Brace yourselves, 2020 sees Asian writers returning to what they know and love: literary fiction. I don’t remember a time quite like it. Reminiscent of my mother’s Eid dinners, 2020 promises us abundance, from poetry collections to short stories, crime to children’s fiction. The year has already gifted us with some literary gems but there’s lots still to come… and oh, what variety there is.
If you’ve not already spent a stormy weekend curled up reading Vintage’s lead fiction title, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, do it now. I’ve long been a fan of Deepa Anappara’s writing. She won The Asian Writer Short Story Prize in 2012 and has since gone on to win a multitude of prizes. Her debut novel, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line follows the story of child narrator, Jai who turns amateur detective when one of his classmates go missing. This is a debut that will stay with you long after it’s finished.
Indian writers Jeet Thayill and Aravind Adiga have new books out this year. Low by Jeet Thayill takes us back to a drug-fuelled world of Bombay which is a nod to his debut Narcopolis, while Adiga continues to tackle the politically urgent in Amnesty, a story about an undocumented Sri-Lankan immigrant in Sydney. Two literary giants so early in the year feels like we’re being spoiled.
From the heavyweights to another awesome debut, The Family Tree by Bradford based writer Sairish Hussain is a multi generational family epic. An ordinary story about British Muslims being published by the big five? Applause all round. And Sairish is a definitely an exciting new voice to watch!
Last year I was bereft not to see more children’s/ YA books from Asian writers and it seems that this is one area where we aren’t seeing enough of a shift. However, there is some hope. Critically acclaimed writer and junior doctor Roopa Farooki has taken up the reins by publishing her first children’s book The Cure for a Crime. And there’s another one in the series on the way later in the year. Hurrah!
Birmingham-based Serena Patel’s Anisha, Accidental Detective with its lush hot pink cover will surprise and delight children and adults alike. It’s set to be published by Usbourne in March. And while there may be a pattern emerging here, as a Columbo and Nancy Drew superfan I’m not complaining – there can never be enough detective stories, in my opinion. Branford Boase Award-winner Muhammad Khan has a couple of titles out this year for older readers including Split and Mark My Words, both due out by Macmillan.
The small presses continue to excel in supporting emerging voices and there’s two poetry collections from Nine Arches Press which I’m particularly looking forward to in early spring. Letters Home by Jennifer Wong explores Chinese-British diaspora from the perspective of a young woman, while Rishi Dastidar’s second collection, Saffron Jack boldly updates Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King, exploring empire, exile and migration.
In April John Murray publishes it’s lead fiction debut for the year. Hashim and Family by Shahnaz Ahsan explores themes of family, migration and belonging. Spanning twenty years and two countries, this is one debut that I’m touting as a book of the year. In our post-Brexit political climate it’s high time we heard about the thousands of people who travelled to Britain to set up home. More please! There’s another debut to look out for too. With Haleh Agar’s Out of Touch published by W&N. Haleh’s prize-winning writing is full of neat observations and I expect her first book will be nothing short of enthralling either. Also in April – Viking will publish Nikita Lalwani’s third novel, You People. It’s high priority on my list, for Lalwani is an exceptional talent. There aren’t many short fiction collections out this year, but Dima Alzayat’s Alligator and other stories is expected to be a must-read for anyone trying their hand to master the form.
Crime writers Alex Caan and Vaseem Khan are both launching new series’ this year which I’m certain won’t disappoint their long-standing fans. The Unbroken by Alex Caan introduces us to DS Moomy Khan and DI Sarah Heaton and promises to be a fast-paced contemporary thriller while Midnight at Malabar House is a historical crime novel set in in 1950 and features India’s first female police detective Persis Wadia. Need I say more?
From crime to justice, Nazir Afzal’s memoir The Prosecutor charts his journey from a young boy growing up in the sixties to his groundbreaking career as a Chief Prosecutor, this is one of a handful of non-fiction titles that appears high up on my TBR pile. Ravinder Bhogal’s cookbook with ‘proudly inauthentic’ recipes, Jikoni is another.
Later in the year, there’s Yousra Imran’s Hijab and Red lipstick to look forward to, a coming age of tale about a young woman trying to find her place in the world as well as a picture book, Today I’m Strong from Bake Off Champ, Nadiya Hussain.
That’s a wrap on this year’s books to read. It’s a strong year for female voices, stories about migration and family and regional writing. What are you most looking forward to?