The title—You are eating an orange. You are naked—gives away that this is not an ordinary novel.
Syed Masood’s The Bad Muslim Discount is named after the rationale the capricious landlord gives for allowing one of the main characters to live there; they meet in that run-down building nearly halfway through the novel, after they are propelled to life in the US. Surprisingly, it is not a love story, but rather gathers more and more interconnections as it proceeds. Anvar Faris is a clever Pakistani boy (the “bad Muslim”) who struggles against the expectations of his religious mother, and Safwa is a girl left to contend with her abusive father after her mother and brother die in Afghanistan.
Although conceived well before the advent of the pandemic, Priya Basil’s Be My Guest: Reflections on food, community, and the meaning of generosity, ends up particularly appropriate to this time of reflection, winter holidays, and the much hoped-for re-emergence from the current cloud under which we live. For anyone who enjoyed the travelogues of Anthony Bourdain, Be My Guest is a deeper and weightier exposition of the themes he explored—starting with food and extending to the movements of governments, and the meaning of self and other—and Basil similarly shares the joys of both writing and eating.
Loosely inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Sonali Dev’s new book is enriched with culinary allusions, replete with the aromas of tea and spice and based in a modern South Asian family (of royal lineage), as was her prior Austen revamp.
It is impossible not to read title of Mieko Kawakami’s new novel Breasts and Eggs, with its unabashedly female take, without also hearing the the salacious and near homonymous “breasts and legs”, invoking as it does the male gaze and its frequent targets. Kawakami’s work, composed of two “books” separated by 10 years, is an extended exploration of the inner life of women; the theme of breasts appear as one character pursues augmentation surgery, and eggs are a recurring motif both as a foodstuff and in relation to fertility and procreation.
A common saying in China is: “The Sichuanese are not afraid of hot chiles; no degree of heat will frighten off the people of Guizhou; but those Hunanese are terrified of food that isn’t hot!” From this old saw, one might be forgiven for thinking chiles native to China. In The Chile Pepper in China, historian Brian Dott seeks to show how “foreign” chiles were introduced and explores how vital they became to these regions’ identity, with spiciness linked to the energy of “revolutionary men and passionate women”.
Pale skin is valued in Asia: cosmetics to whiten skin such as “White Perfect” and “Fair & Lovely” are widely advertised. To Americans, and Asian-Americans, however, promotion of skin-whitening products appears to be racist and “colorist”, as people of color in the US have suffered from discrimination by the white majority. Whiter is a new anthology of essays by Asian-American women on skin color and “colorism”, edited by Nikki Khanna, a sociologist whose previous work has focused on biracial identity.