah is a young American boy who has fallen in love for the very first time. His normal school life has been distinguished by his Pakistani heritage and also by the frequent iciness that lingers between his parents, who fight over things he is far too young to understand yet. Then Mina arrives and everything in his life changes. The novel is described as being a “ beautifully written, nuanced, and emotionally forceful look inside the interplay of religion and modern life.” (Amazon)
More to the Story by Hena Khan: A middle grade story following Jameela Mirza. She gets chosen to be the feature editor of her middle school newspaper and is one step closer to being an award-winning journalist like her late grandfather. The problem is that the editor-in-chief keeps shooting down her ideas. Then Jameela is assigned to write about a new boy in school, one who has a cool British accent, but is otherwise quiet and solitary. As she wonders how to concoct a gripping story about this boy, her father takes an unexpected overseas job. Missing him inspires her to write the most epic article ever, that is until her younger sister becomes terribly ill, turning Jameela’s entire life upside down.
The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M. Masood: It is 1995, and Anvar Faris is a restless, rebellious, and sharp-tongued boy doing his best to grow up in Karachi, Pakistan. As fundamentalism takes root within the social order and the zealots next door attempt to make Islam great again, his family decides, not quite unanimously, to start life over in California. Ironically, Anvar’s deeply devout mother and his model-Muslim brother adjust easily to life in America, while his fun-loving father can’t find anyone he relates to. For his part, Anvar fully commits to being a bad Muslim. Thousands of miles away, Safwa, a young girl living in war-torn Baghdad with her grief-stricken, conservative father will find a very different and far more dangerous path to America. When Anvar and Safwa’s worlds collide as two remarkable, strong-willed adults, their contradictory, intertwined fates will rock their community, and families, to their core.
Duty Free by Moni Mohsin: Inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma but set in 21st century Lahore, it follows the protagonist’s cousin, Jonkers, who has been dumped by his low-class secretary, leaving it up to the MC to find him a suitable wife. Acceptable traits include beauty, wealth, and fairness with old family values. As the heroine social-climbs her way through weddings and other shindigs, trying to find a suitable girl from the right background, she discovers, to her dismay, that her cousin has his own ideas about his perfect mate. And secretly, she may even agree.
A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif: Ali Shigri, a Pakistani Air Force pilot and Silent Drill Commander, is on a mission to avenge his father’s suspicious death, which has been deemed a suicide by the government. Ali’s target is none other than General Zia ul-Haq, the dictator of Pakistan. Enlisting a motley crew of conspirators, including his cologne-drenched roommate, a hash-smoking American lieutenant, and a mango-besotted crow, Ali sets his elaborate plan into motion. There’s only one real problem: the line of would-be Zia assassin’s in far longer than he ever could have imagined.
We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World by Malala Yousafzai: A story collection that talks about what it means to be displaced; to lose your home, your community, and the only world that you’ve ever known. The collection starts with Malala’s own tale and is then followed by more stories by girls that she has met on her various journeys to refugee camps and cities were refugee girls and their families have settled.
A Firefly in the Dark by Shazaf Fatima Haider: Sharmeen’s life is disrupted when she has to move into her Nani’s rambling ancestral bungalow with her family in the wake of an unexpected tragedy. She loathes her new life with a passion. Her mother and Nani are constantly fighting. Her new schoolmates bully her relentlessly. Her family’s retainer, the loving Aziz Bhai, suddenly becomes dominating. The only place that Sharmeen can find solace is in the world of Nani’s fantastical stories, tales of Jinn, shapeshifters, and other terrifying creatures. But slowly, unforeseen forces that have been laid dormant for centuries begin to awaken. Sharmeen meets her own personal Jinn, a prankster named Jugnu, who reveals her family’s history, making Sharmeen realise that she’s the only one who can help rescue the adults in her life.
My Feudal Lord by Tehmina Durrani: Born into one of Pakistan’s most influential families, Tehmina Durrani was raised in the privileged ambiance of Lahore high society. Like all women of her rank, she was expected to marry a wealthy Muslim, bear him many children and lead a sheltered life of leisure. When she married Mustafa Khar, one of Pakistan’s most distinguished political figures, she continued to move in the best circles, and learned to keep up the public façade as a glamourous, cultivated wife, and mother of four children. In private, however, the seemingly perfect romance rapidly turned dark. Mustafa Khar became violently possessive and succeeded in cutting his wife off from the outside world. For the course of her 14-year marriage, she suffered alone, in silence. As a Muslim woman seeking a divorce, she paid a high price. She signed away all financial support, lost the custody of her children, and found herself alienated from her friends and disowned by her parents. The book, which she originally published herself after publishers in Pakistan refused to do so, shocked Pakistan society. She has succeeded in reconciling her faith in Islam with her ardent belief in women’s rights.
An American Brat: A Novel by Bapsi Sidhwa: The novel follows Feroza Ginwalla, who was a pampered and protected adolescent living in Pakistan until she’s sent to America by her parents due to their fear of the fundamentalism overtaking their native nation. Hoping that living with her uncle, a MIT grad student, shall soften her rigid values, they receive more than they bargained for when Feroza—now enthralled by American culture and her newfound freedom—insists on remaining in America. They find common ground in the understanding that Feroza can attend college in the States so long a she returns to Pakistan afterwards and marries well. As a student in a small western town, Feroza’s perceptions of America, her homeland, and herself begin to rework. When she falls in love with and wants to marry a Jewish American, her family is aghast. Feroza realises just how far she has come—and wonders how much further she can go.
Pakistani Heritage Cuisine: A Food Story by Sayeeda Leghari: The book explores how the cuisine of a country is intricately woven into its fabric and is shaped by the history and characteristics of the region and its people. Traditions and cultures overlap in the subcontinent, which is a region of shared history. In this book, the author has tries to give readers an insight into the incredible journey of Pakistani cuisine, its grandeur as well as its simplicity, its finesse as well as its ruggedness and the historical influences that have shaped it.
Thanks for taking the time to check out this list! All the titles are linked with the book’s respective GoodReads pages, so if you see something that interests you, feel free to click those links for more information and/or to add them to your TBRs.