Phoolan Devi was an Indian parliamentarian in the 1990s, but only after she achieved fame for becoming a modern day Robin Hood, taking from the rich to give to the poor. She also, perhaps more importantly, sought revenge on the many men who sexually assaulted her, before and after she was married off at the age of eleven. She became known as the Bandit Queen and was assassinated at the young age of thirty-seven. Devi serves as a source of strength for the main character in Parini Shroff’s debut novel, The Bandit Queens, a dark yet uplifting story of village women who fight domestic violence and caste discrimination.
When Vijay Balan was a young boy, his father would regale him with stories inspired by family history. One of these centered around Balan’s grand-uncle, a police officer in 1920s and early 1930s India who later went on to Singapore and became a spy for the Japanese military during World War II. Balan has turned this tale into his first novel, The Swaraj Spy. The title refers to the Hindustani word for self-rule, and it’s this wish that drives the main character, Kumaran “Kumar” Nair. The book is less a mass market spy thriller and more of a character-driven story of a man who hopes to do right by his family and country.
When Hazel Selzer Kahan’s parents left their homes in Germany and Poland in the early 1930s to study medicine in Rome, they envisioned spending the rest of their lives helping patients in Europe. But as Fascist governments deepened their hold in both Germany and Italy during their medical studies, Hermann and Kate Selzer did not see a future as Jewish doctors in Europe, at least for the time being. Hermann sailed to India, thinking it would be safe to live under the British. In 1937, he traveled from city to city in India, looking for a hospital that would take in a couple of Jewish doctors. When he finally reached Lahore, he found acceptance. Kate joined him six months later and a couple years after that Selzer Kahan would be born, followed by her brother Michael two years later.
In Kathryn Ma’s new novel, a young man from Yunnan who has given himself the name of Shelley—as in the poet—has developed a term to describe a “belief in the unspoken bonds between countrymen that transcend time and borders”. It gives its name to the book, The Chinese Groove, which starts out in a small city called Gejiu in Yunnan, but soon transits along with its protagonist to California. Despite its upbeat title, the novel centers around the ways in which people deal with grief.
Three years ago, Deepti Kapoor’s Indian crime trilogy went through a bidding war, not just for the books—including translations in fifteen languages—but also for Hollywood film rights. As unusual as crime blockbusters set in India may be, Age of Vice, the first book in the trilogy, has catapulted Kapoor into the running for the hottest new crime writer of the moment.
Author Kyla Zhao got her start in publishing at the age of sixteen writing for the Singapore editions of prominent glossy magazines penning wedding articles for Harper’s Bazaar, then went on to Tatler and Vogue. She centers her debut novel, The Fraud Squad, in the world of Singapore glossies with a Pygmalion twist. The story is fun and while it could be tempting to compare it to Crazy Rich Asians or The Devil Wears Prada, Zhao’s novel distinctively stands on its own with its exploration of the role society magazines play in cities like Singapore and Hong Kong.
Coming from a literary family, Hajra Masroor and her sister Khadija have been referred to as the Brontë sisters of Urdu fiction. While Khadija was known for her novels, Hajra was a writer of short fiction and plays. A new translation of a collection of Hajra Masroor’s work, The Monkey’s Wound and Other Stories, by translator Tahira Naqvi, now gives English readers an opportunity to read eighteen of her stories, all centered around the hardships of being a woman in pre-Partition India and the new state of Pakistan. Masroor lived from 1929 to 2012 and started writing in the early 1940s, several years before Partition.