Here are the 5 books by women of color you need to read right now
If you’ve been too busy devouring the headlines to read a work of literature, you’re not alone. Longtime media executive Madhulika Sikka is a big reader (as well as an author), but looking back at 2016, she realized all she read last year was news. She also noticed that in the dwindling book review pages, the majority of coverage was on books written by white men. To reset, Sikka made a goal in 2017 to read 52 books in 52 weeks — all of them by women, and many women of color. This was her small contribution, she said, to redress the balance of what many see as a skewed Western literary canon.
Below, here are five books by women of color, which Sikka, who has 23 weeks left in her experiment, recommends reading right now. In her words:
1. “The Wangs vs. The World” by Jade Chang
In this hilarious debut novel, Jade Chang beguiles with the riotous tale of Charles Wang and his riches to rags story as he loses his cosmetics empire in the great recession of 2008. Soon after the unceremonious loss of his California mansion, he and his family (including two children pulled out of schools that are no longer affordable) head off on a cross-country road trip in a 30-year-old powder blue Mercedes, headed to upstate New York where the oldest daughter still has some money (she thinks). This is a brilliantly told story about hubris, family, legacy and the challenges of adversity. You will fall in love with Charles Wang and his crazy family.
2. “The Windfall” by Diksha Basu
What if you lived a perfectly comfortable life, not wanting for anything, but you suddenly became richer? How much is too much? How will this wealth, which comes late in life, impact your life? In her debut novel, Diksha Basu deftly examines the changes that come to Anil Jha and his wife after he sells a website for millions. The Jhas represent a growing demographic in India, the new wealthy. With a combination of humor and insight she presents the challenges that this newfound wealth puts on a family, a marriage and a neighborhood. With a wonderful ear for dialogue, her book is peppered with a range of characters that represent a burgeoning class in India. For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with the changes in India, you will be both enlightened and entertained by this charming book.
3. “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows” by Balli Kaur Jaswal
Imagine being a 22-year-old young woman who goes to teach a writing class to a group of widows in your local temple. Then imagine finding out that they actually can’t write, but they still have stories they want to share with each other — stories about desire, pleasure, satisfaction and longing. Once Nikki has got her head around this she realizes that this group of women, who have lived a life circumscribed by men, “had started one quiet rebellion” by telling their stories. She wants to protect them but that’s where her troubles start. This is a poignant tale about immigrant older women who are finding their voices. It’s funny and original and will make you rethink all the matriarchs in your community.
4. “Sofia Khan is Not Obliged” by Ayisha Malik
Ayisha Malik wanted to read books about Muslims who are “normalized,” so she wrote one herself. Her heroine, Sofia Khan, is a Londoner, works in PR, and wears a hijab. This is a book about friendships, family, dating and marriage. It’s been dubbed the Muslim “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” though I think it is more enlightening than that. Malik says she wanted to subvert the expectations that a book about Muslim women would be about oppression and subjugation. She says this book tells a story that reflects the lives of women like her and her friends. It is a funny and engaging look at a community that has been portrayed in popular culture solely in the shadow of terrorism, and the perfect beach book (yes, really).
5. “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi
If you didn’t get to this book last year, it’s in paperback now, so make sure it’s in your beach bag this summer. A sweeping story of slavery that starts with the story of half-sisters Effia and Esi born in 18th century Ghana, the novel follows the family trees of both sisters, one who stays in Ghana and the other who is sent to America on a slave ship. It’s ambitious in its sweep, bringing us to the present day, and powerful in its storytelling as it traces the historic trajectory of their descendants during key moments of history. There is a beauty and maturity to the writing that enthralls from the first page to the last. Gyasi is an exciting new voice in American literature.
Madhulika Sikka is a media executive and creator and curator of 52 Weeks, 52 Books, 52 Women, and host of the podcast of the same name.
Editor’s Note: Sikka has previously done some consulting work for the NewsHour.