Today marks the release of The Wandering Falcon , the fantastic debut from Pakistani author Jamil Ahmad. The Guardian called it “one of the finest collections of short stories to come out of south Asia in decades,” and we have to say that we agree. To celebrate this wonderful new addition to the ever-growing group of amazing authors from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and the surrounding areas, we’ve put together a list of ten contemporary South Asian writers you should know, from the already much-lauded to the fresh faced and new on the scene. Click through to see our choices, and let us know if we’ve missed any of your favorite writers in the comments!
The Wandering Falcon is 78-year-old Ahmad’s first book, and it’s pretty wonderful. A retired civil servant and minister in the Pakistani embassy in Kabul, Ahmad started off writing poetry, but switched to fiction when his wife chided him, “Why don’t you write about something you know?” It was then, in the ’70s, that he wrote most of first draft of the book — he only recently returned to the manuscript at his family’s urging, and now 38-odd years later, it is being published. We only hope he has many more stories to share.
Bangladeshi writer Anam comes from a literary family. Her father is the editor and publisher of The Daily Star in Bangladesh, and her grandfather, Abul Mansur Ahmed was a well-loved satirist and littérateur, so it’s easy to see where she gets her quick wit and fluid prose style. Anam published her first novel, A Golden Age , in 2007, for which she won the Best First Book category of the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Her second novel, The Good Muslim , was just published this past August to much acclaim.
Born to a retired officer of the pre-independence Indian Army, Ghosh grew up in Delhi, where he got his first job at a newspaper. He has gone on to write eight novels, including this summer’s River of Smoke , and a handful of stellar non-fiction reads as well. He has won many awards, and his novel Sea of Poppies was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2008.
Pakistani-American author Mueenuddin burst onto the scene in 2009 with his debut collection In Other Rooms, Other Wonders , which appeared on several top ten lists and was also a finalist — though never selected — for the 2009 National Book Awards, the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, the 2010 Los Angeles Times First Fiction Award, and the 2010 Ondaatje Prize. But lest you think he’s always the bridesmaid and never the bride, take heart — his story “Nawabdin Electrician” was included in the Salman Rushdie-edited Best American Short Stories 2008 and another story, “A Spoiled Man”, appeared in the 2010 edition of the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories .
If you haven’t heard of Jhumpa Lahiri yet, we’re not quite sure where you’ve been hiding for the last ten years. Her debut short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2000, her first novel, The Namesake , was released to wide acclaim in 2003 and subsequently adapted into a film starring Kal Penn, and her second short story collection, Unaccustomed Earth , was an instant best seller. Needless to say, the lady’s got chops.
New Delhi-born Desai’s first novel, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard , was praised by Salman Rushdie, which was probably pretty exciting. But then her second novel, The Inheritance of Loss , won both the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award in 2006. She’s also been dating Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk since 2010, and we have to say that we desperately want them to procreate, if only for the literary geniuses they will no doubt bring into the world
Hamid spent most of his childhood in Lahore, Pakistan, before attending college (he graduated Summa Cum Laude, thank you very much) at Princeton, where he studied with Toni Morrison and Joyce Carol Oates. He then went on to Harvard Law, graduating in 1997 but didn’t like corporate law, so thankfully for us, he decided to follow his passion and write. His first novel, Moth Smoke , garnered high praise from all, including the New York Book Review‘s Anita Desai, who wrote, “Where was the Huxley, the Orwell, the Scott Fitzgerald, or even the Tom Wolfe, Jay McInerney, or Bret Easton Ellis to record this new world? Mohsin Hamid’s novel Moth Smoke, set in Lahore, is one of the first pictures we have of that world.” A Pakistani Bret Easton Ellis? We can’t say we hate that idea.
The multi-talented Chaudhuri is not only a wonderful author, but an accomplished Indian classical musician as well. He writes and performs his own special brand of “Indo-Western experimental music,” combining jazz, disco, rock and other Western standards with popular Indian music. Perhaps accordingly, his most recent book, The Immortals , is an exquisitely rendered novel about the way music, and our relationship to it, affects our past, present and future.
The world went wild for Arundhati Roy’s lush 1997 debut novel, The God of Small Things . The beautifully rendered, tactile work won the Man Booker prize the same year, and since then critics and fans alike have been clamoring for more from Roy. At first Roy, a social activist and outspoken critic of both the United States’s and India’s international policies, claimed she would write no more fiction. In 2007, ten years after her first novel, she relented and announced that she would indeed begin working on a new book, but we have yet to hear a peep from her on that front. Here’s hoping.
Chandra started off strong. His first novel, Red Earth and Pouring Rain , was written while he was getting his M.A. at Johns Hopkins, and won both the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book and the David Higham Prize for Fiction. His most recent novel, Sacred Games , is a big, bombastic and highly entertaining portrait of India, following Inspector Sartaj Singh as he chases high-priority gangster Ganesh Gaitonde through Mumbai.