Welcome back to Bookmarked, a weekly newsletter that tracks my journey as I read one book from every country. If you’re a regular reader, I’d love for you to help Bookmarked grow by forwarding this issue to a friend. And if you can spare a couple of pounds, please consider making a small donation via my Ko-Fi page 💛
Afshan D'souza-Lodhi's debut poetry collection, [re: desire], explores the desire to be loved, wanted, and connected from a South Asian perspective. In this collection D'souza-Lodhi, who was born in Dubai and raised in Manchester, blends flash fiction with poetry to explore the many facets of her identity as a young British desi.
One of the themes D'souza-Lodhi addresses is the complicated role that languages play in multilingual households. I was especially taken by a two-page piece of flash fiction called ‘1.5’, which begins with an anecdote about misogyny and turns into a sharp and moving comment about linguistic proficiency and what it feels like to grow detached from your cultural origins.
1.1 last night I cried / my dad came home / and told me an uncle had shouted at him for letting his daughter wear dresses / I cried / not because of the inherent sexism / the male gaze that will never let up in our community / but because when I imagined having a conversation / with this uncle, in Urdu / I couldn’t / I got halfway through telling him / what respect really meant / when I forgot the word for gaze / I couldn’t come up with the equivalent / in Hindi or Urdu / and my mother tongue bit itself / I am able to engage and interrogate certain ideas / in English but basic words / and emotions are still stuck / in my mother tongue / I cried because / even in my fantasies / I couldn’t win / an argument against my / sexist uncles.
For the most part, D'souza-Lodhi writes from a female perspective. As well as language—which plays a huge role in [re: desire]—her poems touch on sex, objectification, racism, and abuse. One of the things I particularly admired about this collection is how deftly D'souza-Lodhi weaves all of these themes together to explore the connections between them. In one of my favourite poems of the collection, ‘mother tongue’, she examines the emotional complexity having to speak English.
my mother’s mother tongue is Konkani,
but sometimes she speaks Hindi,
like when we’re out shopping
talking about the guy who just queue-jumped in front of us.
she smiles when she speaks it.
head up. proud.
brings her closer to home.
but then, she has to revert back
to the language of the colonisers
to finish the tale and
suddenly her head lowers.
In the book’s prefatory note, D'souza-Lodhi explains that her collection draws on multiple literary traditions. For example, her decision to write without uppercase letter is a nod to Urdu poetry. Interestingly, she also draws influence from the tradition of mushaira—a traditional way of Urdu poetry recitation—which means her poems are designed to be read aloud.
I really enjoyed [re: desire]. D'souza-Lodhi’s language is clean, her observations are sharp, and her voice is extremely honest. I know I’ll be turning back to this collection.
[re: desire] by Afshan D’souza-Lodhi (Burning Eye Books, 2020)
More books by Emirati authors:
That Other Me by Maha Gargash
The Sand Fish by Maha Gargash
Desperate in Dubai by Ameera Al Hakawati
Statue of Delma by Reem Al-Kamali
The Wink of the Mona Lisa by Mohammad Al-Murr
Temporary People by Deepak Unnikishnan
What have you read recently?
If you’ve read a brilliant book in translation or you’d like to pass on a recommendation, I’d love to hear about it! For this project, I’m focussing on contemporary fiction and short stories, with a preference for female authors—but I’m always happy to venture further afield for a good recommendation.
You can get in touch by replying to this email or leaving a comment. I’ll be featuring your recommendations in upcoming newsletters, and I’ll keep a growing list here.
Bookmarked is written by Tabatha Leggett. If you know someone who would enjoy this newsletter, please forward it to them!
Thanks for the review. I liked D'souza-Lodhi's take on language and sexism. Need to check out the book. It is poetry week now in the Netherlands (where I live: https://www.poezieweek.com/) so this is a perfect week to get this! :)