South Asian Women Authors We Love

3rd Mar 2014

In no particular order, here’s a look at some of the most brilliant women writers from South Asia...

Jhumpa Lahiri

Born in London, raised in Rhode Island, Lahiri’s collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies (1999), was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award and The New Yorker Debut of the Year.

The collection of nine short stories includes A Temporary Matter, the story of a young Indian-American couple facing the heartbreak of a stillborn birth while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout.

In a review written for the NY Times, author Caleb Crain wrote: “There is nothing accidental about her success; her plots are as elegantly constructed as a fine proof in mathematics.”

Lahiri’s novel The Namesake (2003) was also a New York Times Notable Book. The novel follows the Ganguli family through its journey from Calcutta to Cambridge to the Boston suburbs.

Anita Desai

Born in India and currently residing in Massachusetts, Desai has been nominated three times for the Booker Prize, with Clear Light Of Day (1980), In Custody (1994) and Fasting, Feasting (1999).

She has published children’s books and short stories and is known for her ability to beautifully capture middle-class India.
Fasting, Feasting is the tale of 40-year-old Uma, whose attempts at arranged marriages have ended in disaster and Arun, who leaves India to study in Massachusetts and is found adapting to a different lifestyle when he moves in with a family in the suburbs.

Clear Light of Day, set in India’s Old Delhi, conveys the trials and tribulations of familial love. It was this book that positioned Desai as one of the most gifted of contemporary Indian writers.

Manju Kapur

Manju Kapur is the author of  A Married Woman (2003), Home (2006), Custody (2011) and The Immigrant (2008). Her debut novel Difficult Daughters (1998) is set around the time of the Partition.

The story is set around the time of the Partition and is built around Virmati, who finds her desire for education conflicts with her family duties and is further confused when she becomes attracted to a married professor.

The novel won the Commonwealth Prize for First Novels and was a number one bestseller in India. Kapur currently resides in New Delhi.

Bharati Mukherjee

Bharati Mukherjee’s novels include The Middleman and Other Stories (1988), Jasmine (1989), The Tree Bride (2004) and Desirable Daughters (2002).

Mukherjee brings to life the world of people in migration mostly through her portrayal of characters that are influenced by long standing traditions but situated in modern times.

Particularly in Desirable Daughters, Mukherjee combines stories of three Calcutta-born sisters as they come of age in a changing world.

The Middleman and Other Stories, which looks at the lives of minorities who moved into the USA, won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1988.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning and bestselling author, poet, activist and teacher of creative writing. Her writing has been included in over fifty collections, including The Best American Short Stories, the O.Henry Prize stories and the Pushcart Prize anthology.

Her novel Sister of My Heart (1999) is about two cousins who are the daughters of an upper-caste Calcutta family. When a dark family secret comes to light, their strong connection is shattered.

Set in San Francisco and India, the story follows these two women as they go on to lead their separate lives and the tragedies that will bring them back together again.

Kamila Shamsie

Kamila Shamsie grew up in Karachi and now lives in London. She is the author of five novels: In the City by the Sea (1998); Kartography (2002); Salt and Saffron (2000); Broken Verses (2005) and Burnt Shadows (2009), which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and translated into more than twenty languages.

Her latest novel Burnt Shadows spans fifty years, covering war and politics in several countries including Pakistan, New York, Afghanistan and Japan.

The novel follows the life of Hiroka Tanaka, whose life changes when the atomic bomb obliterates everything she knows. The partition of India and the creation of Pakistan is the backdrop for this novel which explores familial bonds.

Kiran Desai

Born in 1971, Desai was educated in India, England and the United States. She studied creative writing at Columbia University and is the daughter of the author, Anita Desai.

Desai became a well-known name when her novel The Inheritance of Loss (2006) won the Man Booker Prize in 2006.

Set in the foothills of the Himalayas, the novel follows a retired judge, his orphaned granddaughter, a clever maths tutor, a cook, his son, and the judge’s beloved dog, Mutt. The novel focuses on what happens when a new world clashes with the old.

Start your exploration into South Asian literature today. And if there any other South Asian women authors you recommend we add to our list, we’d love you to let us know in the comments…


  • Henna says:

    How can this list exist without Arundhati Roy?!

    • Beulah Devaney says:

      <3 Roy, we do need more coverage of her but I'm glad this list highlights the less well known South Asian writers.