Did you know it’s South Asian Heritage Month? Well, now you do! South Asian Heritage Month is held annually from July 18 to August 17 to honor, recognize, and appreciate South Asian history and culture. Countries included in this region are Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives. This year’s theme is “Stories to Tell,” and what better way to learn about these countries than by reading a good novel? To encourage you in that endeavor, I’ve put together a list of some of the greatest books set in these countries—won’t you join me in traveling remotely through these novels? I’ve only read a couple of these, but my research tells me they should be good!
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Born a generation apart, Mariam and Laila are two women brought together by war, loss, and fate. As they endure the escalating dangers around them—in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul—they form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will alter the course of the next generation.
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Hosseini’s third novel is about a close-knit Afghan family in 1952 and then crosses generations and continents, moving from Kabul, to Paris, to San Francisco, to the Greek island of Tinos. Khaled Hosseini writes about the bonds that define us and shape our lives, the ways in which we help our loved ones in need, and how the choices we make resonate through history.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Afghanistan, 1975: Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament and his loyal friend Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can foresee what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that is to shatter their lives. After the Russians invade and the family is forced to flee to America, Amir realizes that one day he must return to Afghanistan under Taliban rule to find the one thing that his new world cannot grant him: redemption.
Born Under a Million Shadows by Andrea Busfield
In post-Taliban Afghanistan, Fawad and his mother move in with a Western woman who has a relationship with a notorious Afghan warlord, and soon, a tragedy threatens to destroy Fawad’s love for his country.
The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam
In a post-9/11 Afghanistan, the lives and destinies of five very different people intertwine—Marcus, an English doctor whose Afghani wife had been murdered by the Taliban; Lara, a Russian woman probing the fate of her brother who vanished during the Soviet invasion; David, a former American spy; Casa, a young Afghani who hates the West; and James, a rigid Special Forces soldier.
Earth and Ashes by Atiq Rahimi
A short novel set during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan follows Dastaguir, an elderly man who witnesses the destruction of his village and the deaths of his family.
The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi
In Kabul, 2007, with a drug-addicted father and no brothers, Rahima and her sisters can only sporadically attend school and rarely leave the house, and their only hope lies in the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows young Rahima to dress and be treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age.
Sparks Like Stars by Nadia Hashimi
Adopted from Afghanistan 40 years earlier by an American diplomat in the aftermath of a coup and assassination, Aryana has a chance encounter with the soldier who saved her life and killed her family. Here’s my review
Caravans by James A. Michener
Mark Miller, a member of the American Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, is called upon to locate the missing wife, a young American woman, of an Afghan engineer and return her to her distraught family, in the years following World War II.
The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam
Growing up as brothers in a small town in Pakistan, Jeo and Mikal were inseparable; however as adults their paths have diverged sharply. Jeo is newly married and a dedicated medical student, while Mikal, in love with a woman he can’t have, has adopted the life of a vagabond. Nonetheless, when Jeo decides to slip across the border into Afghanistan to help civilians caught in the post-9/11 clash between American and Taliban forces, Mikal goes with him.
The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese
Spanning the years 1900 to 1977, The Covenant of Water is set in Kerala, on South India’s Malabar Coast, and follows three generations of a family that suffers a peculiar affliction: in every generation, at least one person dies by drowning.
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
When he relocates to New Delhi to take a new job, Balram Halwai is disillusioned by the city’s materialism and violence, a circumstance that forces him to question his loyalties, ambitions, and past.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
In 1969, in Kerala, India, Rahel and her twin brother, Estha, struggle to forge a childhood for themselves amid the destruction of their family life, as they discover that the entire world can be transformed in a single moment.
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
In a crumbling house in the remote northeastern Himalayas, an embittered, elderly judge finds his peaceful retirement turned upside down by the arrival of his orphaned granddaughter.
A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
Hailed as one of the finest novels of the twentieth century and transformed into an Academy Award–winning film, A Passage to India hauntingly evokes India at the peak of the British colonial era, complete with the racial tension that underscores every aspect of daily life.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Having escaped an Australian maximum-security prison, a disillusioned man loses himself in the slums of Bombay, where he works for a drug kingpin, smuggles arms for a crime lord, and forges bonds with fellow exiles.
The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
A novel of nineteenth-century British India centers on the love between an Englishman raised as a Hindu, and rejected by both sides, and an Indian princess torn between her heritage and the man she loves.
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
A talented henna artist for wealthy confidantes finds her efforts to control her own destiny in 1950s Jaipur threatened by the abusive husband she fled as a teenage girl.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the exact moment of India’s independence, Saleem Sinai becomes inextricably linked to that of his nation.
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Brothers Subhash and Udayan Mitra pursue vastly different lives—Udayan in rebellion-torn Calcutta, Subhash in a quiet corner of America—until a tragedy compels Subhash to return to India.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Possessing encyclopedia-like intelligence, unusual zookeeper’s son Pi Patel sets sail for America, but when the ship sinks, he escapes on a lifeboat and is lost at sea with a dwindling number of animals until only he and a hungry Bengal tiger remain.
The Palace of Illusions by Chita Banerjee Divakaruni
Panchaali, wife of the five legendary Pandavas brothers, offers her own version of the ancient Indian epic, The Mahabharat, as she chronicles the story of her magical birth, the problems of dealing with five husbands who have been cheated out of their birthright, the trials she endures, her friendship with Krishna, and her attraction to her husband’s enemy.
A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Muhammad Hanif
Pakistan Air Force pilot Ali Shigri is on a mission to avenge his father’s suspicious death, which the government calls a suicide. His target is General Zia ul-Haq, the dictator of Pakistan. Enlisting a rag-tag group of conspirators, including his cologne-bathed roommate, a hash-smoking American lieutenant, and a mango-besotted crow, Ali sets his elaborate plan in motion.
The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmed
This novel is set in the Federally Administered Tribal Lands at the intersection of Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. It follows the story of banished refugees’ son Tor Baz, who travels throughout the region while witnessing the effects of extreme culture and geography on the lives of those he encounters.
The Crow Eaters by Bapsi Sidhwa
Moving from their ancestral village to the bustling city of Lahore, Faredoon Jungewalla and his family must learn how to thrive under British rule while keeping peace with their Hindu and Muslim neighbors.
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
A volume of linked stories describes the intertwined lives of landowners and their retainers on the Gurmani family farm in Pakistan that explores such themes as culture, class power, and desire.
Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid
After Darashikoh Shezad is fired from his job, his life enters a tailspin as he begins taking drugs, falls in love with his friend’s wife, and embarks on a career in crime.
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
Two years after her prospects are shattered by the bombing of Nagasaki, Hiroko Tanaka travels to Delhi in search of new beginnings and arrives in the home of her ex-fiancé’s half-sister; but she finds her circumstances halted by conflicts in the Middle East that prompt her family’s eventual relocation to America.
A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam
The story of one family caught in the middle of the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence, as they face changes and decisions that will have a profound impact on their lives.
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
The story of two Bangladeshi sisters, one who chooses her destiny by opting for a “love marriage” and one who lets destiny dictate her future when she is married off to an older man and moves with him to a small, claustrophobic London flat.
The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh
Off the eastern coast of India lies an extraordinary cluster of islands known as the Sundarbans. In this exotic land, marine biologist Piya, fisherman Fokir, and translator Kanai meet. As they travel deep into the remote archipelago, they experience a territory at risk not only from natural disaster, but also from human foolishness and volatile politics.
The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam
A deeply moving novel about the rise of Islamic radicalism in Bangladesh seen through the intimate lens of a family.
Shame by Tasalima Nasarina
Follows the Dutta family, part of Bangladesh’s Hindu minority, as they deal with the religious intolerance that plagues their home.
The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger
Leaving her Bangladesh home to marry a New Yorker who wooed her online, Amina finds the marriage challenged by secrets and her struggles to find a place for herself in America.
Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera
Traces the experiences of two women on opposing sides of the Sri Lankan civil war. Yasodhara tells the story of her own Sinhala family who escape to Los Angeles. Saraswathie is living in the active war zone of Sri Lanka and hopes to become a teacher. But her dreams for the future are abruptly stamped out when she is arrested by a group of Sinhala soldiers and pulled into the very heart of the conflict.
Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
A young forensic anthropologist is sent by an international human rights group to her homeland, Sri Lanka, to discover the source of the organized campaigns of murder engulfing the island.
Mosquito by Roma Tearne
After the death of his wife, novelist Theo Samarajeeva leaves London and returns to his native Sri Lanka where he finds himself in the middle of a civil war and unexpectantly finds a new love.
River of Ink by Paul M. M. Cooper
In thirteenth-century Sri Lanka, Asanka, poet to the king. But when Magha, a prince from the mainland, usurps the throne, Asanka’s role as court poet is changed. Magha is a cruel and calculating king and commissions the poet to translate a holy Sanskrit epic into the Tamil language spoken by his recently acquired subjects. The poem will be an olive branch–a symbol of unity between the two cultures.
Cinnamon Gardens by Shyam Selvadurai
A tale set in the repressive and complex world of 1920s Ceylon follows the interwoven stories of Annalukshmi, a young teacher whose family is intent on arranging a proper marriage for her, and her uncle, Balendran, a man who must suppress his secret desires.
The Hamilton Case by Michelle de Krester
His career guided by British culture and his Oxford education, Ceylon lawyer Sam Obeysekere tackles a scandal-ridden murder trial, mistakenly convinced that his reputation will shield him from the social unrest that the case has exposed.
The Tutor of History by Manjushree Thapa
It is the late 1990s, a few years into constitutional democracy in Nepal, and the government has collapsed. In Khaireni Tar, a small town on the Kathmandu-Pokhara highway, four separate lives come together during the campaign for fresh elections: a disillusioned communist who gives private tuitions in history; an alcoholic who is the chairman of the Peoples Party’s district committee; a large-hearted former British Gurkha; and a reclusive young widow who runs a tea stall near the town’s only bus stop.
Buddha’s Orphans by Samrat Upadhyay
Raja and Nilu are fated to fall in love. Follow their story across the globe and through generations to see if, perhaps, old bends in a family tree may be righted in future branches.
The Kingdom by Clive Cussler
Searching for a missing investigator friend, treasure hunters Sam and Remi Fargo travel through Tibet, Italy, and other countries only to find themselves embroiled in a black-market fossil operation with ties to a potentially history-altering skeleton.
The Woman who Climbed Trees by Smitri Ravindra
Weaving together ghost stories, myths and song, this haunting novel follows a young bride as she leaves her life in India behind to move to Nepal with her new husband and his family, examining the loss she experiences as she gives up one home to become part of another.
The Heart of the Buddha by Elsie Sze
When Marian, an earnest romantic and idealist, goes missing in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, her twin sister Ruthie, a pragmatic skeptic, journeys from Canada to search for her. When Ruthie uncovers Marian’s passion for a Bhutanese monk and her hazardous trek over a mountain pass to Tibet, she fears the worst. And those fears only intensify when a sinister Tibetan reveals that he is also in pursuit of Marian. The sisters struggle to reach each other.
The Circle of Karma by Kunzang Choden
The novel tells the story of Tsomo, a young Bhutanese woman who embarks on the difficult and lonely journey of life. Her travels, which begin after her mother’s death, take her away from family, and lead her across Bhutan and into India. All the while, Tsomo seeks to find herself and a life partner, and grows as a person and a woman.
Dawa: The Story of a Stray Dog in Bhutan by Kunzang Choden
Dawa looks like just another scruffy street dog, but don’t be fooled: he has an urge to see the world and his bigger-than-normal brain is matched only by his compassionate heart. His is an extraordinary life; follow it from its tragic beginnings to his ascension as the legendary Leader of Howling, to the miracle that saves him.
The Breath of God by Jeffrey Small
In 1887, a Russian journalist made an explosive discovery in a remote Himalayan monastery only to be condemned and silenced for the heresy he proposed. His discovery vanished shortly thereafter. Now, graduate student Grant Matthews journeys to the Himalayas in search of the ancient mystery.
On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves
Stranded on an uninhabited island after their private plane crashes, thirty-year-old tutor Anna Emerson and sixteen-year-old student T.J. Callahan struggle to survive and, as the months pass, slowly fall in love.
Honeymoon by Tina Seskis
For as long as she can remember, Jemma has been planning the perfect honeymoon. A fortnight’s retreat to a five-star resort in the Maldives, complete with luxury villas, personal butlers and absolute privacy. It should be paradise, but it’s turned into a nightmare.
The Strode Venturer by Hammond Innes
What could link the world of London boardrooms, an isolated island race in the Maldives and the mysterious voyages of a battered ship skippered by a brooding alcoholic? It falls to Geoffrey Bailey to unlock the mystery, but first he must overcome both family tragedy and the unpredictable treacheries of land, sea, and big business.
Uncharted by Tracey Garvis Graves
When twenty-three-year-old dot-com millionaire Owen Sparks walked away from his charmed life, he had one goal in mind: get as far away as possible from the people who resented his success or had their hand out for a piece of it. A remote uncharted island halfway around the world seemed like a perfectly logical place to get away from it all. Then he meets Calia Reed.
The Storm by Clive Cussler
In the middle of the Indian Ocean, a NUMA research vessel is taking water samples at sunset, when a crew member spots a sheen of black oil ahead of them. But it is not oil, it’s a swarm of black particles. It suddenly attacks the ship, killing everyone aboard, while the ship itself goes up in flames. A few hours later, Kurt Austin and Joe Zavala are on their way to the Indian Ocean. What they will find on the smoldering hulk of the ship will eventually lead them to the discovery of the most audacious scheme they have ever known: a plan to permanently alter the weather on a global scale.