World Book Day: Is the tide turning on Western authors’ domination of book lists?


There’s an appetite out there for books written by non-western authors. How do we know? In the recent months, two SOAS inspired articles published on the Guardian have been incredibly well-received by the general public. This list in particular has gone viral having been been shared on social media an incredible 50,000 times (the former Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd deemed it worthy of a RT!).

In response to an article compiled by Robert Twigger on the ‘Top 10 books about the Himalayas‘, SOAS academics Professor Michael Hutt and Dr Stefanie Lotter produced an alternative list of authors on the Himalayas who were actually from the region (controversial, eh?).

And then there’s the staggering amount of media attention being afforded to the SOAS Students’ Union’s ‘Decolonising the Curriculum‘ agenda.

Well, as it’s World Book Day, we thought strike whilst the iron is hot and ask SOAS students, academics, alumni and our friends to suggest their top picks by non-western writers.

Add them in the comments below, or on our Facebook page, and we will compile suggestions.

Alternatively, you can tweet us or tag us on Instagram with your suggestions using #SOASbooks.

We will also select a nominator at random and send them a £50 Amazon book voucher.

If you need some inspiration, a few SOAS academics have already kicked us off below.

Happy readin’!

If you wish to be included in the competition for the voucher, deadline for submissions is 10 March.

Academic’s choice

Professor Francesca Orsini – The Heart has its Reasons


She definitely deserves to be more widely read and better known outside the Hindi world!

For World Book Day I’d like to recommend Krishna Sobti, who to me is simply the best living Hindi writer and Hindi’s best chance at winning the Nobel prize for literature. (If she’s not been nominated yet, here is my bid!)

My personal favourite is The Heart has its Reasons (Dilo Danish), a novel set in Old Delhi at the beginning of the twentieth century. The novel is perfectly calibrated between successful lawyer Vakil Sahab Kripanarayan, Mahak Bano, a courtesan’s daughter who is his common-law wife and has borne him two children, and his “rightful” and jealous wife Kutumbpyari ensconced in the family haveli. Again we have “hervoice”, but in this novel we also have Vakil Sahab’s voice, who thinks he’s got everything neatly sorted—the income from big cases goes to the family haveli, that from petty cases goes to Mahak Bano—only to discover that “the heart has its reasons”, too. As with Jane Eyre or Jane Austen’s novels, not only do we learn what women could or could not feel, think, and do at a particular time and in particular social and gender circumstances, but also what women could think even if they were not allowed to speak or act on their thoughts. There is a wonderful play in the novel between Mahak’s words and what she can only say with her eyes or her silences.

I know that Krishna Sobti hates to be considered a woman’s writer, but I cannot think of a better writer of “herstory” and “hervoice” in Hindi, perhaps in Indian literature, of women’s embodied knowledge, work, emotions. She definitely deserves to be more widely read and better known outside the Hindi world!



Professor Wen-chin Ouyang – Kilimanjaro Spirit

It is a dark but humorous story of our times. It tells with sensitivity the uplifting story of two Palestinian adolescents who, even though they had lost their legs in violent incidents, decided to scale the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in January 2014, the volunteers who went with them, and the film crew who followed them and made the documentary, Climb of Hope: Two Palestinian Amputees Scale Mt Kilimanjaro. It’s certainly a page-turner and showcases Nasrallah’s ability to see deep into the human heart and mind and his artistry in storytelling. He keeps his language simple, balances between realism and experiment, and effortlessly draws us into the worlds he creates.




Sana Goyal – Harare North and By the Sea

Abdulrazak Gurnah’s By the Sea and Brian Chikwava’s Harare North are books that are anchored in, and that attempt to articulate, issues of asylum—this in light of their protagonists’ problems, which are both personal and political in character. While Gurnah’s Omar Saleh travels from the seaside town of his home in Zanzibar, only to settle in an English seaside town (presumably Brighton), Chikwava’s unnamed narrator flees Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, and finds himself in Harare North—the emigrating Zimbabweans’ term for London. As Saleh’s story is seamlessly stitched into the novel—through the tools of memory and history—Chikwava’s character unravels into a dual consciousness. Ultimately, both books bridge the geographical gaps between countries and continents of home and exile, and bring an understanding of shared spaces, and connected cultures. 





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