As the “month of love,” comes to an end, I come to you all with my South Asian romance novel recommendations, from rom-coms, to the “enemies to lovers” trope-focussed, to the steamy kinds — I have something for every kind of romance reader.
Growing up, romance novels were a staple in my reading list, and were perhaps the largest genre I read. But as I’ve explored previously, there has been a lack of representation in the literary world and I found myself desperately trying and failing to relate to the typical blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl next door in her romantic endeavours.
Not only that, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve also become incredibly embarrassed of my preference for romance reads. There appears to be this widespread stigma against romance novels, with them being considered as misogynistic, poorly-written, cringeworthy, worthless — the negative criticism goes on.
While I agree that there are definitely some bad apples, I’d argue that romance novels are incredibly empowering to read, particularly as a brown woman who was never really taught any lessons on romance.
Romance novels, particularly the South Asian ones, taught me about what not to look for in a relationship, how to navigate dating in a South Asian household, and also how to be an independent woman. Not only that, but romance novels have been there for me on all my sad days.
As such, in my search for more South Asian representation in the books I read, I’ve simultaneously been searching for my romance fix and come across an expansive romance sub-genre. I present to you my top 5 recommendations.
For the rom-com fanatic:
Hana Khan Carries On, by Uzma Jalaludin is a fun, light-hearted, but also insightful read that delves into the endeavours of 24-year-old Hana Khan. As a radio intern, aspiring radio broadcaster, podcaster, and waitress at her family’s Halal restaurant in Toronto, Hana is one busy woman. This is all exacerbated with the opening of a rival restaurant in the neighborhood and said rival restaurant’s very handsower owner - Aydin. Through fighting her attraction for Aydin she must also come to terms with the business struggles her family restaurant is facing, her “friendship” with her number one podcast fan, and an islamophobic incident she faces. With this novel, Jalaluddin provides an entertaining meet-cute filled with a cast of funny characters, all through a cultural lens that I think we would all appreciate.
For the enemies-to-lovers trope-lover:
Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavours, by Sonali Dev has the perfect enemies-to-lovers trope. Enter Dr. Trisha Raje, San Francisco’s renowned neurosurgeon, and DJ Caine, Michelin chef extraordinaire. They meet in what is a high stress situation for them both—Trisha is in the midst of repairing her broken relationship with her family, while DJ is trying to find a job from the Raje’s (Trisha’s family) to support his ailing sister. The pair immediately get off on the wrong foot. While they start off with a series of misunderstandings and very much so as enemies, Trisha and DJ form a bond through the drama of each other’s lives. This Pride and Prejudice-inspired tale will have you on the edge of your seats and wanting to shake some sense into the very stubborn Trisha and DJ all at once.
For the holiday romance fans:
A Holly Jolly Diwali, by Sonya Lalli is a beautiful story capturing the romance between 29-year-old Niki Randawa, a Seattle-based data analyst who has recently lost her job, and 30-year-old London musician, Sameer Mukherji, set during the festival of Diwali. The pair have a chance encounter at their mutual friends’ wedding in India and have an instantaneous connection. As someone who’s always done the “right thing”— staying close to home, working a practical job, and dating “good guys”— Niki’s life is thrown out of array with this spontaneous trip and meeting with Sam. As such, she is faced with the tough decision of whether she should take a job offer back in Seattle or explore her connection with Sam. What I appreciate about this novel is the way in which it captures Niki and Sam’s romance, but also how it simultaneously provides the reader with an informative lens on India and Diwali which Niki is also learning about on her own self-discovery journey.
For the independent woman champion:
Grown-Up Pose by Sonya Lalli, centers on Anu Desai as she navigates separating from her husband and finding herself. Sonya Lalli once again does a great job of centering Anu as an independent 30-something year old woman based in Vancouver, who is exploring who she is without her husband Neil, who was her first serious boyfriend. This book is more than just romantic fiction, it explores Anu’s unhappiness in her marriage, the burden of unpaid care work where Anu shoulders most of the childcare and household chores, complicated family dynamics between Anu and her own parents, Anu dating someone new while still being married, and Anu exploring a new business venture in purchasing a yoga studio. This novel realistically highlights an older woman who has a husband and child, and is still figuring out her life. Unlike most coming of age and romantic fiction, it emphasizes that no matter what age you are or what stage of life you are in, life is a series of ebbs and flows.
For the steamy romance aficionado:
The Singles Table, by Sara Desai is the perfect steamy South Asian romance novel. I’ve recommended it before and I’ll recommend it again. San-Francisco-based lawyer Zara Patel and military security specialist Jay Dayal meet at Zara’s cousin’s bachelor/bachelorette paintball party and immediately despise each other. For Jay, Zara is brash and loud, while for Zara, Jay is arrogant and egotistical, but there is a very fine line between their hatred and very palpable attraction to one another. As they come across each other during wedding activities, Zara makes it her mission to find Jay “the one,” while Jay helps introduce her to his celebrity clients. Through the process, Zara’s infectious happiness begins to rub off on Jay and it becomes more and more evident that Zara doesn’t have to look far to find “the one” for Jay. The sexual tension between Jay and Zara is unbelievable, but Desai does a great job of weaving in this chemistry with other more serious conversations, too.
Let us know your favourite South Asian romance reads and your thoughts on the recommendations!
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