Hello friends and welcome to Color the Shelves!
As we’re nearing the end of the Color the Shelves 2020 (only one more post to go…wow), the post aren’t getting any less important and relevant. Today I’m bringing you a guest post that’s especially dear and near to my heart because I saw a lot of myself in it and I know it’ll speak to a lot of readers too. Serena Kaur, author of ALL THE WORDS UNSPOKEN is joining me on the blog today with an essay talking about what it was like for her writing this story while knowing that the topics that she decides to explore in it are going to put her under scrutiny from her community, if not worse. I think this is a post where a lot of people from “conservative” communities will see their experiences reflected.
Writing All the Words Unspoken, knowing I’d be shunned and shamed
I’m a British-Asian woman and my debut novel, All the Words Unspoken, was published this year. While it’s a massive accomplishment, I found it difficult to celebrate its release. I was afraid. I was afraid because I knew there was now a door with whispers and shaking heads on the other side. All they had to do was read my book…
When I picked up Meera Syal’s Anita and Me at university, the difference hit me hard. I grew up reading novels about white characters and I believed I connected with them. But this story, about a British-Asian girl dealing with struggles that I’d dealt with, produced a deeper and more profound connection. I found elements of me and my story in those pages.
At that point, I already knew I wanted to be a writer, but thanks to Syal, I made another decision. I’d produce something relatable for British-Asian readers! It was so good to see myself on a bookshelf. It’s weird to me now, to think I’d spent years planning stories around white characters!
Around the time of writing, it was impossible to ignore what was happening around me. My friends and loved ones were hiding themselves, making decisions that went against the essence of who they were. They were going through experiences they felt they could never discuss. Why? Because of log kya kahenge (what will people say) – a saying all South Asians know intimately. Worst of all? They felt alone – though they weren’t!
I wove the stories of people around me into one. I threw into the spotlight all the things that are still taboo in our culture. I attempted to write something relatable, true and needed – not a soft-hearted romance (like originally planned). All the Words Unspoken probes at taboo topics in my community like sex, mental health, bisexuality and homosexuality, and abortion – in other words, topics that would have my relatives running to my mother, criticisms at the ready.
I’ll let you in on a secret. I too have tucked away parts of myself to escape judgement.
I am bisexual, and unfortunately, stuck with persistent depression. I tried to open up about my depression a few times, but was told it wasn’t ‘a thing in India.’ As for my sexuality? I never told my parents. Unless they’ve stumbled on an article like this, they still don’t know. I grew up actively suppressing my desire to be with a woman. I chose to stick with men because I could. But there’s a whole part of me that wasn’t given a moment in the light. And I’m in no way alone. An Asian male friend told me he could never come out as gay. Ever. So, what’s the alternative?
All the Words Unspoken looks at all the stories that have never come out – all the truths that have never been said because of our culture of shame. I’ve written this book, knowing full well that I’d invite gossip and judgement into my life.
How dare she write about sex? How dare she write about sex between two people of the same gender? And abortion?
Has it been difficult? Yes. I’ve been unable to look my parents in the eye at times. I’ve felt sick when a relative or a friend of my mother’s said they’ve bought the book to read. However, I wanted to write it, so my friends and loved ones could see they weren’t alone and could see the damaging effects of GIVING IN to log kya kahenge.
Will all South Asian readers relate to my story? No. Some of us have modern parents with liberal viewpoints, for example, and some of us don’t. None of us are the same. We need more stories to reflect our rich and beautiful tapestry. I offer you one thread. If you’re Asian and you’re reading this, I encourage you to resist the foolishness of log kya kahenge. And if you think it’s better to submit… read All the Words Unspoken and see how dire the consequences can be. We need a better solution than people giving in just because it’s ‘easier’ than challenging the system (it’s not).
All the Words Unspoken follows the stories of Maansi and Aryan – two British-Asians that come together in an arranged marriage. They’re hounded by their secret pasts and deal with the consequences of surrendering to log kya kahenge.
P.S While this book deals with some heavy and sensitive topics, it’s still an entertaining read with humour and lightness present. Promise!
About the author
Serena Kaur is a brand new British-Asian author. After graduating with a first-class degree in English, Kaur made a firm decision to chase her dreams of becoming an author, fuelled by the determination to see more British-Asian stories on the bookshelves. Her debut novel, All The Words Unspoken, will be published by Red Door Press on the 16th of April.
Unafraid to tackle taboo topics within the South-Asian community, Kaur explores sexuality, depression, abortion and issues such as colourism and domestic abuse within her novel. When she is not spinning her daydreams into stories, she teaches English as a second language and raises awareness about feminist issues and M.E (the disability she lives with). She lives in Leicester with her husband and is currently working on her second novel.
About the book
Publication date : April 16th, 2020
Publisher : RedDoor Press
Genre : Adult | Contemporary
Synopsis : Things are not going well for Maansi Cavale.
Her depression is worsening, she barely passes her university exams and she winds up stuck at home, full of regret and unable to find a job. She’d do anything for a way out.
Though Maansi previously considered arranged marriage an outdated tradition (only to be agreed to if you’re in your mid-forties and unable to bag anybody yourself), a chance meeting at an Indian wedding party changes everything. Desperate to escape the shackles of monotony and unemployment, she agrees to marry the handsome and wealthy Aryan Alekar. She convinces herself a new lifestyle and wealth will lift her out of the pit. She secures the marriage, but not before serving up a few lies about herself…
As they settle into married life, Aryan remains a mystery to Maansi: some days warm and loving, others cold and distant. Maansi can’t help but wonder… who is Aryan Alekar really? And why did he choose to marry so young? While living with Aryan, Maansi realises she could never be satisfied playing housewife. After all, she once had goals and dreams.
While searching for the ambitious Maansi she has buried, Maansi starts to realise that the man she has married is even further from what he seems… Can she salvage their union or will they set each other free?
All the Words Unspoken is a fresh, new voice from debut British-Asian author, Serena Kaur. It is a love story that challenges our preconceptions of relationships and shows us that the choices we make have implications and ramifications far beyond the horizon we can see.
That’s it until next time.
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.